autumn lobster salad with with Curried Butternut Squash, Endive, Shaved Apple, Fennel, Grapes, Arugula and Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Recipe by Matthew O'Connor, Executive Chef at Bonnie Briar Country Club, Larchmont, New York, USA.
Compressed Fennel - Chef Note: Must be prepared 24 hours in advance.
(Yields 10 Portions)
(Yields 10 Portions)
Curry Roasted Butternut Squash
(Yields 10 Portions)
Blood Orange Vinaigrette
(Yields 2 cups)
(Yields 10 Portions)
Place all of the ingredients in a food saver bag and vacuum seal overnight.
Remove the fennel branches and thinly slice for service.
Steam Lobsters for 8 minutes at 220 °F and immediately plunge into ice water.
Once cold, remove the meat from the shells.
Cut the tails in half and then slice medallions out of the tail. Cut each claw in half and reserve cold for service.
Curry Roasted Butternut Squash
Peel the butternut squash and cut the end off that does not contain seeds. Chef Note: Reserve the bottom that contains seeds for other uses.
Square off the peeled squash and cut 30 perfect large cubes.
Toss the cubes in the oil, curry, salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet.
Roast in a 350 °F oven until tender and browned.
Cool completely and hold cold for service.
Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Put all ingredients except for the canola oil in a blender and blend until smooth, while the mixture is pureeing slowly drizzle the canola oil into the vinaigrette forming an emulsification. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and place into a squeeze bottle for service. Chill until assembly.
Toss the curried butternut squash, lobster and endive leaves in a little bit of blood orange vinaigrette.
Place three cubes of butternut squash per plate onto each plate
Place half a tails worth of the sliced lobster medallions onto the plate and 2 pieces of claw scattered around the butternut squash, lean 3 endive leaves against the butternut squash cubes.
Slice 30 slices of granny smith apple and lean them against the red endive.
Scatter the grape slices and compressed fennel slices around the plate.
Place some dots of blood orange vinaigrette onto the plate and place a blood orange segment into each dot.
Garnish the salad with micro arugula, fennel fronds and apple blossoms.
2018 Golf Kitchen Culinary Excellence awards at Edgewood Country Club, Gallery by Michael Fiedler and Matthew Nemshin
2018 Golf Kitchen Culinary Excellence awards at EDgewood Country club / gallery by Matthew Nemshin and Michael fiedler
GK: You grew up in Minnesota. Can you tell us more about that experience?
When I was growing up, we lived in a big farmhouse on a farm in Minnesota. My family raised about 52 foster children, and I also have five siblings. My mother took care of us children, and my father was a bricklayer who worked in the mines. Maybe I had the right background for country clubs because I had a strong work ethic and the ability to get along and learn about so many different personality types.
When I was a student in the hospitality school at the University of Wisconsin South, I took a 9-month internship at the Registry Resort in Naples, Florida. During my stay, they invited me to work in management sales and finish up my schooling in Florida. My night manager grabbed me and said, “Troy, don’t let them talk you into being a sales manager. You recognize hotel guests every time and call them by name when they walk in the door from a prior reference, or because they had met you as a member or a guest."
GK: Tell us about your background as a General Manager and how you found your Executive Chef, Anthony Giacoponello.
I was very fortunate to have worked at several high-end country clubs on Long Island. Long Island has always been well-known for its five-star food at these prestigious clubs. I worked at Seawane Country Club, Fresh Meadow Country Club, and Muttontown Golf and Country Club, which all prided themselves in their food service department.
Muttontown hired me because they were aware of my culinary and hospitality experience from Seawane and Fresh Meadow. When I first arrived at Muttontown, I was impressed that the previous three or four chefs were all extremely talented and had vast experience all over New York and around the world. The last chef at Muttontown also owned a five-star restaurant on Long Island. When we needed to hire sous chefs to work with him, they were also required to have a variety of experience working with chefs from around the world. It was also important that they be creative and open-minded, Anthony Giacoponello fitted that mold.
When Anthony came to see us, we had learned that he had unparalleled experience from restaurants like Restaurant Daniel, Alfred Portale’s Gotham, Le Cirque and many more renowned establishments. For us, it was a no-brainer, and it was an honor to give him the sous chef position. Our Executive Chef moved on to a different country club. We had received hundreds of resumes because the chef had been one of the most sought out chefs on Long Island at that time. We were all in agreement that Anthony was the best fit for the position. He had proven himself, had demonstrated extraordinary recipes, delightful presentation, and he was familiar with our culinary staff. Anthony had so much experience at such a young age, many people who read through his resume assumed he had to be forty or fifty years old. The only question was: How did he get to all these places?
Anthony had only been the Executive Chef for a few weeks, and the members were raving and were extremely excited for this new change. Anthony had, in my opinion, helped to bring the club to the next level. We already had fantastic service and food, and the members were extremely happy, but Anthony raised the bar. Being so young and motivated, Chef Anthony wanted to prove himself. He did just that, and then-some at Muttontown.
GK: What year did you start working at Sebonack?
I started on January 1, 2008, we didn’t have a clubhouse; we were still designing and laying out the kitchen. When things were near completion, we started with a couple of great chefs, but it just wasn’t the perfect match. When the opportunity came for us to hire a full-time Executive Chef, the first person I called was Anthony. He had already been out here a couple of times helping us with the layout and the design. Anthony was ecstatic at the idea of accepting the position at Sebonack. Anthony said, “It’s the dream club, I think it's amazing what you guys are doing out here, and I’d like to be a part of your team.” I set up a lunch meeting with the owner Michael Pascucci, and his sons, Christopher and Ralph to discuss Anthony’s resume and his background. Without even tasting his food, they felt that Anthony would be the perfect match for Sebonack.
GK: How did the members react to Anthony?
At Sebonack, we have a big window outside and an open kitchen inside, where the members walk by and say hello. We always wanted our kitchen staff to be a part of the family here, and Anthony has created a great camaraderie with the members here.
GK: There is a big difference between a club chef and a restaurant chef. Tell us your thoughts about that?
One thing that most people don’t understand is when you hire a restaurant chef; they are used to cooking the same menu items a few weeks in a row, quarterly or seasonally. In a golf club, like at Sebonack, we have a new dinner menu every single night that we open for dinner. We might have a couple of repeat items from time to time, but for the most part, the menu has to change. A country club chef has dinner menus on a regular basis, and at the same point, manage large events, such as weddings, golf outings, and other functions. I remember when one of the former chefs had created a very nice menu for a Friday night dinner at the club. We presented the menu to one of the members and he said “You know what? I just want scrambled eggs for dinner.” The chef was frustrated because he had created this phenomenal menu that evening. I had said to the chef, “We are a country club, and we do whatever it takes to please the member, without question.” So, the chef who was extremely displeased with my decision made scrambled eggs that evening, and when he served it to the member, the member not only loved his meal but was extremely pleased the chef accommodated his request. There are not a lot of restaurant chefs out there that are willing to bend. Anthony is flexible and understands the importance of pleasing the membership.
I highly recommend to other club managers, when hiring a chef, to not only seek out an individual who can perform his culinary duties but one who also has the personality and capability to interact with the members, they must also have a kind demeanor. When we are in peak golf season here, we work very long hours. It is crucial to have a friendly face that we can talk to, and someone who is approachable, especially when things can change almost instantaneously.
I can’t tell you how many times we have had a special menu planned; we were all set, totally prepped, and someone walked in and said, “You know what, I have these new guests that just showed up tonight, I want to change up the menu entirely. Can we do a different menu, can you come up with some new hors-d'oeuvres?” We need someone who can think outside the box, be flexible at a moment’s notice, and be willing to change their set agenda.
GK: What do you do when there’s a change, but you don’t have enough product?
Great question. There are many times when we are doing dinner and someone says “Troy, we would like some passing hors d’oeuvres tonight.” Instead of telling the member that we cannot accommodate them, I approach Anthony and ask him what he can do. Anthony is great at putting something together last minute. He will say “We have some steak here, we can slice it up, we’ll make some quick garlic bread, some steak tidbits and send that out, or we’ll take some lobster, and we’ll chop it up and put it on some crostinis and send it out like mini lobster bites.” Sometimes he’ll run downstairs and go into the fridge and he’ll come up with eight different ingredients in his arms. So, he’s extremely creative in that aspect.
GK: What do you think about the newest breed of chefs coming out of the many culinary schools, and what is your advice to them?
It’s a different world now. The students that apply to be sous chefs do not have the vast experience, that chefs like Anthony have. They are not traveling around the world to stage; they’re coming out of culinary school, and think they can walk in and demand a position without any experience. My advice to the new generation of young chefs is to get out there and walk the pavement, to spend time traveling and staging at the top restaurants and clubs. I encourage them to build up their culinary experience and to be open to learning. In doing so, they are more likely to succeed in their industry and to gain the respect as a true Chef.
GK: How do your members influence your menu?
We are a non-denominational club at Sebonack, so we have a great variety of members. Being an extremely affluent, high-end membership, our members have dined at the best restaurants in the world, and so they understand, appreciate, and expect fine meals. We have some members that come in once every three years, and when they come in, we want everything to be perfect. We always joke around about the cheeseburger here. It better be just right, because if you have that member who only dines here every three years, he does not want to walk away with an overcooked cheeseburger when he ordered it medium rare. If so, his negative experience will linger in his memory and leave a bad taste in his mouth. Whether it’s a corn muffin for breakfast or a steak for dinner, every single dish that leaves the kitchen at Sebonack must be approved by Chef Anthony. Anthony will not allow for any meal to be served until it’s perfect for our members and their guests.
GK: How does the Pascucci family work with Anthony and the culinary team here?
The nice thing is the Pascucci family makes it easy for us to do our job. They give us the best tools, all the resources, and everything that we need to succeed. At that point, it is up to the staff to provide the membership with a pleasing finished product, and something that all the members will enjoy.
GK: What is your role in the club?
I have a couple of different roles in the club – one for the members and one for the employees. The members look for a leader in the club, the one person who will always take care of their needs. The staff sees me as a role model on how to behave at the club and how to interact with our members. At the end of the day, am I responsible for everything? Do I need to know every single thing? Yes. It’s very important for my department heads to inform me of any issue whatsoever. I let the department heads do their jobs, but I’m involved in every single department. The chef will go over all the menus with me; we’ll talk about buying, we’ll go over the specials, we’ll talk about his staff on a daily basis, but I let him do his own job. By doing that, I think it benefits the whole club. The department heads are happier because they can do what they want. But, we still talk every day to figure out how we can make things better.
GK: Describe a day in the life of Sebonack.
A day in the life of Sebonack starts from the moment you pull into the gates. There’s a certain aura as you drive up to the clubhouse, and, from the moment you pull in, you have this special feeling that this is a magical place. We call it “The Sebonack Experience.” I’ve had so many members approach me and say, “Troy, I just left the city. I just flew in from La Guardia; I just did this; I did that. All of a sudden, I pull into the gates, and everything is just lifted.” That’s a great feeling. Our members love that Sebonack offers a warm, friendly, casual environment that is all reflected in the building, the golf course, and the staff. On top of that, we have members who are the friendliest people. This is my eighth country club now, and they are the nicest membership I have ever worked with, hands down. No question about it.
GK: Please tell us about the level of service you provide the members here.
We don’t say no. And that’s the bottom line. The request can be for a Learjet, for a doctor, a dentist – whatever it is, we’re going to do it. We’re going to take care of it. You know, anyone can say, “We try and meet all member expectations,” but we’re so beyond that. We have meetings with the staff constantly – the department heads, all the way down to the dishwasher – and the theme is always how we can make it better. Every time we have an event, we get together the next day to discuss what needs changing or improvement.
We have many, many letters from members and charitable organizations who tell us how outstanding our customer service is.
If you put it all together – the owners, the friendliest members, and the staff that we hire based on personality – how can you go wrong? To top it all off, the owners give us all the tools we need to do it right, and they insist that we only buy the best products at all times for our membership. It’s a pleasure to work here, and because it’s a pleasure to work here, honestly, we go out of our way to make our members happy.
GK: What sets Sebonack Golf Club apart?
Besides not saying no to anything that’s reasonable and does not interfere with another member, knowing our members is what sets us apart. We pride ourselves and focus on knowing who our members are. We study everything from what they drink, to whether they asked for extra pillows or wanted a special green tea. We have a philosophy here that says, “Eyes on the member,” and that’s what separates us from most clubs.
` by Diana DeLucia
recipe by Bryan Skelding, Executive Chef at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, USA
Chilean Sea Bass
Braised Swiss Chard
Peanut Romesco Sauce
Chilean Sea Bass
Season the sea bass with salt.
In a saute pan, add the clarified butter and melt on high heat.
When the butter just gets to a smoking point, add the sea bass and let caramelize until a golden brown.
Flip and brown the other side.
Finish in a 350°F oven until just done.
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the vegetables and caramelize on all sides.
Add the vegetable stock, peppercorn, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves.
When liquid reaches a boil, add the farro.
Simmer and cover with parchment.
Continue to cook until the farro softens up, about an hour.
When farro is tender, add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove from heat then put in storage container to chill.
Toss the cauliflower in blended oil and roast in a baking dish at 350°F until tender.
In a small sauce pan melt the butter and allow to brown.
Remove the cauliflower from the oven then toss in the brown butter.
Sprinkle with salt, pepper and fine herbs to taste.
Braised Swiss Chard
De-stem the chard and cut into 2-inch x 2-inch pieces and wash thoroughly.
In a large heavy pan, render the bacon and add the onions.
Sweat the onions until translucent.
Add the swiss chard and chicken stock to the pan and simmer until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Strain excess liquid.
Peanut Romesco Sauce
On an oven tray toast the peanuts and set aside.
Fry the 3 slices of pullman loaf until lightly browned then cut into small pieces.
In a frying pan sauté the red pepper until tender then add the tomato and garlic.
Pulse the toasted peanuts in a blender with the bread and a little olive oil.
Add the red pepper sauce and continue to blend.
Emulisify the remaining olive oil.
Place the peanut romesco sauce on a plate then place the farro, braised swiss chard and roasted cauliflower on top as show in the image.
Squeeze the fresh lemon juice over the sea bass and sprinkle with a pinch of white pepper. Place on top of the farro.
2006 Schramsberg Vineyards,Blanc de Noirs, North Coast, California
Recipe by Patrick Heymann, Executive Chef at Kohanaiki, Kona, Hawaii, USA.
Yield: Makes 18, 3" round cheesecakes
CHEF NOTE: Lilikoi is the Hawaiian term for Passion Fruit.
Macnut Butter Crust
In a bowl, with a blender mix the cream cheese with the sugar and cornstarch.
Start the mixer on #1 and slowly work up to #2, add the sour cream, eggs and then the passion fruit puree.
Place into your preferred molds or trays, place into the freezer until firm.
Macnut Butter Crust
Chop up the butter and put into the freezer.
Add the flour and brown sugar into a mixer and pulse.
Remove the butter from the freezer and add butter and Macadamia nuts until fully mixed.
In a pot, mix the sugar, butter and Lilikoi puree in a pot and bring to a boil.
Wisk the eggs together in a bowl.
Add the warm mixture slowly to the eggs then pour the incorporated mix back into the pot and slowly cook to a mayonnaise-like consistency and strain into a chilled bowl.
Evenly divide the Lilikoi curd among the tops of the unbaked cheesecakes and swirl into the mixture.
Bake cheesecakes with the Macnut bottom at 300 ºF for approximately 48 minutes.
Once the cheesecake is thoroughly chilled, remove from mold and place in center of a small dessert plate.
Garnish with a small dollop of fresh whipped cream and raspberry sauce then drizzle with some sliced fresh fruits.
Dolce Late Harvest Wine.
Recipe by Anthony Villanueva, Executive Chef at Edgewood Country Club, River Vale, New Jersey, USA
Chef Note: This is a beautiful and flavorful heart-healthy dish that provides beauty and elegance perfect for an intimate wine dinner or Mediterranean based diet plan. Enjoy!
Rosé Poached Halibut
Kalamata Olive Tapenade
Whole Grain Cous Cous
Sweet Stem Caulinini
Rosé Poached Halibut
Season halibut filet with sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, thyme and parsley.
In a shallow frying pan or sauce pan, place halibut in center of the pan, cover half way with rosé and heat up liquid to a light simmer.
The beauty of this technique is that the fish is halfway submerged in the rosé that gives the halibut a beautiful visual of a two toned layer of sophistication.
Add lemon zest, shallots and lightly poach in rosé for 8 minutes.
Pull off of flame and let rest in poaching liquid.
Reserve until assembly.
Kalamata Olive Tapenade
In a mixing bowl add all chopped ingredients and mix gently.
Add lemon zest, sea salt, cracked pepper, lemon juice and olive oil and gently mix together. Taste for seasonings.
Cover in a bowl and set aside until assembly.
Chef’s note: The tapenade is fabulous to use as a healthy dip or Mediterranean bruschetta with hummus, crostini or flat breads. I like to eat it by the bowl!
Whole Grain Cous Cous
In a small appropriate sized bowl add in the whole grain cous cous.
Boil or steep the broth or hot water.
Add the olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper.
Pour hot broth or water over cous cous and cover with food film or aluminum foil and let steam gently cook the cous cous for about ten minutes covered.
When ready to serve uncover cooked cous cous and mix cous cous ingredients together.
Sweet Stem Caulinini
Heat up a sauté pan.
Add extra virgin olive oil.
Lightly sauté sweet stem caulinini for 2 minutes.
Season with sea salt and cracked pepper.
Pull off of flame and reserve for assembly.
Keep al dente.
Use appropriate sized dinner plate and place halibut in center of plate.
Mold or spoon cous cous next to halibut filet.
Spoon generous amounts of tapenade over halibut, be sure to add enough liquid from the tapenade to flavor fish.
Gently place sweet stem caulinini next to halibut and cous cous.
Recipe by Warwick Hilli, Executive Chef at Kingston Heath Golf Club, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Serves 8 - 10
Chocolate and Hazelnut Marquise
5 Egg Yolks
115 gm. Caster Sugar
15 ml. Hazelnut Liquor
190 gm. Belcolade Dark Chocolate Button
175 gm. Unsalted Butter (diced)
50 gm. Cocoa Powder
375 ml. Pouring Cream (semi-whipped)
Raspberry sorbet. (makes 1 liter)
180 gm. Caster Sugar
60 gm. Glucose Syrup
200 ml. Water
550 gm. Raspberries (pureed)
Dark Chocolate Soil
Red Velvet Biscuit (crumbed)
Chocolate and Hazelnut Marquise
Whisk the egg yolks, and sugar in a bowl then add the hazelnut liquor. Place over a double boiler on a low heat and whisk until thick (approx. 10 minutes).
Meanwhile in another double boiler melt the Belcolade dark chocolate buttons, diced butter, and cocoa until smooth.
Fold one-third of the egg mix into the chocolate mixture and combine, fold in remaining egg mix, mix gently until smooth and glossy.
Fold the semi-whipped cream into the chocolate mixture.
Place into your preferred molds or trays, and place into the freezer until firm.
In a saucepan, place the sugar, glucose, and water, bring to boil, cook until sugar has dissolved and has a syrupy consistency.
Combine with the raspberry puree and place into a blast chiller/fridge to cool.
CHEF NOTE: Follow the instructions for your ice cream machine and churn.
When chocholate and hazelnut marquise are set remove from molds and place as shown in the center of a plate.
Garnish with fresh raspberry puree, biscotti, dark chocolate soil, red velvet biscuit crumbs and some semi-whipped cream.
House of Arras Grand Vintage 2015 Sparkling.
recipe by Clara Lene' Kelly, Mixologist at Kohanaiki , Kona, Hawaii, USA
Muddle the berries and mint leaves in a mixing glass.
Add the liquids and ice, then shake and double strain into an ice filled rocks glass.
Garnish with the top of the mint sprig.
Multiple General Managers in the northeast have informed me about the progressive culinary programs at Medinah Country Club. After visiting the Club, and meeting Michael and his team, I discovered their unique formula, which has been built as a marriage between the culinary team and the membership. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Michael, tell us about your Italian upbringing.
I come from a big extended Italian family, we all grew up on the outskirts of Chicago within a few blocks of each other. We were always together. Everything was about food, because my nonna was a fantastic cook and that is what gave her joy. By the time I was 12 years old, I had started working in my uncle's restaurant; I was bussing tables, making salads. I've always been a workhorse. I love working, it's rewarding, and I feel like I have a purpose. I knew from that age that restaurants were for me. I always wanted to own one, so when I was old enough, I went to culinary school at Kendall College. I said myself, "if I'm going to own a restaurant, I'm not going to let someone push me around, I need to know how to run the kitchen." I was 19, and something just clicked. This was it for me.
When I was in school, I worked at a French bistro as a Sous Chef, and I worked for a catering company and a bakery. I didn't know the direction I wanted to go in, so I held all three jobs throughout obtaining my degree. Right after I graduated, I had this fantastic opportunity to become the sous chef at Spiaggia, which was the only four-star Italian restaurant in Chicago. They had been open for 20 years, and the food was gorgeous there. Spiaggia opened doors for me. I learned about making homemade pasta and what real good cheese is, how to fly things in from Italy, and how to make gelato properly.
After two years at Spiaggia, I was recruited to work with Rick Tramonto, and over a period of a year and a half, I opened four restaurants for him. After working for Rick, I was asked to go to Volare, which is an iconic Chicago restaurant owned by the Benny Siddu. He wanted me to help his team open a restaurant in the suburbs. I also spent several years with Portillo's consulting for them, and then one day I got a phone call from the owner of Rosebud Restaurants, Alex Dana, and he said, "What are you doing?" I had never met this man before, and I said: "I am at work." He goes, "Well, you're going to come and work for me." I said, "No, I'm not, thanks and goodbye." He was very persistent, and I eventually said, "OK, I'll have a cup of coffee with you." He said, "I have two locations, Schaumburg and Rosebud on Rush, which is right in the heart of downtown, a celebrity hangout area, the whole thing, the gold coast, which one would you want?" I said, "Which one's busier?" He said, "Rosebud on Rush." I said, "I'll take that one." I started working there, and within six months I moved up to a corporate chef role, and in another six months, I became director of operations. I was 26.
It was such a busy restaurant. Within the first month, I dropped labor by four percent and we started getting noticed by magazines again and having a larger celebrity presence. We had 11 restaurants that we were overseeing, and Medinah Country Club Assistant General Manager Mark Jablonski was also a part of our team then. I also opened a restaurant with them, which we ended up closing because the partnership didn't work. When I left Rosebud, I was debating what I was going to do next, and my stepfather, John Pappas, who was a member at Medinah said, "Hey, Medinah is looking for a chef." I said, "I'm not going to go to a country club!" But he said, "You should check it out." I was against it, because in the restaurant world clubs are seen as a place to go to work after you retire, how incredibly wrong that perception is.
When I came in and walked in the front entrance, I was like, wow! I have never been intimidated by a job interview. I wasn't scared about the job itself; I knew I could do the job, I was intimidated by the mere presence of the venue. Barry Garrett, the general manager at the time, had a lot of interviews with master chefs, and club lifer chefs. During my interview, he asked me, "Why do you want to work in a country club?" I said, "I don't." He's like," Well, what do you mean?" I said, "I don't want to view these areas as club dining rooms, I want to treat them like restaurants. A lot of the members here are old customers of mine; they frequent the restaurants where I used to work. I don't want to serve meatloaf every other Tuesday and things like that, I want to make it great." He said, "I want you to start July first because I want you here for Fourth of July." Fourth of July in any club is huge; here we do about 2,000 people. I came from restaurants to this huge 2,000 person event! I was thinking to myself, "What did I just do!"
The team was made up of fantastic people. At the time, many of them had been here for a while, and working with them was great. It took me about six months to understand Medinah. I took my time, and I asked a lot of questions, surveyed a lot of the members in person. I would ask them, "Where do you like to eat? What are you looking for here? What are you looking for when you go out?" We started to make some changes. When General Manager Robert Sereci and Assistant General Manager Mark Jablonski came on board, things really took off. We've increased F&B revenues over one million dollars in the last four years alone. We saw a 30 percent increase after the first year in just food sales, which was huge.
After about a year and a half, I wanted to do more. At this point, we had already switched all of our steaks over to antibiotic and hormone free upper one-third prime, all-natural steak, humanely killed from Meyer Ranch, we had changed to Amish chickens, and we had started to bring a lot of ingredients in from Italy. The team and I reviewed every little thing here, threw it out the window, and restarted. We focused on the small things that add up to make a big difference. When we had used up all of our resources I was wondering what was next? I remember it was January, and the idea to tap the maple trees on the golf courses came up. I started educating myself about it online and watching YouTube videos.
At the start, we tapped five trees and ended up with about four and a half gallons of maple syrup. I thought to myself "Oh my goodness, that's a process!" It takes 38 gallons of sap to get one gallon of syrup. This past year, we tapped 30 trees and we got 30 gallons of syrup. That's over one thousand gallons of sap! As challenging as it was, I thought, we are going to give our members and guests an experience that's unique to Medinah, one that you can't get anywhere else. The maple syrup was a hit, with the members, so the next year we doubled the number of trees we tapped, and then we doubled it again.
GK: Do you sell the maple syrup?
We don't produce enough to sell; we serve it to our members. When they have breakfast pancakes or waffles, they are served the Medinah Maple Syrup. From here, we began to make our own sourdough bagels and red wine vinegar. I don't get too fancy making every single item from scratch, because I think there are things I can buy that are better than what I can make, but we're continually looking for what we can do that is excellent and real.
GK: Tell us about the Medinah chicken coop.
I had always wanted a garden here, I asked Robert Sereci about it, and he said, "I'm going to give you enough freedom to do it." I said, "Thank you." I wanted it out where the members could see it, but with the way with the tournaments are set up that wasn't really possible. Robert said to me right after he started working here: "What about a chicken coop?" I said, "What am I going to do with a chicken coop? I'm not going slaughter birds in the kitchen," He said, "For eggs!" So we combined our ideas and built a chicken coop and a garden. It just continues to grow. Bees are the next thing on our radar, and I'm terrified of bees, but I want to do this, regardless. I started studying the process and built a presentation. I talked to a few chefs that have bees, and spoke to a few farmers. Now we are just waiting until it's right for our situation to do it. We are currently in the middle of renovations and construction, and I didn't think it was safe for the bees with all the building going on.
GK: Are you upgrading all of the restaurants on the property?
Yes, it has been the biggest reward for us when the members voted to upgrade all the restaurants.
GK: How do you relate to the membership here?
The thing that keeps me here, more than anything, are the relationships I have built. The members, for example, when my kids were born, they called me to see how my family was, and they sent me congratulations cards, little personal touches. I feel like I'm part of something bigger than a job. I've been with these members for five years. I've been with them through births and marriages, and I have made real connections with them. I know I am still an employee of the club, but I'm an employee who cares about the people I'm serving, and in turn, they care about me as a person. That's what would make it hard to leave Medinah.
GK: Tell us about your cooking approach.
My focus on cooking is a little different than most. My focus is on real food. Have you heard of the ugly food movement? I'm all for that; I buy from imperfect produce at home, because I support that. Ugly food tastes better than the picture-perfect stuff. What I mean by that is that there is nothing wrong with having discoloration on your apples and it's probably tastier and better for you.
My approach is to keep it simple and give the absolute best we can, and it doesn't mean buying a $500 bottle of olive oil. It means that the olive oil has to be real and made from a producer that I trust and understand, I need to know the types of olives they are using and the conditions in which they are grown. We buy our pigs from a local farm, and I know when and how the pigs are raised. It's about being real and true to what I'm serving. Cooking for members and guests is no different than cooking for my family, I want to make sure that they are taken care of. I want to make sure that what I serve them proudly represents the club and me.
I am not a fan of commodity items. It doesn't mean everything has to be organic because I don't think there's value in that either. I think that the product needs to be respected and taken care of and thought through. I won't buy just a burger patty. We came up with our own blend, which is a mixture of hanger, skirt and chuck steak. I have the percentages. I know where the beef comes from, and I sell tens of thousands a year. There's a lot of pride that comes with that.
I am very strong with Italian cuisine, and I try to stay with a Chicago American style. I'm very against mixing cultures. You cannot properly execute five diverse cultural styles and really do it from the heart. For example, if I open a Sushi Bar, all we would serve would be Japanese cuisine.
GK: Tell us about your team.
I have an incredible team that I work with here, and I am very goal driven by my staff. I try to find their strengths and guide them in that direction, so that they excel. If one of the team said, "I want to work on bread baking,” I 'll say "OK, let's do it." There's a reward for us and a reward for them. Let's focus on this, just give me three years, and I'll help you to get where you need to be after that.
GK: You are really making an impact in the industry. Tell us about that.
We've been fortunate to have a lot of publications cover us lately because of what we are doing. We're making a statement in a sense, and I'm not trying to be cutting edge, I'm trying to be old school. I want to give the members the tomatoes that my grandparents grew up with. I want to show them what a real tomato smells and tastes like. I think that's what's gaining the attention, is we're taking those extra efforts. We aren’t doing it for the media attention; we are doing it because we care.