Ed Stone, Executive Chef at Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey, USA
Image by Michael J. Fiedler, www.working-journal.com
I have always had a robust interest in the history that surrounds private golf clubs. Baltusrol is no exception. Upon entering the Clubhouse, I was taken on a journey back in golf history. I was working with esteemed Executive Chef Ed Stone, and at the same time, mesmerized by the passion Baltusrol has for golf and preserving its heritage. I am proud that this story will become a part of that. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Where did you grow up, and where did you get your first taste of kitchen life?
I was born in Nashville, Tennessee, to parents who had to move a lot as we were a military family; however, I have lived in New Jersey for most of my adult life. Wherever we lived, no matter what, we always made room for a garden to grow fresh fruit and vegetables and things of that nature. My earliest memories are of fresh Bibb lettuce, fresh corn, and green beans. My grandfather of my father’s side raised bees, so we always had honey. I can’t really say this inspired my career, but it was my introduction to fresh ingredients.
When I was in high school, many of my classmates worked in restaurants to make extra cash. I was 15 when I got my first job, and they used to leave the window cracked open for me to climb into early mornings so I could clean the restaurant before anyone arrived. I worked through high school, and it became time to decide what I would do as a career. I liked working with my hands. I liked getting the immediate gratification of cooking. However, in the late seventies, early eighties, it was not considered a respectable career like it is today. My mother would cry and tell me that it was a job that people took if they didn’t go to college, but it did not dissuade me from pursuing a career in the kitchen.
I worked in local restaurants, and then when I got serious about cooking as a career, I had the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) on my radar. It was 1980. When I started at the CIA, Ferdinand Metz was the President, and it was when we all had to wear white pants. Classes after ours switched to the checkered pants; that’s how we defined ourselves as the white pants guys. (laughs) It was not what it is today, but it got me started. There was a chef there that took a shine to me, Roland Henin, a French chef. He was probably one of the tougher instructors. He would make people cry. He would yell at you if you made Hollandaise sauce and it was too yellow. He caused quite the backup at the CIA as he failed so many people, and they would need to take classes a second time.
When I graduated, Christian Delouvrier, a renowned Master Chef from the Maurice in Manhattan, sent a contact to the CIA as he was looking for some young talent. Roland Henin recommended me, and that is how I got my first position out of culinary school. Delouvrier was an excellent chef, he was older, and his restaurant Maurice was inside the Park Meridian Hotel in Manhattan. The pay was lousy back then, and we barely made $7.50 an hour. He was old-school French and did not have much respect for the American guys. One time he told me that I wasted my time and money going to culinary school! I spent about five and a half years working for him, and when I left, I was his executive sous chef.
GK: Were there any notable chefs working the line with you at the Maurice?
I worked the line with some excellent up-and-coming stars such as Ed Brown, who is now known from the Sea Grill in Rockefeller Center. Throughout my time there, we had numerous guest chef appearances, such as Jean-Louis Palladin, Marc Haberlin, and Adolphe Bosser, to name a few. I was extremely fortunate to cook alongside those renowned chefs. I even had the opportunity to train under Jean-Louis Palladin for about a year. I left there with solid knowledge, and I still stay in touch with my line team to this day.
GK: Where did you go after Maurice?
I took an Executive Chef position at the Grand Bay Hotel, which was across the road from Le Bernardin on 51st Street in Manhattan. It was a small boutique hotel, and Harry Cipriani had space below. It did not work out for me as they wanted to send me down to Coconut Grove, Florida. I did not want to be a corporate chef as they move you around at a moment’s notice. I was starting a family, and my wife, Ann, had family here in New Jersey. I left after a short period of time and secured a position at The Bernards Inn in New Jersey.
New Jersey, at that time, was not known for cuisine, but I still wanted to go. I heard about it through a friend, and I thought I would go check it out. The Bernards Inn was a boutique hotel in downtown Bernardsville. The owners were putting a lot of money towards renovations but were having trouble getting it up and running. Although it was a challenge coming out of a Manhattan restaurant, I took on the role.
When I first arrived at The Bernards Inn, the dining program had an unfavorable reputation. When I took over, I updated the cuisine to reflect my French training and blended it with American cuisine. We established an award-winning dining program and received various honors, including the Mobil Four-Star Award and the AAA Four Diamond Award. It was rewarding to see our hard work pay off and for the Inn to garner such well-earned acclaim. I was at The Bernards Inn for 15 years and had partial ownership.
GK: Tell us about the foundation you started while you were at The Bernards Inn.
In 1993, I started a charity foundation called Dinner of Hope with Chef Craig Sheldon, Chef Michael Schlow, and Diane Carr from the HobNob in Martha’s Vineyard. The foundation was raising money for children’s charities across the state. We would bring fine dining chefs such as Eric Ripert and other great chefs to cook a course each, and we would sell the tickets. While I was president, we raised over $2 million for children in need. It was a lot of fun working with those guys, and in 2001, we handed over the reins to a foundation, Creative Heartworks.
GK: How did you land at Baltusrol Golf Club?
My partners at The Bernards Inn sold their shares in 2002, and I thought it was time for me to try something new. I needed to reinvent myself to keep things interesting. A member of The Bernards Inn staff, Judy Mann, was hired by Baltusrol as the catering director. Judy knew that I was a little discontent with where I was, and she asked me to get my resume together and start applying for positions. I took her advice and started to explore possibilities. Judy had mentioned my name to Kevin Vitale, the General Manager at Baltusrol. He reached out to me, and even though I had never considered a golf club as an option, I went for an interview.
GK: How was the interview?
I will always remember that first interview with Kevin. He would finish my sentence, and I would finish his! We had and still have an excellent connection. I thought to myself that this is too good to be true. I asked Kevin if he was sure the club was serious about making the changes I was hoping for. I was accustomed to ordering from The Chef’s Garden and other great purveyors. I knew I needed to hear this from the Executive Committee that they wanted to make changes in a real way. They were all very committed. That is how it came about. That was 2004, and after I accepted the position, I had one vendor tell me I was committing career suicide by coming to a private club! I went with my gut this time. Kevin is really a big part of why I am here.
GK: This is an impressive place from my perspective, the amount of golf memorabilia here and the history, the art is just astounding.
I was impressed. At the time, the club was going through a transformation. It was beautiful, but you could see things needed to be updated. Especially the kitchen, it was tired. (chuckles) Kevin had told me that they were planning a kitchen renovation, and I am so thankful they did as I would not have been happy long term in the condition that it was in at that time.
GK: So how long did that renovation take?
I started working here in May 2004, and we started the kitchen renovation on January 2nd, 2005; and we got it done before the PGA event that same year! It was a big year, that is for sure.
GK: In 2004 and 2005, that was about the time when the Food Network became popular. Chefs were becoming their own brand, and fine dining was trendy. How did that reflect on the membership?
Our members are world travelers, and they would have eaten at some of the finest restaurants in the world, so I could not understand why the cuisine at the club was not held to a higher standard. It was my goal to change that.
GK: Tell us about Mr. Jim Davies.
Jim Davies is a member and a real foodie, and a genuinely nice man. He was a member of Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin in in New York, and they would have dinners and tasting menus with great wines at The Sea Grill, Le Bernardin, and Perse in Manhattan. Mr. Davies was incredibly supportive and requested I do a tasting menu at the club. He wanted to allow me to express myself creatively with a dinner. He was a big supporter.
GK: How do you work with your sommelier when creating your menus?
Once we have the menu, Phil Wheeler, our Assistant General Manager and wine expert, will bring a selection of wines to me, and we will taste each one. I have my two sous chefs taste the wines together and get some feedback from them. We listen to what Phil’s comments are, and we take it from there.
GK: Tell us about the fire at the club in 2019; how did it affect you and your team?
I was fortunate. People always assume a fire is going to be from the kitchen. But it was actually caused by some work being done on the slate roof of the Clubhouse. We were able to manage as the kitchen was untouched. The very next day, we were serving barbecue to the membership downstairs.
GK: Did you get emotional when that fire happened? Was that hard to take?
Watching the water come down into that trophy room was emotional and heartbreaking. They had already renovated everything and then lost it before our eyes. When you have worked at a club as majestic as Baltusrol for 15 years, you become invested in it. The memorabilia, the paintings, and trophies were salvaged, and our membership and staff showed great resiliency, as they always have when our club has faced adversity. It was a good feeling to see it be put back together, and now it is even better than it ever was.
GK: It has been a challenging two years for Baltusrol. How is business during COVID-19 in the last 12 months?
When members felt comfortable returning to the club this past summer, we were busy, we lost the banquet element, but the dining element was much busier than most years. With more members dining at the club, I could push to elevate the food level because they could not go to fine dining restaurants. There were new challenges every day, but I am fortunate to work with a great team of talented and creative chefs who worked exceptionally hard to ensure our members enjoyed an exceptional dining experience at every visit.
GK: What are your plans for Baltusrol in the coming years?
The last two years have been uniquely challenging at Baltusrol. Still, our membership has been incredibly supportive and patient as we navigated a clubhouse fire, major restoration of our Lower Course, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Our staff is committed to maintaining a safe and enjoyable environment at Baltusrol. I am looking forward to welcoming our members and guests back to the club this spring as we prepare for a milestone season.
The club is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year, and we will be reopening our restored Lower Course in May. In 2023, we will welcome the best golfers in the world to Baltusrol for the 2023 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and we will host our third PGA Championship in 2029. This is an exciting time for our club, and I am excited to be a part of it. Baltusrol has a history of raising the standard of excellence in the industry, and I want to continue to explore new ways to elevate our dining program to new heights.