Panoramic view of hole 12 and 14.
Image by Joann Dost courtesy Royal Isabela Golf Club
royal isabela golf club: 2012
Traveling to Puerto Rico for the first time in 2012 was a great experience. Why had I not done this before?!! Landing in San Juan was a delightful occasion. I specifically remember how difficult it was to find this golf club. The town of Isabela shows no signs of golf let alone an 18-hole golf course with gorgeous Casitas overlooking the ocean. And yet after driving all over the town, I discovered where the entrance was, behind a little tiny house that you would never think to look. Behind this gate, the journey to the Royal Isabela clubhouse, designed by Hart Howerton, was spectacular.
I was greeted by a wonderful team of staff and then checked into my Casita, which was complete with a stunning ocean view and double rain shower heads in the bathroom! Family dinner was the first agenda, and it was an absolute delight. Here I was sitting with the owners Stanley and Charlie Pasarell, their members and guests, and coincidentally a fellow Connecticut resident from New Canaan, sharing stories over a divine dinner. One thing that captured my memory was the outdoor lighting that allowed for a full view of the beautiful stars in the night sky. I appreciated this style of dinner and it was a great welcome for visitors to come out of their shells and get to know perfect strangers in a unique setting.
Stanley and Charlie Pasarell, renowned Puerto Rican tennis players in the 60s, later found their way to golf and envisioned and built this property. Stanley is a warm soul, immediately noticeable, and he has rescued over 100 dogs from the neighborhoods and delivered farm produce from the expansive farm at Royal Isabela to the locals in need. Charlie, I learned first hand was a dear friend of Arthur Ashe, and to this day I have not published that interview because I am still trying to convey Charlie's emotions on paper without breaking down in tears. His bond and story is unforgettable. Everything about this property had an element of kindness and responsibility for the game of golf, the preservation of the land and the local community.
Stanley and Charlie hired José Carles Fabrigas while he was a caddie at the club. They didn't have a kitchen at that time and Jose said he would make his famous hamburgers and it went from there. I still have not to this day had one of those hamburgers!!!
I am pleased to share these experiences and my interview and relationship with José Carles Fabregas and their family which has continued to grow over the years. ~ Diana Delucia
Image left: José Carles Fabregas competes in the 2018 Golf Kitchen Punta Mita Chef playoff.
Right: Showing of the catch of the day in Boquerón, Puerto Rico.
An interview with José carles fabregas
José Carles Fabregas is one of the young chefs that stole my heart in 2012 when I was fortunate to be writing a feature story at Royal Isabela Golf Club in Isabela, Puerto Rico. José and his wife Magda have had their share of challenges over the last ten years, and their story is nothing short of remarkable. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: We hear that you were a great junior player in Puerto Rico. How did you become involved in golf?
When I was eight years old, I rode in the cart when my father played golf. When I became more interested in the game, my father asked Daniel Santiago, the best player on the golf course, to teach me to play. Daniel even came to live with us for eight years. He was like a brother to me. In 2003, I became Puerto Rico Junior Golf Champion. I represented Puerto Rico six times for six years in a row.
I traveled to the United States to try out for golf mini-tours, but it was too expensive for me to sustain. I quit playing golf when I was 18. My father and mother got a divorce, and it was very hard for me. I could no longer concentrate on the golf.
GK: When did your culinary interest begin?
When I was in the United States, I visited my cousin, Nagib Sued, a chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu [College of Culinary Arts] in Atlanta, and became quite interested in his work. The culinary scene at the school inspired me.
When I returned to Puerto Rico from the U.S, I began studying accounting. I was living alone and didn't have a lot of money. I started making hamburgers, creating my recipes, and selling them at a street stand. When my burger became famous and I began to make money, I quit studying accounting and enrolled in culinary school with the encouragement of my father and my now-wife, Magda. I continued to make my hamburgers while at culinary school, and then I started to get requests for catering. I was not an expert, but I never say no! I always try to take every opportunity that comes my way.
After I finished culinary school, I continued to sell my burgers and added chicken and steak kebabs. A restaurant owner offered me a job, which I accepted, but I quit after seven or eight months. I went back to my catering and my burgers. Many people were also hiring me to cook for them in their homes.
My cooking improved, and I was still playing golf on the side, but more for fun. While playing in a tournament, I met Miguel Suárez Igartúa, Director of Golf at Royal Isabela. He asked me to work with him as a caddie. And, I said yes, because I never say no!
I was the first caddie at Royal Isabela. There was no restaurant on site at that time. One day, everyone was playing golf, and they were getting hungry. I offered to make burgers for Stanley and Charlie Pasarell, the owners. After that, they allowed me to cook in addition to my caddie job. I was delighted.
GK: How did you land the job as sous chef?
When Stanley and Charlie were interviewing for the position of executive chef of the new restaurant, the first one to interview was Alex Yates, who was the executive chef at Leverick Bay Resort in the British Virgin Islands. He needed someone to help him cook for Stanley and Charlie as a part of his interview.
Alex got the job and immediately hired me as sous chef. I worked for Alex for one year, and it was the best experience of my life. He is a visionary who taught me a lot about classic cuisine. Nobody knows this, but Alex told me that he would train me to take over this kitchen eventually. He even took me to New York to meet Dave Pasternack at Esca, where I worked in the kitchen. Dave likes to visit Royal Isabela, and we often went fishing.
GK: When did you get the executive chef position here?
Alex had some personal problems and had to leave suddenly. Stanley and Charlie were a little worried about offering me that position, but Stanley did so regardless. Everything happened so fast for me, and I enjoyed creating new recipes for the members and guests.
Everything here is organic and natural. We have a huge farm on the property. The farm allows me to have the very best ingredients available at all times. Our proximity to the ocean gives me the very best fresh catches of the day. I can even take things off the golf course and use them in my recipes.
GK: How much time do you spend creating your menus each day? I notice you change them daily.
I have a system in place; I have all my recipes documented, except for my hamburger! That is my secret. I create new recipes every day, and I might change two or three ingredients depending on availability and the season. Thinking and planning take me two or three hours every day, but I never notice the time because I love my job and work. I also allow my cooks to become involved in the planning and make some decisions so they can feel good about their job. We are a team.
GK: What are your plans for the future?
I want to stay here, and I want to keep learning. There will never be another place where I have my garden, the ocean, and the best fresh fish right at my fingertips.
GK: What are your experiences working with the Pasarell family?
It is a privilege. They are very nice people who want me to improve. They always talk about the good things I do, but they will also tell me if something is wrong. That is what I like; I need honest feedback from my guests and my bosses. They are my teachers.
Updated Interview with José Carles Fabregas - February 2016
After we spoke in 2013, I hired my old friend Edwin Roberto Valle for the executive sous chef position. Roberto studied with me in culinary school, and then I worked for him in 2008 for eight months in a little restaurant in Cabo Rojo. When Roberto arrived at Royal Isabela, it brought my kitchen an even more positive feeling. Roberto knows how I cook and how I like my dishes to go out to my guests. He respects my work and everything I do.
GK: You have had some extreme challenges to overcome in the past few years, tell us about that.
In July 2013, my wife and I received the news that we would be parents. Our daughter, Valentina Carles Toro, was born on February 26, 2014. On October 31, 2014, at eight months of age, Valentina was diagnosed with cancer, Neuroblastoma. I think it was the most disturbing news a parent can receive. In Hima Caguas Hospital in Puerto Rico, Valentina had surgery to remove an eight-ounce tumor; the Doctors thought she would be fine; however, after many tests and biopsies, they found high-risk Neuroblastoma cancer in the bones. Valentina went through a standard protocol for a high-risk Neuroblastoma cancer patient.
Valentina has had ten operations, six cycles of chemotherapy over six months, two bone marrow auto transplants, and 12 rounds of radiotherapy. We lived in the hospital for 11 months. I have to thank my second family, Stanley and Charlito Pasarell, Edwin Perez, and Juaquin Lopez, for all the support during this challenging process.
In January 2015, my wife and I got the news that we were going to be parents for the second time. Daniella Carles Toro was born on September 13, 2015. This was the best thing for my wife and family because we had to be strong for all that was coming with Valentina's treatment.
In September 2015, Valentina received every exam to detect cancer, and everything was clean. This experience that we are going through has shown us that we have to believe in Faith and to be positive at all times.
"When Jose and his wife Magda became pregnant, she could not be exposed to the radiation treatments that Valentina needed to receive. Jose held Valentina in his arms through her chemotherapy and many other treatments. Valentina will be two on February 26, 2016, and she is happy, strong, beautiful, and very active. Valentina inherited her dad's fortitude, resiliency, and determination to live." ~ Stanley Pasarell
GK: You created a fundraiser for Valentina's treatment; please tell us about it.
On February 7, 2015, 25 top chefs in Puerto Rico hosted a private dinner for Valentina. It was initially for 100 people. We sold out in one day! The following day we sold another 200 tickets, so we decided to have a 300 people dinner to raise funds for Valentina's Treatment. This dinner was so impressive; I could really see the hearts that the chefs and my friends and guests have.
I want to thank the Intercontinental Hotel of Isla Verde for the donation of the hotel's ballroom. We called the top wine imports of the island and every company to donate wine for this cause, the same with food suppliers. The food and wine industry came together for this memorable night.
GK: You are a great golfer; tell us how you are playing now?
In 2015, I didn't play much golf because of everything that was going on with my daughter. However, I can still beat my boss Stanley if he puts some money on the table. I know I will be back playing tournament golf in the future!
I choose to entertain myself with "fishing". We had our boat on the ground in our backyard for years, and one day I began to fix it.
Fishing helped me with the despair we were going through. I thought that if I caught something, maybe I could bring the catch to the restaurant and show my guests.
The funny part of the first day I went fishing, I went with my sous chef to look for some fish, we went for three hours without any fish, and then my sous chef got one little blue runner fish, and we started celebrating because we got a fish! He was celebrating so much that the fish got out of the hook and jumped back into the water. You had to have seen our faces. It has been eight months since that day, and we have caught many large, great fish for the restaurant. I go every week with my sous chef or my dishwasher. With my sous chef Andreas Gonzalez, I go fishing, and with my dishwasher Roberto Ortiz I go to catch some Spiny Lobster or Conch.
The good thing about serving the fish we catch is that you can taste and feel the freshness of the product. It's the same with our organic farm; you feel that, and you get all the nutrients from the product.
I don't catch everything I serve in the restaurant, but I hope one day to do that. It's my new goal, but I believe in and trust my local fisherman. Ever since I became interested in fishing, I have wanted to learn more about what the ocean has to serve up for my recipes. I think it is very important to educate people about how abundant the ocean is and what it can give us if we take care of it.
GK: You were recognized with some awards 2013-2015.
Yes, here is a list of my awards and some special events I participated in since we last spoke.
2015 - Royal Isabela 4th July BBQ Challenge Peoples Choice
2015 -Guisando la Feria Culinary Competition - Silver Medal
2015- Festival Porta Del Sol - Silver Medal
2015 - Qualified for the Final of the Puerto Rico Culinary Team Competition (Top 10)
2015 - Participated in the Privilege Dinner of the Best 20 Chefs of Puerto Rico
2014 - De Norte a Sur Cooking Competition Silver Medal
2014 - Participated in the Privilege Dinner of the Best 20 Chefs of Puerto Rico
2014 - Ex Alumno Distinguido de la Escuela Hotelera Award
2014 - Festival Porta del Sol - Bronze Medal
2011 - Present - Wente Vineyards Wine Tasting Dinner by Erick
2014 - Present - James Beard Award winner Dave Pasternack's Wine Tasting Dinner
2013 - De Norte a Sur Cooking Competition _ Gold Medal
2013 - Saborea Puerto Rico Peoples Choice Award
2013 - Golf Club World Behind The Gates Book by Diana DeLucia
4 Signatures Recipes and Chef full biography
2013 - Chef Puerto Rico New Promise Award by Food & Wine
GK: Tell us about the special Dinner that you hold every year.
For the last two years, Royal Isabela and I have hosted a Dinner with Dave Pasternack called The Whisperer Dinner. We make this Dinner for the charity of el Pastillo Conservation Trust. He has been great to me. We go fishing before Dinner and what we catch is what we serve.
* A new update will appear later in this book collection and Jose's story will take a few more twists and turns.
* I try to keep each chef's interview as close to their own words and language as possible to show their character.
Recipe by Wade Murphy, Executive Chef at The Lodge at Doonbeg (2012 for Golf Club World, Behind the Gates)
Wade Murphy currently operates 1826 Adare in County Limerick
(The Lodge at Doonbeg is now Trump International Golf Links)
Celeriac and Apple Purée
Maple Candied Walnuts
Chef Note: The quail should be stuffed a day in advance.
Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the mushrooms until they turn golden brown. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. Mix the chicken and quail together. Dilute the curing salt and add to the chicken and quail. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate overnight. Transfer the chicken and quail mix to a chilled bowl and stir in the mushrooms. Whisk together the double cream and eggs and mix into the stuffing. Gently fold in the foie gras, taking care to leave it as chunky as possible.
Fill the boned quail with the stuffing. Place each stuffed quail, 1/4 cup duck fat and rosemary sprig into a vacuum-pack or sous vide bag and seal on medium to high pressure. Preheat a water bath circulator to 185 degrees F. Place the quail in the water bath and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from the bath and leave at room temperature for 20 minutes. Refresh in ice water for 20 minutes. Just before serving, remove quail from bags and sear the quail in a pan with a little bit of unsalted butter. Finish the quail in the oven at 375 degrees F for 8
Peel the celeriac. Cut the celeriac into 1/2-by-1- inch strips, allowing 3 per portion. Reserve the remainder for garnish. Combine strips, goose fat, thyme and garlic in a saucepan, and simmer slowly under the celeriac is tender. Cool and refrigerate. Julienne the remaining celeriac. Deep-fry in clean oil, dry under heat lamps and season.
Celeriac and Apple Purée
Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the celeriac, potatoes and apples. Sauté the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the apple juice and tightly cover the pot. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes until the vegetables are very tender. If the vegetables begin to burn or they seem dry, add another few Tablespoons of apple juice or some water. When the vegetables are cooked, add the cream and cook for 1 more minute. Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée. Season with salt and pepper and reserve until needed.
Maple Candied Walnuts
Mix together the melted butter and the maple syrup and coat the walnuts with the mixture. Combine the dry ingredients, sprinkle over the walnuts and toss to coat them evenly. Place walnuts on a baking tray and space well. Bake at 375 degrees F for 5 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the lentils and toast. Add the shallots, reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the shallots have softened. Add the cider vinegar, 4-1/4 cups water, and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the liquid until it has almost evaporated. Blend the lentils with the cooked potato and cornstarch. Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons water and mix until blended. Chef Note: Don’t over blend the mixture as you want to see small chunks of the red lentils.
Warm the celeriac confit and the celeriac puree. Place 2 pieces of the confit in a warm bowl. Add 4 drops of the puree randomly around the base. Place 3 candied walnuts on the plate. Carve the stuffed quail (reheated until hot, if necessary) and place it neatly on the plate. Garnish with the micro celery leaves, apple, fried celeriac and lentil paper. Spoon some jus on to the dish and serve.
Chablis Première Cru, Vallions, 2009
The Lodge at Doonbeg, Country Clare, Ireland
Image by Patrick O'brien, Kiawah Partners
(The Lodge at Doonbeg is now Trump International Golf Links)
Recipe by Wade Murphy, Executive Chef at The Lodge at Doonbeg (2012 for Golf Club World, Behind the Gates)
Wade Murphy currently operates 1826 Adare in County Limerick
(The Lodge at Doonbeg is now Trump International Golf Links)
Foie Gras Terrine
Foie Gras Terrine
Bring the foie gras to room temperature. Separate the lobes and remove any of the larger veins from the big lobe of foie gras using a small pointed knife or a tweezers. Pass the foie gras through a fine sieve and sprinkle generously with sea salt, pink salt, sugar and white pepper. Place into a vacuum sealed or sous vide bag and add Madeira, Port and Sauternes. Seal the bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, place the bag of foie gras into a water bath that has been preheated to 140 degrees. Cook for 10 minutes and place in ice water. Before the foie has completely cooled, remove it from the bag and again pass it through a fine sieve. Whip the foie gras to again emulsify it. Line a tray with greaseproof paper and transfer the foie gras from the bowl to the paper. Place a sheet of acetate or plastic wrap on top and smooth out the mix to about a 1/2-inch thickness. Chill for at least 3 hours. Slice the terrine into 1-by-3-inch rectangles or any
desired shape. Keep the trimmings for other use.
Combine the raisins and rum in a small pot and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil and simmer until the rum has reduced to a syrup. Place in a canning jar and cool. The longer you keep these, the better they taste.
Peel the pineapple, remove the core and save. Cut the pineapple into a small even dice. Combine the sugar, juices, pineapple core, peppercorns and 1 Tablespoon rum in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the syrup has reduced by at least a quarter. Blend the syrup with a hand blender and 80 pass through a sieve. Return mixture to a clean pot. Add the diced pineapple, cover and cook until tender. Taste for seasoning and add the remaining rum. Transfer to a container and chill until needed.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the pineapple puree, sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch and pinch of salt. Turn on heat to medium and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter until melted and smooth. Cool and store in a canning jar, sealed, for up to 1 week. For service place a small amount into a squeeze bottle.
Whisk ingredients together thoroughly, transfer to an ISI Siphon bottle, screw lid on tightly and charge with two nitrous oxide canisters. Shake vigorously and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Put 1 long slice of the foie gras terrine in the center of the plate. Spoon a spoonful of the pineapple compote onto one end of the terrine and allow it to fall off one side. Squeeze 3 or 4 drops of the pineapple curd at various places around the plate. Randomly place the raisins around the plate. Shake the siphon gun vigorously and do a test spray away from the plate. Spoon the foam onto the end of the terrine opposite to the compote and again allow it to fall off the terrine. Garnish with the micro coriander sprigs and toasted brioche and serve.
Riesling Auslese, Wittman, 2011
The Lodge at Doonbeg, Country Clare, Ireland
Image by Patrick O'brien, Kiawah Partners
(The Lodge at Doonbeg is now Trump International Golf Links)
Image left: Wade Murphy, Executive Chef at The Lodge at Doonbeg in 2012
Image right: Foie Gras Terrine with Pineapple and Rum-soaked Raisins
THE LODGE AT DOONBEG: 2012
In the fall of 2012, I took my first trip to Ireland. It was an interesting flight that day. We landed in Dublin for a layover, and the connecting flight was my first experience on Ryan Air. It was an unusual aircraft, I mean, seriously, there was no padding on the plane's interior walls, and it was freezing; I did not take my coat off!
We landed very early in the morning at the tiny Shannon airport in County Clare, Ireland. It must have been 5 A.M., and it seemed I was the only one that needed a ride to my destination, The Lodge at Doonbeg. My driver had my pickup time wrong, and I had to wait for several hours for him to arrive. When he came, I went on a magical adventure to the town of Doonbeg and then to the Lodge.
I was enchanted by what appeared to be a castle from years gone by. The building, however, which John Haley from Kiawah Partners designed, opened in 2002.
From the General Manager Joe Russell, the Rockstar Golf Professional Brian Shaw, Grass Superintendent Jim McKenna, and all the staff at that property were an absolute delight. The accommodations were fit for a King.
Working with Wade Murphy, the Executive Chef at the time gave me an entirely different perception of Irish cuisine.
Please see my interview below that was published in my first book Golf Club World, Behind the Gates in 2013.
The Lodge at Doonbeg, Country Clare, Ireland
Image by Patrick O'Brien, Kiawah Partners
(The Lodge at Doonbeg is now Trump International Golf Links)
an interview with wade murphy
GK: Tell us about your journey to become Executive Chef at Doonbeg Golf Club and Lodge.
I have been cooking from a very young age. I grew up in Gorey, County Wexford, in southeastern Ireland. My grandmother was a cook, and I spent many weekends with my grandparents. When she was cooking, I would stand on a bucket, peeling potatoes into a sink. That is one of my earliest memories. Ever since then, I knew I wanted to be a chef or involved in the hotel and catering industry. Fast forward. I attended the Dublin Institute of Technology where they have a culinary program. Simultaneously, I worked in a few Relais & Chateaux hotels part-time. At the time, there were only a few restaurants in Dublin creating fine dining menus. As a young chef, all I heard of was London. When I finished culinary school, I packed my bags and went to London. I spent seven years working in various two- and three-star Michelin restaurants and hotels. After those seven years, I returned to Ireland. Some friends told me about a new five-star hotel opening in Dublin. It was the Four Seasons. I applied for a position, was hired and spent six years working there. During that time, I was part of a task team that helped to open Four Seasons properties around Europe. I helped with the openings in Sharm El Sheikh, Prague, Budapest and London.
In 2005, I wanted to expand my culinary knowledge and branch out. Mr. John Brennan, who was General Manager at the Four Seasons in Dublin, arranged for me to transfer to the Four Seasons in Chicago. I went there as a sous chef, stayed for a few years and then was sent to New York to help with the re-opening of the Four Seasons after its refurbishment.
When I returned to Ireland, I opened a small boutique hotel called Lisloughrey Lodge, further up the West Coast from where we are now. It was my first executive chef job, and I spent 3-1/2 years there. While I was working there, we won various awards for best chef and best restaurant and two AA Rosette Awards. The hotel was so popular that, at one stage, I worked for several months without a day off. My boss then arranged a break for me to get away for a few days. And it’s funny because that break was at Doonbeg.
I came down and stayed here for a few days with my wife, Elaine. It was the off-season. I had a great time chilling out here; it was really what I needed. As we were leaving Doonbeg, I turned to my wife and said, “I could work there.” Two years later, I got a call from Kevin Kenny who was in charge of Darby’s restaurant at Doonbeg.
Kevin had his wedding at Lisloughrey Lodge. He told me, “We are looking for an executive chef to take over the complete running of the food at Doonbeg.” I told Kevin that I was very happy where I was and that I would think about it and then get back to him. Then I called my wife and said, “We are moving!”
GK: There are many dining areas at Doonbeg. How do you manage everything so well?
I have complete control over the food, every aspect of it from the Long Room Restaurant, the members’ bar and Darby’s to the Marquee Pavilion where we hold weddings and large functions. It’s a great property. When I came on board, the guys had been through a tough time, a very busy time, and they were all tired. I said I wasn’t going to come in like a Tasmanian Dust Devil, so I decided I would slowly make the changes needed, without upsetting the team. We’re starting to see the benefits of that now. I am lucky to have a great team by my side.
The Long Room Restaurant was just awarded Best Hotel Restaurant in Ireland this year , which was a great accolade to receive. I have won many awards as a chef, but I would rather win best restaurant because that award is for the whole team. The chef is only as good as his team. I enjoy working at Doonbeg. I come here every day and get to look at the most amazing scenery during the trip here. I look out toward the ocean and know that the next thing past that ocean is America. Millions of liters of water!
GK: Do you support the local markets?
We have great local produce in the area. My mission is to source and use as much local product as is physically possible. My fish comes from right out there [he points to the Atlantic Ocean]. The guy who fishes for me also has my lobster pots. I can see his trawler some days. His fish is phenomenal, fresher than fresh. All of my meats and game come from within a 50-mile radius of the property. It’s inspiring to me as a chef to be able to do that. During the wild garlic season, I walk out onto the golf course where the wild garlic grows, and I forage for it.
GK: Besides your grandmother, who has influenced your cooking?
I have been inspired by many chefs whom I’ve met during my travels. I worked for some of London’s most famous chefs during the ‘90s, and I loved that style of cooking. In Ireland, I admire people like Ross Lewis of Chapter One Restaurant; it’s my favorite. There are others such as Paul Flynn at The Tannery in Dungarvan, County Waterford; Derry Clarke from L’Ecrivain in Dublin; Neven Maguire at MacNean House and Restaurant in County Cavan and Mickael Viljanen, chef of the Greenhouse Restaurant in Dublin. Mickael is cooking phenomenal food and is probably the most talked about chef in the country at the moment. In the U.S., Tom Colicchio is a favorite along with Grant Achatz and my old mentor, Kevin Hickey, at the Four Seasons Chicago.
I am also very passionate about Irish ingredients, but you also will see some outside influences in my style of cooking. James Beard had a quote that I sometimes put at the bottom of the menus. He said, “I don’t like gourmet cooking, I don’t like this and that cooking, I just like good cooking.”
I’m an Internet fiend who constantly looks at YouTube to see what other chefs are doing. Whenever I take a vacation, I choose a food destination. I also read a lot of cookbooks. My wife has banned me from bringing books into the house! My Amazon account is massive. Last year, I had to build two new bookshelves to fit all of the books. When I am not working, I am a food sponge.
I am really passionate about food and, today, that is a requirement in order to achieve anything in this industry.
***Wade Murphy currently operates his restaurant 1826 Adare in County Limerick. (2022)
Recipe: Stuffed Quail with Apple and Celeriac Purée, Celeriac Confit, Crisp Walnuts and Lentil Paper
Recipe by Wade Murphy, Executive Chef at The Lodge at Doonbeg.
(The Lodge at Doonbeg is not Trump International Golf Links.)
Left: Shawn Olah, Executive Chef at Highlands Falls Country Club, Highlands, North Carolina, USA
Right: Sweet Corn Bisque with Butter Poached Maine Lobster
Highlands Falls Country Club situated about two miles from the quaint, elegant town of Highlands, was my first visit to North Carolina apart from layovers in Charlotte. I was blown away by the beauty of the mountains in the Fall.
Working with young chef Shawn Olah was a pleasure. His story is endearing as is his love of family, cooking, and his passion for creating new culinary programs for the areas youth.
~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Tell us about your upbringing?
I grew up moving around quite frequently. We moved from Florida to Grand Junction, Colorado, Fredericksburg, Virginia and back to Florida due to my stepfather’s TV repair service business. Bouncing around schools took its toll and when my parents separated, my mother and I went back to Florida. They tried to make another attempt at being a cohesive family, so we yet again moved back to Virginia. I couldn’t find a job and all that was available was a line cook position at Taco Bell or to become a backyard mechanic. This was not for me, and I knew I had to make a change.
One day I told my mom I was going out to look for a job. What I was actually doing, was going to seek opportunities elsewhere. I slid my suitcase out my window, got into my Honda Civic and started driving back to Florida. When she called and found out that I was at the Georgia border, she wasn’t exactly happy with me! I knew from experience that there were a lot more opportunities for me in South Florida. I kept driving and I ended up staying with my grandparents.
GK: Did it take you long to find employment?
I was looking for a simple job that I could jump into, I had minimal experience. I found an advertisement in the newspaper for a position as a busboy/food runner at Royal Poinciana Golf Club. I didn’t know anything about golf
clubs, but I figured I could clear tables to make some money. I was very fortunate as I was able to form a friendship with the Executive Chef John Giebels. Chef Giebels had been at the club for 25 years, but six months after I joined the team he retired. The club brought in Chef Manfred Brauer from the Bellagio in Las Vegas to take the executive chef position. We hit it off immediately and he recommended that I should move from the front of the house to work with him in the kitchen. Beginning the following day, I was to be trained as a professional chef and paid $3/hour more than I was at that time. As a teenager that was a large jump in wages, I obviously agreed!
After some training, I became his executive banquet chef and remained in that position for just under five years. During one of the off-seasons, I took a summer position in New Hampshire at an Emerald Distinguished Club called Bald Peak Colony Club. I went there as an executive banquet chef for a season and when I came back, I decided to move to The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida. This was with the guidance from Manfred as the sous chef was not going to be leaving any time soon and I still had a couple of career stages to go through. His recommendation was that I could stay at Royal Poinciana but that it was not best for my future development. It would be good for me to move on and learn from another chef to continue my education.
I took a position at the Ritz-Carlton working under Executive Chef Derin Moore, CMC. I worked in the main hotel in various outlets, did some private functions at Tiburon, as well as private off-property events. I was even fortunate
enough to work the famous Naples Winter Wine Festival, operating one of the dining services. I grew tired of the hotel lifestyle, and I moved on to The Club Pelican Bay, another beautiful property in Naples. I stayed at Pelican Bay for five years as the sous chef/restaurant chef. I then received a call from Patrick McDonald, who was formerly the
assistant general manager at Royal Poinciana.
Patrick was a great mentor for me on all aspects of the business. I was gaining the opportunity to work with him again! Patrick took over a tennis and swim club named The Town Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lucky me, he needed a chef! I was 27 and my goal was to be an executive chef at the age of 35. I thought my goal was a bit premature, as I was training under chefs in their 50s. Regardless, with Patrick’s support, I jumped into my first executive chef role eight years earlier than my goal. I stayed there for three years, when an opportunity to operate a larger golf club with two clubhouses presented itself.
My move to Wisconsin from South Florida became a life changing experience, one which I was not expecting. A few short months after taking my role with The Town Club, I was rushed into emergency surgery, as my appendix had ruptured some-time during my work-day. It was during the short recovery I was mandated to take, that I met my now wife, Amber. In hindsight, maybe things do truly line up as they’re meant to.
GK: Where did you head to after Milwaukee?
When I was 30, I secured the executive chef role at Green Bay Country Club, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. This role offered me the opportunity to oversee two separate clubhouses, about a mile apart. I had a sous chef and culinary team at both locations. This gave me the opportunity to solidify my abilities running two full operations. I was there for about 18 months, when my wife and I decided to leave after our son was born. We realized once we had an infant, subzero temperatures were no longer desirable for up to seven months a year.
Patrick Delozier with GGA Partners presented me the opportunity to work at Highlands Falls Country Club in Highlands, North Carolina. It was a real draw as I would be working just over half a year, and I could be a present father to my young son. Living in Virginia as a teenager, I knew the Carolinas would be a great place for us to raise our family. It offered the rural, small town feel with several major cities just a short drive away. Most importantly, was the obvious still ingrained nature of good old-fashioned Southern hospitality.
We sold our home in Florida in the midst of Covid-19, when the housing prices skyrocketed and relocated to North Carolina. Initially, the club assisted us in securing a rental property until we were able to find a home to purchase.
We ended up finding a home just outside of Highlands, that we felt better fit our lifestyle.
Highlands Falls Country Club had been completely remodeled, and for me it was like coming to a brand-new property. I was really impressed by the membership and General Manager Jason Macaulay. They had the willingness to make some big changes in the dining operations and gave me free reign. Although the club had been remodeled in 2020, it was closed for the off season. The club reopened in May 2021 to a friendly membership that was eager to socialize.
GK: That must have made it better for you as a chef as they’re not expecting to return to the old Highlands Falls.
The membership was aware that there was an executive search taking place for a new chef. I had been invited to the club, along with other chefs to do tastings for the executive chef position. The tasting panel included board members, house committee members, and long-term members. They were very selective on who would be involved with each chef’s tasting, to my understanding. To reopen the club, it was much easier with a closed operation. With a new face in the kitchen, we knew the membership would return anticipating fresh flavors and menu offerings.
GK: The club had been closed for a long time, how and where did you source products for your tasting?
When I arrived in Highlands Falls the club was not operational. There were no deliveries, coolers were empty. I had to find and travel store to store, in a semi-rural area with bad cell reception to find food products. I had to somewhat develop my menu around what I could find on the shelves, which was nerve-racking considering the cuisine I aim to
serve during tastings. I developed my menu in the grocery store! I thought it was the best plan of attack for the situation, which came to work out well.
GK: So, the whole town knows who you are already, (laughs) in the grocery department that is?
The produce department particularly. Someone finally asked if I needed assistance. I believe they thought I was confused, circling the store with an empty cart making notes with pen and paper over and over. What better way to make a lasting impression in a small town?
GK: I see that you have one of the largest croquet clubs in America here. Do you take care of them as well?
Our culinary program services all areas of the club, including private in-home events. We host multiple croquet tournaments throughout the year, with teams from all over the country. We received rave reviews from members
and guests last year, with plans to continue expanding our dining offerings in 2022.
GK: Have the members given you a lot of feedback thus far?
Yes, almost all of the feedback is positive! Of course, like any other dining operation, we always have requests for previous favorites or dietary/special requests. It’s a beautiful thing when you know what quality the membership expects, without much variance by member group. I have been a part of operations where committees control menus for dining services, which makes a chef’s duties more difficult. Here, I have several members that remember me from much earlier in my career in Naples, Florida. Knowing the level of service they expect, makes it easier to provide! I’m going to continue to grow and see where evolution takes us. I think that the best I can do as a chef is to be myself, continue to grow and develop, and continue to put myself out there.
GK: How did you come up with the dishes that you presented for this story? What were your inspirations?
They are inspired from dishes that I have created in the à la carte dining menus. I have a strong belief in “simple food done well” being the forefront of what I do. Although we encompass all traditional and modern flavors and techniques, I find it very important to put the same energy and dedication in-to all culinary items, especially the simple things.
GK: You mentioned you are not a big pastry fan, but your pastries are immaculate.
Thank you! I’ve learned many flavor profiles and techniques along the way. When I was at the Ritz-Carlton, I would clock out and enter the pastry room and just be a fly on the wall and if I was lucky, I could assist! I wanted to learn, and it was obvious, which was generally the biggest hurdle, getting a chef to allow me in their area. Overall, in my career I have worked with chefs, bakers and pastry chefs from international destinations and backgrounds. I learned about breads, pretzels, and more working with a great German baker at Royal Poinciana. I was even fortunate enough to be a semi-regular at Norman Love’s Confections, way back in early 2000’s while he was working on some
developments for Godiva. Many of the other pastry items I do are self-taught or self-developed, utilizing the basic constructs of traditional baking.
GK: How are you managing the staff shortages during these crazy times?
Like everyone in the industry, staffing has presented challenges. This year we are taking a proactive approach in not only finding staff, but we have assumed an almost “focus group” on how to retain employees and key staff. In my department, I have moved the sous chef and pastry chef roles to annually compensated positions, even though we are only operational from May to October. We have immediately drawn the interest of talented young professionals with families, because of the quality of life we offer.
GK: What interesting programs are you planning for your staff, such as off-season educational programs , trips to The Chef’s Garden and regional farms?
Covid has presented many challenges in the field of continuing education for the hospitality industry. Many options are just now beginning to reopen with a physical location, rather than all online based platforms. In the mountains
of North Carolina, we are fortunate to have a wide diversity of different farming practices right here at home. We live in the only rainforest within the continental U.S. We are fortunate to have many specialty farms in the area. One of my favorite hidden gems is the Wagyu beef producers, Providence Farmstead. Once travel restrictions have lightened, I have plans to reach out to The Chef’s Garden and organize a trip for some of my best to visit The Culinary Vegetable Institute of America, as well as other famous properties. It’s important to keep and grow the
interest of the next generation of culinary professionals.
GK: Tell us about the beehives on the property.
The Apiary was in place when I arrived and is maintained by our superintendent Fred Gehrisch, CGCS and his team. I’ve tried to utilize the benefits of his program more and more in our cuisine at the club. The desserts presented in this story both use our honey in different applications. We also sell the honey in our golf shop to members throughout the late spring, fall, and winter. He only does one large harvest a year but it’s something I’d like to get more involved with for my own education.
We are incredibly fortunate to have a professional superintendent who utilizes all complete organics throughout our golf course and outdoor areas. Mr. Gehrisch even goes as far as having our lakes and streams on the property tested regularly, to ensure that the trout he stocks our lakes with annually are safe for those to eat, if they can catch them!
GK: What are your plans for Highland Falls this year?
I think we are going to continue to grow and expand. Last year we put in a bar menu since during the renovation, they expanded the bar, adding indoor-outdoor seating. I knew that the bar was naturally going to be a hub for social interaction. With great success, we are planning on adding in some gastropub themed nights for upscale small plates and diverse offerings, to continue growth of our bar concept. I am looking forward to the season-opening!
We have multiple member weddings, and The National Croquet Tournament in May. I’d like to get involved with the Taste of Highlands either this year or next if we can. I believe that the more opportunities we have within both the club world and Highlands Community, the more we should continue to get involved. I’ve worked in some fantastic properties in my career, and Highlands Falls is a hidden gem that’s sure to shine in the spotlight. We’re discussing remodeling the kitchen next year to allow me some of those necessary improvements, primarily space to continue to grow and accommodate more of the areas on the property.
Our demand for more options, more diverse offerings in more diverse settings has grown significantly in the first year. I believe this trend and growth rate at the club will be consistent for years to come. I’d like to collaborate more with the local chefs this year. Our mountains are filled with all these great clubs and luxury developments with limited educational opportunities without distant travel. I’d like to develop long-term monthly meetings for chefs and develop other opportunities with the ACF (American Culinary Federation) in mind, much like I’m used to in South Florida. I plan on staying a while as it’s a beautiful area, a fantastic club and an even better membership.
The main Clubhouse and Hole #10. Image by Michelle Muraco
SPICE MAPLE LEAF FARM DUCKBREAST WITH PETITE CONFIT, BEGGARS PURSE, NORTHERN BEANS, ROASTED SQUASH AND GRIOTTE CHERRY REDUCTION
Recipe by Shawn Olah, Executive Chef at Highlands Falls Country Club, Highlands, New York, USA
Image by Diana DeLucia
Yield: 2 portions
Griotte Cherry and Duck Confit Beggars Purse
Griotte Cherry Reduction
Trim and score the excess fat on the duck breast, careful not to score all the way through into the meat. Evenly season both sides of the breast with Five Spice, then lay on to a plastic-covered pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down onto the meat. Refrigerate and allow to sit overnight. When ready to cook, season the duck breast with sea salt and lay fat-side down onto a cast iron pan, over medium heat. Allow to simmer for about seven minutes or until the fat has begun to render and is taking on a golden color.
Turn over the breast and continue to cook for about 3-5 more minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary. Lightly baste the duck with garlic, thyme, and whole butter. Remove duck from pan and place on resting rack, allow to rest 6-8 minutes before slicing.
Cover dried beans with cold water, refrigerate overnight. The next day, drain the beans and place them in a pressure cooker. Add chicken stock, whole garlic clove, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and sea salt to the pot and secure lid tightly. Cook beans for 25-35 minutes, or until beans have reached the desired texture. Once cooked, remove beans with a perforated spoon and place in a separate bowl. Lightly toss beans with chopped parsley, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt, before plating.
Preheat oven to 325°F, convection oven preferred. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, mix until squash is evenly coated with all ingredients. Pour contents of the bowl onto an oven-safe baking sheet, bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes or until squash is tender with roasted edges. Remove from oven and place on a plate, scatter over the white beans.
Griotte Cherry & Duck Confit Beggars Purse
In a mixing bowl, combine the shredded duck, cherries, and lightly warmed duck fat. Mix well and season lightly with salt. On a clean cutting board, lay out one sheet of the Feuille de Brieck pastry dough. Cut the sheet into three even segments. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the pastry sheets and place a small teaspoon of the duck mixture in the center of the triangle. Bring all three points up together, then slowly bring in the middle areas to form a purse shape. With a blanched leek string, wrap around the top of the purse twice and gently tie it closed. Lightly coat the base of a baking sheet with clarified butter before placing the duck purse to avoid sticking while cooking. Lightly brush the outsides of the purse with clarified butter. Bake for about ten minutes at 325°F, or until pastry is crisp. Lightly pick up and hold the top, using a small spatula when plating.
Griotte Cherry Reduction
In a small saucepan, saute the shallots and garlic, herbs, bay leaf, and black peppercorns utilizing the duck fat until shallots are translucent. Add sugar, allow a caramelization to begin until an amber color is reached. Deglaze with sherry vinegar, careful to avoid spitting as the vinegar and sugar are introduced. Once the sugar has broken down, reduce for about a minute. Add liquid from the cherries and reduce until the vinegar and alcohol from the cherries have found a proper balance, usually about 4-6 minutes. Add in demi-glace and reduce slowly. Stir frequently to avoid any burning or scorching of the reduction. Reduce over low heat for about 15-20 minutes, or just before the sauce has reached the point of au sec. Strain the sauce through a fine strainer, then add in whole cherries. Allow cherries to steep in sauce for about 20 minutes, then season with sea salt to taste.
Trim the ends and peel the white asparagus, about 1/2 inch from the top down to the base. In a small saucepot, mix water, milk, sugar, and salt over medium heat, bringing to a simmer. Once at a simmer, blanch the white asparagus for about 4 minutes. Check for tenderness, then quickly remove from pot and rapidly cool in the ice bath. Once cooled, saute the asparagus with clarified butter, parsley, white wine, and whole butter before serving.
Using a spoon, place a healthy line of white beans on the left side of the plate. Lightly place pieces of squash over and throughout the beans, for even flavor distribution. Place the three petite purses staggered across the left of the plate, throughout the beans. Slice the middle of the duck breast and lay on the right side of the plate. Duck breast should be well-rested, use a light towel if necessary to avoid excess moisture on the plate. Drizzle cherry reduction between the curvature of the bean mixture and slice of duck breast. Garnish the bean mixture with whole cherries, Chef’s Garden Beet Blush, and fried sage leaves. Lightly sprinkle Maldon salt on the duck breast before serving.
Elk Cove Pinot Noir La Boheme 2019
The mild earth flavors of the duck breast pairs well with this Oregon Pinot Noir, due to its high natural acidity. The blackberry and hints of fresh cherry, and a silky finish complement this excellent dish.
~ Jason Macaulay, General Manager/COO
Signature Hole #15’s Waterfall is the head of the Cullasaja River.
Image by Victoria Thomas
Rob Labritz, PGA Tour Champions
Image courtesy PGA Tour Champions
GK: Can you tell us about your nutrition before, during, and after your game?
Food and nutrition are essential for my professional golf career. Consistency in my energy levels is critical. I need the energy to practice, energy to play, and energy to focus. I can maintain power in all three areas by what I put into my body.
I will spend a considerable amount of time walking the course before a tournament. A week before, I will decarb, and then I’ll carbup the day before an event. While I generally follow a keto-style diet, with some carbs mixed in, I know I need the carbohydrates to compete effectively.
On the morning of a tournament, I eat egg whites, fresh fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, and a piece of toast. That’s my daily breakfast. I am occasionally a big salad and chicken advocate for lunch and splurge on steak. I eat a ton of vegetables, so much that my wife calls me a vegetarian; even though I am not, I still like my proteins. (laughs)
During the tournament week, I will eat a lot of pasta as I walk around 7-9 miles for four hours, so much energy is required. When I am out on the golf course, I snack on almonds and drink Isagenix Shakes. I will often have Isagenix as a breakfast replacement if I am in a rush.
“If you follow your golf pros guidance it will improve your golf game, your health and life.”
GK: Has your dietary teaching method changed in the last 20 years?
It has gotten better for sure. I removed all processed foods, food bars, and refined sugars. These may give you a quick sugar high, but you will crash soon afterward. I recommend Epicured’s Protein Energy Bites, they keep me at an optimal energy level while competing on the golf course and they taste amazing!
I am a big advocate for Athlade, for sustained energy both pre-round, during, and post.
Athlade provides natural energy, boosts endurance, enhances immunity, improves hydration, and helps reduce inflammation associated with physical and mental stress*.
GK: What do you advise new clients and members?
People develop habits over the years, and it is challenging to change someone’s diet. I recommend a significant amount of stretching, and I advocate for clean eating. If they are playing golf for fun, I suggest they carbup to sustain energy throughout the day. I recommend any foods containing anti-inflammation ingredients at the end of the day.
Hydration is essential; a bottle of water per hour during a game and mix in some electrolytes like the Athlade. Practice good sleeping habits.
GK: How satisfying is watching clients progress if they follow your recommendations?
It is incredibly satisfying to see someone taking the information I provide and turning it into improvement in their game. I try to give them the best advice to live their best lives, and if they follow it, their bonus is an improved golf game! It is almost as exciting as winning a tournament!
If you follow your golf pros guidance it will improve your golf game and your health and life!
Left: Wes Tyler, Executive Chef at The Club at Carlton Woods, The Woodlands, Texas, USA.
Right: Cherrywood Smoked Burrata.
Images by Diana DeLucia
Wes Tyler was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, in 1987, the world’s bourbon capital. His parents were both from farming families, and he grew up working on the farm, developing core values and a strong work ethic.
At 17, he took a position at a local pizza shop, delivering pizzas and learning the business as a teenager, and continued to work in chain restaurants while attending college. Tyler did not enjoy the college classes, and his mom suggested a switch to culinary school. He never looked back. When he graduated from culinary school, Chef John Stanley from Woodlands Country Club gave him a position as a sauté chef at the club. After four years, he was the sous chef. He took a position at a Spanish tapas restaurant and an executive backstage catering chef position that serviced large venues in Texas.
His return to the club industry came when he was 28, working as the executive sous chef under the Executive Chef Jeffery Baker at Houston Oaks Country Club. It was here that he would realize the importance of his childhood roots.
Tyler took the sous chef role at The Club at Carlton Woods in ? and was quickly promoted to the executive sous chef role. When the executive chef left the position, Tyler assumed the executive chef role and is currently building his team and new programs and initiatives for the club and his team. Wes Tyler is one of those young culinary talents that takes complete ownership of his career in all areas. His talents go way beyond being a chef. His passion for artisan bourbons, writing, and lifting his team to succeed is exemplary. He is an example of the new modern chef, making significant strides in changing the perception of the private golf and country club industry on a culinary level. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: You are originally from Kentucky, what are some of your earlier memories?
I was born in Bardstown, Kentucky in 1987, the world’s bourbon capital. One of the strongest memories I can recall from a young age, was the warm fragrance of sour mash fermenting in the air in the early mornings and the smell of fresh corn being harvested in the fields across the county. I can still almost taste it. Retrospectively, this has become an intricate part of my life today, although I didn’t know the impact it would have on me at the time.
Both my mother and father came from farming families, and as a child I remember my grandparents did a lot of canning and preserving. Very early on, I can remember sitting on the porch snapping beans into 5 gallon buckets, shucking corn by the bushel, and puttering around in the garden with my grandfathers. As I got older I worked on the farms, in the cornfields, and hay fields developing core values and a work ethic that is only earned through legitimate blood, sweat, and tears. At the time, I didn’t realize what I was being introduced to at such a young age, however I’m thankful now as I often refer back to much of this in my career as a Chef today.
Growing up, my mom always cooked home-cooked meals, and most nights the family would sit around the dinner table and eat together. This was our time. It instilled an important routine, and a chance to connect with each other at the end of the day. I cherish these memories, and feel blessed to have been so fortunate.
GK: How did you end up at culinary school?
At 17 years old, I got my first job at a local pizza shop, delivering pizzas and learning the business as a teenager. After high school, I stayed in the restaurant industry mostly while going to college, bouncing around from chain to chain, and making enough money to have a good time while enjoying life. After a couple of failed attempts at the university, my mom suggested I go to culinary school since I was unsure with what I wanted in a career, and seemed to be happy in the kitchen.
Fortunately, I decided to make the leap into a familiar world, and discovered that I was genuinely passionate about food and everything that surrounded the hospitality industry. It was a mindless transition at first, although rigorous, and I was used to being a rebel so the early drive that was instilled in me began to shine through in the kitchen! I had to dress the part, uphold the standards, and take criticism just as I had as a young boy on the farm learning the ropes from my grandfathers. It was imperative, necessary, and paralleled the excellent foundations I had already developed coming up.
Now days, there is a stigma with culinary schools because many people come straight out of high school, graduate from culinary school, and then think they are automatically a chef. It doesn’t work like that, and I never had that mindset. Additionally, there is another side of the industry that believes that learning by working in the kitchen, transitioning through the school of “hard knocks”, and gaining experience as you work through the ranks is the only way. I embraced this very early on. Then you’ve got the select few that have been exposed to the industry, created a foundation with culinary education, and use a combined perspective to springboard a career. For me, it has been a combination of all of this that has worked well, and proven to outline a path as I progress within the industry and continue to raise the bar.
I have always enjoyed learning about other people’s perspectives, especially the younger generation. A reality check is often needed for students after leaving culinary school; it’s not like Food Network or TV shows that glorify chefs and kitchens. These shows, although enlightening, often put us in a bad spot because they make it seem like everything is beautiful and perfect all the time, and that is just not the case!
GK: What were your plans after that?
After I graduated culinary school, I was looking into see what I could land. A chef in Texas at The Woodlands Country Club, John Stanley, called me back and gave me an opportunity. We talked on the phone, and he said, “When can you be down here?” It was a Wednesday, and I said, “I can be down there by this weekend.” It was as simple as that. I let my family know I was headed off, and that was the start of my club career as a chef.
GK: Why were you applying to country clubs?
I didn’t even know what a country club was at the time, as I hadn’t been exposed to them. There was one in Bardstown, but it’s not like what we have here in Texas. I told my family that I had found a job and was going to Texas. I packed everything in my car and left that weekend. I lived in a hotel for three weeks and made it work until I got on my feet. I made some terrific friends, and an amazing chef there, Erik Gonzalez, took me under his wing and is my best friend to this very day. We became roommates for several years, worked together, and now he is an executive chef at Woodforest Golf Club here in Montgomery.
GK: How long were you at Woodlands Country Club and what did you do after that?
I stayed at Woodlands Country Club for nearly four years. I started as a line cook on sauté and worked my way up to sous chef. I was young and reckless, but I learned a lot. I met my wife Brooke there, and held our wedding at the club shortly after. She is still the catering director there, and is my rock in all that I do.
After getting married, I left The Woodlands Country Club to take an executive chef position at a tapas restaurant close by. I didn’t know anything about Spanish food and had never been to Spain. I got into the books, and I learned as much as I could. I learned how to run the operation, the kitchen, and the staff. It was a small restaurant; however, it had very high-volume traffic in a high-end area. I stayed for two years and then got an executive backstage catering chef position at a local catering company that serviced all the large venues in the area.
I thought, man, this is great, this is every cook’s dream to cook for the stars. They offered me what I thought was a great salary, more money than I’d ever been offered at the time— it wasn’t long before reality set in. I was working 18-to-20-hour days. We would show up at 3:30-4:00 in the morning, load up all the equipment onto the 18-wheeler, drive it to the venues, and unload it at the stadium or wherever we were going. Cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner, load it all back up, and bring it back. We had a newborn at the time, so I only stayed for six months. It was grueling, and not what I thought it was going to be.
When I left there, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I had to do something. I ended up at another country club and was there for maybe three or four weeks and realized that this wasn’t right fit for me. They’re not doing it the right way. Then, I received a call from Chef Jeffery Baker, at Houston Oaks Country Club. I talked to him on the phone. I said, “Listen, chef, this isn’t where I’m supposed to be. I’m looking for a place to continue to grow and learn.” I ended up going to work with him. I told him that I needed to learn and continue developing my skills. I was around 28 at the time. He took me under his wing as an executive sous, and immersed me in the many creative programs they were offering there. There was a giant garden, and we were growing all our own vegetables. We would go out in the middle of the day and pick stuff out of the garden to cook at night. We built an aviary and started harvesting our honey. He started canning, and that is when everything hit home and went full circle. I was doing what I was supposed to be as a chef, and touching base with my roots.
GK: How did you land at The Club at Carlton Woods?
Early on when I moved to Texas, while I was at the Woodlands Country Club, there were always whispers about this very prestigious club named Carlton Woods. So mysterious, that nobody could tell me what happened inside the gates. I always thought I’d love to work there. Years later, the sous chef opportunity came up, and I knew I had to take the chance.
When I first started here at CW, I was working the mornings at the Nicklaus Clubhouse. I was not doing much, and didn’t feel stimulated. I said, “Chef, I’m worth more than this. I’m not enjoying what I’m doing here in the mornings. I want to go to the Fazio Clubhouse so I could be more valuable to the team. He agreed, and I went to the other operation. It was there that I worked with the team, guided them, and developed menus. Later, I was promoted to executive sous chef where I learned more about the overall operations of the club, and created a platform for success as I grew and tenured. During this time, I knew that I was in the right place, and CW was where I wanted to call home.
GK: When did you get the Executive Chef role?
I took the interim executive chef position for a few months after the first chef left. Shortly after, they hired Russell Scott, CMC. He is an excellent classical chef, an Olympian, and a highly decorated veteran in the
industry. When they told me they were bringing him on, I was going through my executive chef certification processes with the ACF, continuing my progression and expanding my skillset and reach within the industry. Initially, I was disappointed that I didn’t get the role, however trusted the clubs decision and redirected my focus to refining my skillset and taking advantage of the opportunity to work under someone with such knowledge and success. This challenged me mentally. When he started, I wrote a letter to him, and I said, “I’m willing to be broken down, reset my perspective, and start from scratch in order to be successful and excel. I want to learn how to do everything the right way. I want to go by the book and see what you can teach me.” It was an opportunity few have the fortune of receiving, and I wanted to absorb as much as I could. Most importantly I remained humble, and wanted to use this time to take a look at myself and reflect on what I knew already and how I could grow with his guidance.
For me, this was another genuine turning point in my career. I took the time to focus, learn, and think about the small details. He often asked me questions that I didn’t know the answers to, even though I should have. I could frequently perform and execute tasks, but couldn’t explain, describe, or put into words what or why I was doing things or processes a certain way. He challenged me to think first and have a plan for every move I made. As a mentor, he taught me how to be a leader, and have a purpose and reason for everything that I do in the kitchen.
It didn’t end up working out for him, and he chose to move on after a couple of years. I’m still great friends with him to this day, and frequently lean on him for support and ideas. He redirected the way that I was thinking about the precision of some of the things I was doing, maybe a little more haphazardly early on. Then when he was gone, I had to focus on dialing myself in the rest of the way, in order to be successful.
Once he left, I assumed the role of executive chef, and have grown the culinary operations to a new level. I have a true appreciation for the support and guidance he provided, and the potential he saw and cultivated in me throughout our time together. Reflecting on this, it was a necessary bridge I needed to cross in order to take my career to the greater heights, and I am grateful for the knowledge I gained during this time.
GK: You are very humble and appreciate learning from those in your life and career. Tell us about that.
I rely heavily on my team and the people around me for support. I discovered very early on that their success is my success. I learn from my sous chefs, line cooks, and kitchen staff on daily basis. I think I continue to grow and have successful because of that. I don’t claim to know it all. I don’t claim to have all the answers. If someone comes to me and I don’t know the answer, we can undoubtedly figure it out together. If one of the staff come to me with an idea they are really excited about, we work through it and see how we can incorporate that into our program. That humble approach buys back into the creativity, freedom, and support that I need to stimulate them in the kitchen. The team has to have some opportunity to be involved in the bigger picture. By providing them a platform for growth and discussion, everyone gets a return on investment. If we can all do that, then we will all be successful.
I’m the face of the operation, but I’m the first one to tell you that I can’t do it alone. It’s a collective effort from everyone. That’s another reason my Executive Sous Chef Adam Jemmott, and I have spent the last 18 months meticulously building and selecting our team. Part of the challenge throughout the hiring process was the availability and quality of the talent pool. Due to the Pandemic and the shortage of applicants, it was tempting to take anyone who walked in the door because we were so short staffed. We had to make some really tough decisions while hiring to make sure we were making the right selections. It was more important to us to take our time and put the right team in place, rather than to just bring someone on to ease the work load. We passed over several people that could have filled a void, or were maybe even over qualified for a role because we wanted to ensure our core was solid and the people we brought on were going to mesh well with the team and elevate our operation as a whole. In the end, patience and dedication paid off for us, and now we have a really solid team. A lot of it happens naturally, and a lot of it comes with time and experience.
It takes a tremendous amount of hard work, dedication, and training from a leadership standpoint, but we want to ensure that at Carlton Woods we are not just another kitchen full of cooks punching a clock. We are running a dedicated, professional, and elevated culinary team in a high end operation. We strive to set the bar for our industry peers, and exemplify the standard of excellence necessary for success in golf kitchens across the world.
GK: Tell us about the Junior Sous Chef Program.
Now that we have compiled a really solid culinary team, we are getting everyone on the same page and aligning our core goals. These secondary programs, such as the Junior Sous Chef program, are designed to highlight an internal growth and promotional opportunity within the department. This program specifically, outlines a detailed path to the sous chef role focusing on supervisory growth and experiential development over a course amount of time. In addition to this, there are leadership goals and advanced techniques that must be demonstrated to complete each section of the program in order to move on to the next step. Each goal has an incentive or compensation increase attached to it, providing tangible results beyond the knowledge and career growth that comes with the program inherently.
As a leader, I want my team to have the confidence that if they buy into our movement and direction as a culinary operation, then we are excited to re-invest in their careers and support their growth as culinarians. This is a beneficial approach for both sides, as we are able to support the evolution of our team and elevate our operation, the team is simultaneously gaining both personal and career development as well.
GK: How did the club manage during the lockdowns?
It was challenging for us, and everyone in the hospitality industry as a whole. We shifted gears to focus mainly on to-go offerings, meal prep, and outdoor dining while restrictions were in place. Throughout the lockdowns we saw a 400% increase in to-go orders, and golf course usage spiked tremendously being one of the few outdoor activities available. Fortunately, we remained open and available in some way, shape, or form throughout the entirety of the pandemic. This was a great service for our staff, as we were able to keep most of them employed, and the members were overwhelmingly supportive as we navigated unprecedented times. No one could have predicted what happened, however it was amazing to see the communal efforts on all fronts. The ability to adapt and overcome the challenging obstacles we faced throughout this was a true display of character, and reassured us that we were going to make it through to the other side together.
GK: What are some of the changes you have made to keep staff at the club?
One of the most impactful changes has been the culture shift in the kitchen. Chef Adam and I have spent a lot of time redefining the philosophies, values, and principles of our kitchen to support the team that surrounds us. We re-defined the operation to capitalize on each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and that helps keep the staff stimulated. Most importantly, it cultivates a positive work environment for the team when they come to work every day and know that we are all in this together. By offering them the opportunity to showcase their skills, get involved in menu development, and be creative; we create some skin in the game for each person to own a piece of what we do collectively.
We also work really hard to achieve a good balance of work and quality of life for the team. This is one of the most important benefits we push, however there are still limitations. We have to run a business, but we want to make sure the team has a chance breath and take time to reflect after our busy times. Chef Adam does an outstanding job with the scheduling, He works hard to get everybody two days off, and works with the team on making sure they are getting their personal time away from work.
As I mentioned before, we really took the time to hand pick our team and make sure that we created a positive and dominant force in the kitchen. In this process we highlighted the fact, that as much value as they bring operation, we can equally be a value add to them and their careers. We promote a variety of outlets for professional development, and are constantly looking for opportunities that can benefit both the staff and the club. Because of these things, we have a very low turnover rate and maintain a positive energy in the kitchen.
GK: You and Adam are both young guys collaborating and finding what’s best for the staff. Does that make it more attractive for young people to join the industry on a culinary level?
Absolutely. I hope that we are an inspiration to our peers and younger generations of cooks entering the industry. We complement each other extremely well. We have different perspectives and came up through the industry very differently, but that allows us to showcase each other’s talents and really round each off in the kitchen. I learn new things from Adam every day, and am constantly inspired by his ideas and impressed with his level of talent. Adam didn’t go to a culinary school, but he did go through the “school of hard knocks”, and has climbed the ranks and earned his stripes through hard work and dedication. He is an amazing chef. He is resilient and creative, and is a dominant force in the kitchen.
Paralleling that, I went to culinary school, started out in the industry at a young age, and really embodied the classical style of cooking and old school philosophies in a lot of ways. I spent a lot of time digging down to my roots, and incorporating that into the techniques and practices I use today.
The combination of those two properties is a powerful thing. We can lean on each other. We can bounce ideas off of each other. My weaknesses are his strong points and vice versa, so we’re teaching each other and learning and growing together.
GK: Being in your thirties, you are changing the entire way the industry works on a culinary level.
We have the opportunity to impact the culinary industry in a lot of different ways. A lot of it will evolve beyond us, and there will be a time in 30 years where it changes into something else.
Right now, we’re still young enough to adapt and work with the new generations, and we’re old enough to have had the experiences with the old school chefs. The most important opportunity here, is to influence the industry, we have to take both of those perspectives, and make it what we need it to be. The hope is, that we can impact the industry in such a way that it continues to support the growth and evolution for generations to come. If we can do that while carrying on the traditions and philosophies that brought us to this point, then that will be our legacy.
The Club at Carlton Woods, The Woodlands, Texas, USA
Image courtesy The Club at Carlton Woods
Jumbo Lump Crab Salad with Yuzu Aioli, Avocado Mousseline, Pink Grapefruit, Jalapeno Pepper, and Shaved Radishes
Recipe by Matt O'Connor, Director of Food, Beverage and Culinary Operations at Wee Burn Country Club,
Darien, Connecticut, USA. Image by Matt O'Connor
In a medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice, mustard, sugar, salt, and egg yolks until smooth. While whisking, slowly stream in the oil until a thick mayonnaise forms. Whisk in the yuzu juice and yuzu kosho paste until smooth—season with salt and reserve cold for service.
Remove the avocado flesh and immediately toss with lime juice, then transfer to a food processor and blend until creamy, scraping down the sides of the food processor. In a separate bowl, whisk the Crème Fraiche to medium peaks. Add an equal part of the puréed avocado into the whisked Crème Fraiche with a spatula. Season with sea salt to taste and a pinch of sugar. Fold ingredients together until the mixture is well blended.
Put into a piping bag with a fine, straight tip.
Toss the crab meat with the yuzu aioli and season with salt and pepper. Chef Note: Mixed gently so as not to break up any of the lumps of crab)
Place a ring mold onto the serving plate and divide the crab mixture into 4 separate portions. Pack the crab meat in tightly before releasing it from the ring mold. Pipe small dots of avocado mousseline onto the top of the crab mixture. Equally layer the grapefruit supremes, sliced radishes, and shaved jalapeno on top of the crab mixture, making sure the guest can still see the pipes of avocado mousseline. Garnish with micro cilantro and sea salt. Serve immediately.
Maison Belles Côtes Sancerre 2020
The outdoor dining area at Wee Burn Country Club, Darien, Connecticut. Image courtesy Wee Burn Country Club.
Recipe by Zouhair Bellout, Executive Chef at Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Georgia, USA.
Image by Owen Withycombe
Place on Kalamata Olives, thyme and orange zest on a silicone mat. Dehydrate in the oven at 150℉ for 3 hours, or until dehydrated. Pulse using a food processor, but don’t allow them to be too fine.
Line a china cap with cheesecloth; set over a large bowl. In a food processor, stir tomatoes, shallots, garlic, fennel, basil, vinegar, and salt until coarsely chopped. Pour the mixture into the lined china cap—cover and chill for at least 12 hours. Chef Note: Do not stir or press on solids, or the tomato water will be cloudy. Discard solids; cover the tomato water, and chill.
Clean and cut the tuna and the Hamachi into cubes ½ inch, cut the scallops in half then steam the mussels and the prawns in a sauté pan using the white wine, butter and thyme.
In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients then spread onto a silicone mold and bake at 325℉ until golden brown. Set aside.
On a serving plate, arrange the seafood and garnishes with the olive crumble, the coral cracker, and the herbs.
Villa Matilde Greco di Tufo, Campania 2020
Fantastically balanced Italian wine to go with the medley of flavors the Chef has created with his "Cioppino dish."
~ Reuben Atkinson, Cellar Wine Manager
The 16th Green at Great Waters, Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Georgia, USA.
Image by Evan Schiller, courtesy Reynolds Lake Oconee.