Peter Zoole, Executive Chef at Addison Reserve Country Club, Delray Beach, Florida, USA
Image by Gideon Heller
I initially interviewed Chef Zach Bell at Addison Reserve in 2017 when I first began producing the second Golf Kitchen book. At the same time, Golf Kitchen was growing quite quickly, and I had many dreams of what I wanted Golf Kitchen to be as a business. Since 2017, we have introduced a magazine, events, and a culinary awards program specifically for the Private Golf and Country Club industry. Fast forward to 2020, after many delays, Peter Zoole has taken the helm at Addison Reserve. I have enjoyed the journey and getting to know Peter as much as I enjoyed getting to know Zach. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: When did your interest in cooking arise?
I was born and raised in Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina, and I wasn’t interested in cooking at all. We had a structured family dinner, but it was meat and potatoes, and I didn’t give it much thought.
GK: How were you introduced the the culinary world?
I got into the food business in high school at a place in Spartanburg called Heavenly Ham, and I was washing dishes, nothing exciting. When I went off to college at Francis Marion University (FMU) I returned to Heavenly Ham on my summer break. One of my coworkers, Laurel Phillips was opening a restaurant and said that if I wanted a summer job the following year to please come and see her. The following summer break, I worked for her in the front of the house bussing, answering phones, waiting tables, a bit of everything. I fell in love with the whole thing, the pace of service, and the excitement of entertaining guests and everything that comes with it. I was intrigued by what the chefs and the cooks were doing in the kitchen. I was 19 or 20 at the time and had realized my passion.
I didn’t want to go back to college; I was not a good student and my grades were poor. I wanted to pursue a career in the culinary field, I needed to tell my parents. My father has a law degree, and my mother has an MBA, I felt that was expected of me. When I told my father I wanted to pursue a culinary career, he was surprisingly supportive, and it was a significant relief.
GK: Which culinary school did you attend?
I intended to enroll in Johnson and Wales in Charleston, South Carolina, and moved there shortly after making my decision. I needed a job to support myself and got a job at a restaurant called The Library at Vendue, once again washing dishes. I was so fast at washing dishes that the sous chef Chef Brian Kleinbub took me under his wing.
I worked my way up the ranks, and the Executive Chef Paul Tinsley, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), told me that I didn’t need to go into debt. I could learn more working for him than from textbooks, and not have a massive liability at the end of it. I was able to work as a waiter several days a week and in the kitchen on other days. I knew both the front and back of the house, which was very advantageous.
In 1995, Chef Paul Tinsley had the opportunity to open a new restaurant at Kiawah Island called the Sweet Grass Cafe, and he asked me to work for him there. It was being built from the ground up. I was learning from the consulting chef’s operations, such as purchasing equipment and menu creation. I stayed there for the season and then I had to find work in the offseason. I was on unemployment as I wanted to return to Kiawah the following season, but I was offered a job as a line cook at a restaurant at Folly Beach called Cafe Suzanne, which was owned by Lee and Susan Chewning.
It was a casual place and a lot of fun; however, I wasn’t learning much and had much desire to advance. The chef ended up leaving and that is when I got a big break, Lee and Susan offered me the Executive Chef position!
GK: That was fast. Tell us about that.
I didn’t know what I was doing, but I took the job regardless. I figured the first thing I would do is organize the kitchen and make sure it was nice and clean. I started buying cookbooks and searching for recipes and inspiration. I had a good run at the cafe. I stayed for almost three years and left with a fair amount of knowledge.
A friend of mine, Boyd Rose, was working at the Penninsula Grill, which was one of the founding father restaurants in downtown Charleston and one of the best. Boyd and I used to hang out often and talk about anything and everything to do with cooking and kitchens. One day he called me as said, “A position has opened at Penninsula Grill, I am leaving.” He offered to introduce me to the Bob Carter, the Executive Chef. I got the job, and it was big-time for me, it was fancy and expensive.
I started out making salads and I began to learn about chefs, chef de cuisine, and sous chefs positions. I worked with Sean Brock, who is a very successful Chef today. We were good friends, and he’s a couple of years younger than me, and he started at Penninsula after me, and I trained him at the salad station. Jacques Larson and Tyler Brown also worked that line, we were all in our mid-twenties, and we challenged each other a lot.
Many celebrities and famous football players would dine there - George Clooney, Robert Redford, Martha Stewart, Jimmy Buffet, Dan Marino, John Elway, and Chief Justice Clarence Thomas. It was the hot spot to be, and it was always exciting.
My now-wife Jennifer was attending Johnson and Wales and working at Penninsula in the pastry section. We got along really well and began dating. It was about five years since I had made the decision not to go to culinary school. I had learned a lot, but I started thinking that I needed to have that piece of paper to validate my career and keep moving up the culinary ladder. I started looking at different schools like the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Johnson and Wales, and then Le Cordon Bleu in Paris caught my attention. It was a year-long course, very reasonably priced and the best thing it was in Paris. I applied and was accepted. My parents scraped together the money, and I moved to Paris with my wife and my Labrador retriever Jed. We didn’t know what we were expecting, the apartment was tiny, just 10 square meters.
GK: Tell us about Le Cordon Bleu?
The classes at Le Cordon Bleu were a very different experience from what they have here in America. There were no textbooks or computers, it was all chef demonstrations that were a couple of hours long, they would show us various techniques, and then we would have to attend small kitchen classes with maybe 10-15 students.
We all had a stove and oven workstation, and we would make the dishes that were assigned, and the chef would critique them at the end. It was hands-on learning, they were older teachers, but they were terrific, the techniques that they demonstrated I had never seen before.
GK: Did you enjoy Paris?
We were relatively poor during that time, but Jennifer and I would go on marathon walks and try to get lost in Paris, we explored every inch of the city on foot and the metro.
Halfway through my course, Jennifer was getting homesick, she wasn’t working, and we decided for her to live with her grandmother in California. I would stay in Paris with the dog to finish the year. After I graduated, I moved to California to be with my wife.
When I returned, we decided that we wanted to live in San Francisco. Everything we owned was in South Carolina, so we flew back, booked a truck, and drove it to San Francisco. Once we were settled, I hit the bricks looking for a new position. I went to Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, Gary Danko’s, and a few others. I walked past Aqua Restaurant, and I had heard all about it, so I stopped in to drop off my resume. The receptionist told me that they were not hiring, and I begged her if she could give my resume to one of the chefs. Before I even got home, I had a message asking me to return for an interview as soon as possible.
I was super excited to be starting the next phase of my career at Aqua, one of the most excellent restaurants in San Francisco! They asked me what my goals were, and I said, "I didn’t drive a truck 3000 miles to make salads all day. I want to learn.” They put me with sous chef Ben Jenkins that was on loan from the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He was one of the most talented sous chefs I had worked with. I will never forget when I had to make a scallop dish, he grabbed the pan out of my hand and said, “Where the heck did you learn how to cook? Don’t touch anything, just watch, OK?” I was instantly humbled.
The Chef / Partner at the time was Michael Mina, who had several restaurants, and the chef and sous chefs would tell me in advance if he was going to be in the kitchen. They warned me not to screw up when he was there. I was terrified as my station was right near where Michael Mina stood, it was so humbling, but I didn’t quit and kept moving up the ladder, each day thinking I was going to be toast, but I figured it out and did very well, and within a year I became the sous chef, I was 29.
The restaurant group that owned Aqua had a falling out and parted ways. Some staff followed Michael Mina, and some stayed. I stayed, and a well known French chef Laurent Manrique took over. I was doing very well at Aqua, and during that time, we were awarded two Michelin Stars. The owners wanted to take over a steakhouse that was not far away, the chef who was well known was leaving, and I got offered the job. They called the restaurant C & L Steakhouse. This was a massive deal for my career, Michelin even mentioned C & L in the guide, although we didn’t have the stars there.
After a few years I returned to Aqua, I was burnt out and longed for the East Coast. I asked my wife what she thought. She was all for it, and we moved back to Charleston, and I took a job with Mike Lata, who was a James Beard Award Winner.
During that time, I had a sidekick job as a restaurant consultant in the Bahamas. That fizzled out, but it was fun flying to the Bahamas in a private jet with designers and engineers! I stayed with Lata for about a year and then began working for the Lowery Group in Hilton Head, South Carolina, with Chef Eric Sayers at the restaurant CQ’s.
Eric and I got along great, and we did all kinds of experimentation. It was when sous-vide was becoming popular. We didn’t have a circulator. We didn’t have a fancy cryovac machine or a vacuum sealer, so we made our version out of cheap goods from Target! I called it the hillbilly circulator on the stovetop. We challenged ourselves, and it was a great experience all around. I was working seasonally at CQ’s and would switch to one of the other restaurants in the group in the offseason. I was settling down and needed security, and this is what brought my attention to private clubs.
I had always believed that club chefs were making powdered mash potatoes, but was soon to learn differently. I interviewed at Colleton River Club in Bluffton. It was hard to leave the Lowery Group, but we wanted to start a family, and the clubs had many of the health insurance and perks that restaurants didn’t have.
I was the interim chef, and I had the opportunity to hire my boss, Chef Robert Wysong. We had the best time in the kitchen there; we got along very well. I desired to become the Executive Chef at a Club, and I knew Robert wasn’t leaving anytime soon, so I hired a chef agency to find me an Executive Chef position. They contacted me and said, “This isn’t an executive chef role, but it’s an executive sous chef job. The club is Addison Reserve Country Club down in Florida, and it’s the best there is. This is better than having an executive chef job right out of the box. I asked the General Manager at Colleton, and he said, “Addison is one of the best clubs there is, I know the GM Michael McCarthy very well.”
I told the chef agency that I was interested in the position. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but after doing some research on Google about Zach Bell, the executive chef and Michael McCarthy, and the club, I got fired up.
Angela Rodriguez is the head of human resources at Addison Reserve and she called me up, and she said, “I have to tell you that I got your resume from Charlie at the agency, and then five minutes later, my boss, the CEO of the club comes in with your resume in his hand. So I had to call you right away.” One thing led to another, and I did several phone interviews and Skype interviews with Zach. I came down for a weekend and toured the property and cooked for everybody and got hired!
Zach and I discovered that our backgrounds were pretty similar. We were the same age and kind of came up through the ranks the same way. He worked for Daniel Boulud and, I was in San Francisco working for Michael Mina and Laurent Manrique.
I moved the family down here in September of 2014, and it was right before the season started. I had towards the end of September to get settled, and then it started to get busy into October, I had just a few weeks to get acclimated. Before you know it, it hits hard! We got a lot of interns from overseas to work for the season. There were over 20 cooks that dropped in one day, and I had to figure out what their skill levels are and what positions they can fill.
The first season for me was a blur. There was so much going on, the volume, with the banquets, the regular dining, everything, it went by quickly. Zach was great to build and grow with. He is one of the most, if not the most incredibly talented chefs I’ve ever worked with and has a wealth of knowledge. Whatever project he works on, he excels. If he is buying a refrigerator, he becomes an expert in that fridge. He learns how to pull it apart and put it back together. He is that detailed.
He pushes himself, and he’s incredibly driven. He pushed the rest of our sous chefs and me; he sets the bar high for everybody. He questioned and challenged us to create and come up with new and crazy ideas. Although he was tough on us, it was for our progress. I respect Zach immensely.
When Zach left Addison in 2019, I got promoted to Executive Chef; I was nervous. Zach’s gone, and nothing’s ever going to be the same and it’s been quite the opposite. I’m very grateful and very vocal about about his achievements but we were excited for the change, eager for something different at the same time. The members asked, “You’re still going to do The Vault, right?” Of course, we wouldn’t be changing the Vault anytime soon, but I wanted to put my mark on things and my ideas about menus, food, and cooking.
When Zach left, it was not widely known that he was resigning, they sent a newsletter out to the members announcing Zach has left, but Peter is here, and Peter Zoole will be the new Executive Chef, and everything is going to be great!
GK: What plans do you want to execute on the culinary side that’s coming from your heart and soul and your palette?
I typed this long email to all my chefs. It started with accolades to Zach, and I explained that we all agree he was our hurricane force and how great he made us through all of his hard work. I wanted to reach out to the team and explain what his original mission was, as you tend to forget over the years. I wanted to reset that.
The next phase of the operation for me was to slowly start to roll out some new menu ideas that were my own. I would run them as specials to start and see what feedback I would receive. At the time, we were also developing menus for our brand new restaurant that was still under construction. Using the membership for a sounding board was how we were going to see the future, mainly working on the menus, and the expectations were extremely high for the new restaurant.
GK: How have you grown as a Chef since your became the Executive Chef?
In my first season as Executive Chef at Addison Reserve, we had a close brush with Hurricane Dorian, and we opened a brand new restaurant where the expectations were very high. The project was super delayed due to construction issues, opening the week before Thanksgiving was the height of our high season! The restaurant has been wildly successful, exceeding my wildest dreams!
We bulled through the rest of our 2019 Season and into 2020. Throughout the season, I kept telling myself that I couldn’t wait until this time next year-there were so many things that I learned on the go. I saw an opportunity for improvements the whole way and I made copious notes, and planned a major overhaul of events, all of which could be structured over the Summer.
GK: And then Covid-19 hit. What now?
In the beginning of March, we started seeing the first effects of COVID-19. In just a few short weeks we were forced to dramatically overhaul the entire way that we do business here at the club. No department has been unaffected. We quickly shifted our operations to a touchless food delivery within our gates. In addition to a la carte delivery, we offer so much more: from groceries to Trivia night, and live music events via Zoom.
As we slowly open our dining rooms to our members, we have learned that our delivery service is here for good. We have been tirelessly working on all new programming that includes exciting and fun events that our members can enjoy while staying safe and practicing proper social distancing. Not only that, but we have also rewritten the book on keeping our staff safe and healthy.
Our upcoming season here will be different than anything we have done before. I am fortunate to be surrounded by positive and intelligent leadership that contribute daily to our progress in this new landscape that we all find ourselves.
The lifestyle complex pool at Addison Reserve Country Club, Delray Beach, Florida, USA
Image by Gideon Heller