For a club-wide barbecue, relaxing post-tournament meal, or just a la carte dining that’s been moved outside, a more causal atmosphere doesn’t mean the food has to be scaled back, too.
For some chefs, breaking out the barbeque grill for outdoor summertime cooking offers an opportunity to give members and guests a nice seasonal alternative. But when Christopher Devine, now General Restaurant Manager for the Trump Organization, was Executive Chef for the Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, N. Y. as that club was getting ready to open in the spring of 2002, he had no alternative—for him, the grill was pretty much the only game in town.
With an initial membership of about 100 expecting Trump-caliber food and a “temporary clubhouse” in a double-wide trailer providing very little in the way of cooking facilities, everything from food prep to finishing had to be adapted to the outdoors, says Devine. And it remained that way for the next two golf seasons as well, as membership numbers for the new club more than doubled.
Devine, who had done quite a bit of outdoor cooking in a previous stint at Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach, Fla., didn’t disappoint. He kept the demanding members well-fed with menus that included everything from shrimp cocktail to lobster salad, burgers to steaks, and lots of lavish buffets, all prepared on portable stoves, grills and butane burners.
A particular favorite among members became the polenta-crusted crab cakes with warm gazpacho puree. Devine was able to prep the cakes in advance and finish them on a flat griddle or cast iron pan placed directly on the grill grates. (No eggs in the recipe means no question of “ Are they done yet?” when the cakes are heated through and turn golden brown, he notes.) Grilled potato salad made an appropriately outdoorsy accompaniment.
What Devine had to learn to do by choice, many other club chefs now do by design, as they transfer their cooking skills beyond the clubhouse walls. For example, while Pine Hill Golf Club is situated in Southern New Jersey, the dining is definitely New England-style when Executive Chef Michael Giletto gets into the swim of summer with one of his famous clam bakes.
A combi grill with burner and oven make it easy for Giletto to keep a wide range of ingredients steaming, boiling, bubbling and baking at the same time. Before he starts any outdoor cooking, he loads individual cheesecloth bags with fully cleaned shrimp, mussels and clams (about a dozen of each seafood variety per bag). He also preps whole and half lobsters, along with ears of fresh sweet corn.
“We keep pots of water boiling on the grill so we can just plunge the seafood bags, lobster and corn for quick cooking right in front of the guest,” Giletto explains.
Also on the simmer is a summer favorite that Giletto calls a “crawfish bake.” A combination of crawfish, mussels, clams, chorizo sausage, chicken and shrimp, the saucy, spicy stew is always ready to spoon into a bowl for a first or main course.
Getting Some Face Time
Even when an outdoor menu is not particularly fancy, club chefs say that the open-air environment offers special opportunities to enhance relationships. For example, John Jones, Executive Chef at Canyon Creek Country Club in Richardson, Tex., says he likes to man the grill and carving stations himself as much as possible during barbecue season, because it gives him a chance to have a little one-on-one time with members and guests.
“Outside is a more relaxed atmosphere; they can see us working, but we can still take the time to find out how they feel about things and to say thank you to them for dining at our club,” Jones explains.
On a summer holiday weekend, Jones and his crew often find themselves grilling hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken out by the pool for anywhere between 250 and 400 guests. These casual cookouts are particularly attractive to members with young children, an attractive demographic target for Canyon Creek.
For Jones, the key ingredient for successful outdoor cooking is the right seasoning. He has created a versatile blend of herbs and spices that can be rubbed onto a piece of beef brisket or used as a marinade by double-wrapping the seasoned meat in aluminum foil and adding about one cup of apple cider and about three ounces of liquid smoke. This marinade also works well with chicken, and the seasoning gives hamburgers a flavor kick, he reports.
Club chefs have become adept enough with their creations, in fact, to frequently rise to the top in outdoor cooking competitions. Pine Hill GC’s Giletto, for example, was a first-place award winner last year in a recipe contest for food pros sponsored by Sara Lee Dressings & Sauces. His winning entry was his “Captain Sparrow’s Watermelon Rum Barbeque Sauce”, which he brews up by the gallon whenever the tiki torches come out for island-themed events at the club. Named by Giletto and his son after the rum-loving pirate in the hit movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the sauce has became a house hit at Pine Hill, especially as an accent for his coconut-crusted chicken.
Giletto also won a contest sponsored by Dole for the inventive ways that he incorporated many different fruits into a colorful and refreshing honeydew and watermelon chilled custard, accented with pomegranate reduction.
Michael Connolly, Jr., Executive Chef at Southern Highland Golf Club in Las Vegas, is another Sara Lee winner who has found ways to take standard summer party fare (grilled meats, poultry and fish) to new heights with intriguing sauces and toppings. Connolly will mix fresh basil into butter to give steak extra sizzle, or add flavor and texture by drizzling on a little pomegranate sauce and serving with an accent salad of oven-dried Roma tomatoes, red onion, extra-virgin olive oil and garlic. Pork chops get dressed up in a tart-sweet lingonberry demi-glace, and fish (snapper, escolar and other oilier, firmer-fleshed varieties that tend to hold up best on the grill) are dressed up with a dollop or two of a fruity pineapple or mango salsa.
But Connolly’s real signature (and a Sara Lee contest winner) is his “Southern Highlands Chicken”, which can be served as a grilled breast or nestled on a hard roll. Either way, the roasted jalapeno basil aioli, marbrage onions (yellow onions cooked with red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegars, light brown sugar and olive oil), peppered bacon and melted gruyere cheese make this refined recipe sophisticated enough to earn center-of-the-plate status at any upscale cook-out.
No Skimping on the Sides
Upscale is also the key word for the side dishes served at many club and resort barbeques. Several club chefs have elevated smashed spuds into an interactive experience, by setting out mashed potato bars. At Pine Hill, Giletto usually offers a colorful collection of exotic varieties such as Peruvian purple, Yukon gold and orange sweets. Guests pick their potato types and select from toppings such as blue cheese crumbles, edible confetti flowers, chopped pine nuts, hazelnuts, fresh chives, and bacon. To add to the fun, either a server or the guests themselves pile or parfait their personalized potato combos into martini glasses.
At Florida’s Captiva Island South Seas Resort and Yacht Harbour, smoked salmon, crème fraiche, capers, chives, caramelized onions and shiitake mushrooms are among the favorite potato bar toppers, according to Earl Quenzel, the property’s Regional Director of Sales and Marketing. Southern Highland GC chooses to set up its potato bar like an omelet station, where the potatoes and their preferred companions (from choices such as confit, shallots, lobster meat, truffle oil or jalapenos) are married in a sauté pan while the guest looks on.
For a less formal, but just as tasty, potato presentation, Southern Highlands’ Connolly does a spicy Cajun-style salad with Andouille sausage (or chorizo) and okra. A tasty, non-spud side that Connolly’s clients like is a toss of grilled figs, goat cheese and prosciutto.
Sausages, in fact, have become more than just great grill food at Southern Highland. Connolly uses lots of imagination (along with the trusty 15-pound grinder attachment on his mixer) to surprise guests with such gourmet stuffings as Kobe beef, pork and pineapple, and veal with white wine and lemon.
“We serve these sausages in many different ways: as an upscale sandwich piled with pickled onion chutney on a bun; sliced onto grilled pizzas or into calzones; with fresh pastas, or as a sampler entrée or appetizer platter with several mustard and relish accompaniments,” he reports.
The barbecue even does dessert duty now at Southern Highlands, grilling peaches that Connolly tosses with 25-year-old balsamic vinegar (“It tastes like port, but with a unique tartness,” he says), then topped with a little crème fraiche and a sprig of mint. Live dessert stations featuring dramatic flambés for bananas foster, cherries jubilee and crepes Suzette also do well outside.
“Members want to see action for their money, not just chafing dishes,” Connolly explained. “They want the excitement of the flames and smells, and the elegance of the classic presentations.”
With club chefs now enhancing their outdoor menu options so fully and elaborately, club managers are building profitable events around their open-air kitchens.
For example, couples golf is a popular warm-weather outing for members of Laurel Springs Golf Club in Suwanee, Ga., so the club’s Food & Beverage Manager, Basil Coleman, now goes to great lengths to make the evenings extra fun with themed dinners. Offerings range from a “Simply Southern Barbecue,” complete with chicken, baby back ribs, pulled pork potato salad, cole slaw and pecan pie or peach cobbler laid out on red-and-white-checked tablecloths, to a drive-in movie theme with hot dogs and hamburgers. “Just the smell of the grill as they’re coming in from the course sets the mood,” Coleman says.
Even at places with great natural attractions like the Captiva Island South Seas resort, food plays an important part in enhancing the experience. “We’re an island resort with two-and-a-half miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico, so we’re all about building events around the water—whether people are at the beach watching the dolphins play or the sun set, or on the harbor watching the yachts,” notes Quenzel.
“In those settings, we like to set up little ‘islands of tranquility’ with great food that can range from a traditional New England clambake, to an All-American hot dog and hamburger barbecue, to an island luau with a whole roasted pig,” he adds.
True to its island setting, the South Seas Resort emphasizes tropical tastes through much of its outdoor menu. A refreshing start to an al fresco meal is often a ceviche bar featuring bay scallops, lobster, shrimp, passion fruit and calamari in an iced scallop shell. Other fitting foods for the resort’s South Seas island-style set-ups include tortellini and smoked scallops with dill and scallion, herbed angel-hair pasta with fire-roasted vegetables, BBQ oysters with multi-pepper soffrito, and grilled scallop chowder with roasted corn.
With such a widespread property (330 acres), the staff at South Seas has a bigger challenge than most getting food transported efficiently over significant distances to remote beach- or boat-side destinations. Refrigerated trucks, trucks modified with built-in hot boxes, power boats, and modified golf carts are all used to transport catered banquet food or deliver hot foods such as pizza, even to functions being held on remote islands. To further prepare the property to better serve outdoor functions, the resort’s main pool area, main lawn and inner lawn are all being “pre-wired and plumbed” as part of a current renovation, and it owns a portable gas BBQ grill that is over six feet long, and a rotisserie.
Summing It Up
• Club chefs are discovering they don’t have to limit themselves to “basic backyard” choices when transferring their cooking skills beyond the clubhouse walls.
• The open-air environment also gives club chefs special opportunities to enhance relationships, as members see them at work in a casual atmosphere that encourages one-on-one exchanges.
• Several club chefs have won awards for signature sauces and sandwiches in national outdoor cooking competitions.
• Side dishes and even desserts have also been transferred skillfully to outdoor cooking settings.
• Expanding outdoor menus and cooking techniques also helps bring profitable new possibilities to summer event schedules
Giving Grills Their Permanent Place
As the interest in outdoor cooking continues to increase at clubs and resorts, more facilities are constructing permanent, dedicated grill islands out of stone or brick, or creating custom installations of grills into attractive wooden islands on wheels. A number of clubs that already have one or two standard six-foot grills are also adding at least one three-foot grill for use in their pool and/or tennis court areas.
With grills getting more and longer use, manufacturers of outdoor cooking equipment recommend that club and resort pros choose commercial models constructed of 300 series, 18-gauge or heavier stainless steel (400 grade is more likely to rust during outdoor use, as will aluminized or porcelainized steel). To test a grill’s durability, one supplier suggests putting it to the “magnet test”—if something that’s magnetic sticks to the side, you can rest assured that the grill will eventually rust.
With grills being used for a wider variety of menu options, even heat distribution becomes a more important consideration. In general, suppliers recommend, the more independent a grill’s burners, the better. And grills for intensive club use should be capable of generating high levels of heat, they add—up to 700 degrees with the lid down.
To keep the cooking going on an even keel throughout a meal, many chefs prefer a barbecue with a split gas system—two propane cylinders and two hoses with regulators—so that each side of the grill is fueled by a separate tank. Fewer cylinder changes, after all, mean less cooking downtime.
Grills that come with steel water pans to catch grease drips will also be much easier to clean, and this feature also reduces the possibility of grease fires.
Above all, make sure that any grill is approved by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), American Gas Association (AGA) or an equivalent reputable standards organization. Also, choose a model that has available accessories, such as a rotisserie, that you might want to add down the line. —MO-T