Fresh produce, lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbs work together to deliver tasty menu options that-surprise!-happen to be healthy, too.
Eating out is a treat. And members and guests at clubs and resorts are no different than any others; they still like to indulge in the occasional so-bad-it’s-good type of meal. But increasingly, more and more properties are finding that members and guests want more than just splurge food. Instead, diners are clamoring for options that are good for them, or line up with their idea of healthy, too.
Making It Your Mantra
Members join The University Club of Missouri in Columbia expecting to expand their networks, their tastes and their horizons—but they don’t expect dining there to also expand their waistlines. And thanks to Executive Chef Daniel Pliska, it doesn’t.
“Members want to leave here feeling satisfied and energized by a delicious meal,” says Pliska, who has discovered a formula that works for his club: Take good care of your members by creating dishes that meet their needs for both flavor and health.
SUMMING IT UP
• There is no silver-bullet solution to provide healthy menus for all properties. Determining what your members are looking for is a great place to start.
“We offer a wide variety of menu options that satisfy those looking for more healthful options, as well as those looking to splurge,” Pliska says. “The key is finding a balance between the two.”
The University Club of Missouri, which has become well-known for its creative leadership of club F&B programs (“Getting the Tigers By the Tail,” C&RB, April 2008), doesn’t label healthy dishes as such. Instead, the culinary staff simply incorporates healthy cooking techniques into many of the club’s recipes—not only because it’s better for members, but also simply because “it tastes better,” says Pliska.
Transfats are forbidden. Stocks are made in house. Homemade reductions and vegetable coulis replace heavy sauces. Complex carbohydrates like quinoa, lentils and wild rice are used instead of more traditional starches. Proteins are portioned between four and five ounces, and architecturally plated to look beautiful and satisfying. Vegetables—always purchased in season—are flash-steamed moments before service. And herb oils are used to punch up flavor.“For the vegetable coulis, we’ll either roast, blacken, or simmer the vegetables so that they soften,” Pliska explains. “The base is then pureed so it is creamy and smooth, and then it is lightly seasoned.”
After seasoning, the coulis is strained to remove seeds or skin, then is artfully drizzled on a plate, or pooled next to the protein, to create a dramatic plate presentation.
“In some cases, multiple types of coulis appear on one plate, for varying flavors and colors,” Pliska adds.
The University Club of Missouri also incorporates a number of global influences with oils, spices and cooking methods into many of its menus, which helps to add flavors and tastes that members aren’t necessarily expecting, without adding calories.
|El Macero CC is leaning toward more heart-healthy signature items for its members, who with an average age of 51 are more sensitive to fat and salt intake.|
“When you make a dish that tastes delicious, its nutrition profile isn’t going to be its primary selling point,” says Pliska. “Ultimately, the success of a dish will come down to strong cooking technique. Chefs must know how to develop deep, rich and complex flavors without adding fat, salt or unwanted calories.”
One of Pliska’s most popular dishes—which also happens to be on the more healthful side of his menu—is his wild mushroom risotto cake on braised swiss chard with pearl onions, green beans and hazelnut butter. “It’s filling without being too heavy,” he says.
Healthy Dishes, Healthy Profits
While healthy dining is certainly a plus for members at El Macero (Calif.) Country Club, the food—healthy or otherwise—hasn’t traditionally been the main draw for this family-friendly Sacramento Valley club.
“For a long time, El Macero CC was a golf course that happened to have a clubhouse,” says Kevin Robinson, Clubhouse Manager for the Troon-managed property. “Dining was an afterthought, and as a result, the freezers were full of product that wasn’t being turned over.”
In December 2007, Troon was brought in to manage El Macero CC. Shortly after, Robinson, who had previously worked as the Food & Beverage Director at another Troon-managed facility, was brought on board.
“We had thousands of dollars of frozen product; it was the highest inventory I’d ever seen,” he says. With food costs hovering around 40%, Robinson and Executive Chef Matthew Newton set to work whittling through the inventory. After a few months, things were back in line, and Newton set about creating menus focused entirely on freshness.
|Daniel Pliska’s wild mushroom risotto cake on braised swiss chard with pearl onions, green beans and hazelnut butter is a healthy hit at the University Club of Misourri.|
“Today, we only purchase what we know we will use,” says Newton. “With that kind of philosophy, we’re able to always have fresher, more healthful items on the menu, like the vegetable plate that is entirely seasonal. We also make a lot more items from scratch, such as our sauces, soups and stocks. We salt to taste, not to preserve, and we cook a la minute, instead of cooking something and holding it in a steam table.”
As a result of the staff’s efforts, El Macero CC’s food costs are now regularly below 30%, and members are not only frequenting the dining room, they’re raving about both the golf and the food.
“The quality of our product is much higher. Plus, the nutritional integrity of our ingredients is better. The food tastes cleaner,” says Newton.
Robinson agrees. “We offer a number of healthy options to our members, and if a member requests a certain dish, ingredient or meal preparation, we always accommodate them. Clean is a great way to describe our menu choices…and our freezer.”
Some of El Macero’s most popular better-for-you dishes include the homemade butternut squash soup made with pears and onions; fresh chopped tuna tartare; and fish tacos served with a homemade tomatillo sauce and micro-cilantro.
Taking the freshness concept one step further, Newton and Robinson recently launched a series of market-to-table dinners, and next year there are plans to plant a chef’s garden on property.
“Our members are connecting with our food because it tastes good and is good for them,” says Robinson. “We still give them a great hamburger when they want it, but they come to the club to be taken care of. Our servers are trained to do that in the front of the house and now we do it in the back of the house, too.”
The Constant Gardener
With six dining outlets, 1,700 membership families, a golf course, lodge and a spa, Nicholas Arnold, Executive Chef at Garden of the Gods Club in Colorado Springs, Colo., certainly has his hands full when it comes to developing healthy dishes.
|Garden of the Gods Club’s poached Chilean sea bass, with tarragon-scented quinoa, baby carrots, shiitake mushroom salad, bok choy, sunchoke and carrot emulsion.|
“Most of our members dine with us several times a week,” he says. “While they do enjoy some of the richer fine-dining foods on occasion, they are frequently looking for more healthful items, as well.”
In response, Arnold developed a health-focused spa menu loaded with offerings that he sprinkles onto other menus throughout the property, too. Dishes finding favor with members include a trio of dips, with a tomato bruschetta, edamame puree, and hummus, served with grilled whole wheat pita chips, as well as the salad of lemon and rosemary-grilled chicken served with baby field greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, toasted walnuts, oranges, feta cheese, and a balsamic vinaigrette.
“I try to speak to many members on an ongoing basis concerning their individual diets,” says Arnold. “It helps me stay in tune with the kinds of things they’re looking for.
“The best part about being the executive chef at a club like ours is that I can have more flexibility with the dishes we make for our members. I always let them know that if there is anything our culinary team can prepare for them, we will be more than happy to do so.”
While it sounds great in theory, the challenges associated with this approach are not always so simple.
“When preparing smaller portions of higher-quality cuisine, perception of value can be a factor,” says Arnold. “Dishes that incorporate bison, crab, or elk can be prepared affordably, but to do so, portions must be smaller, which can leave diners wanting more.
“Another challenge in preparing healthy cuisine is that each member defines ‘healthy’ differently,” he continues. “Some want low carbohydrates, some want low sugars, and others are very concerned about higher fats and cholesterol.”
Arnold overcomes these challenges by paying close attention to his food costs, by combining seasonal produce in unique ways, and by using healthy preparation techniques while always looking to bring in new products, spices and proteins. To get instant feedback, he also stays visible, accessible and available to the membership. Further, he looks for ways to modify existing dishes to make them even more healthful.
The Chilean sea bass, for example, is poached in court bouillon (a broth for poaching or quick-cooking foods) and served with a tarragon-scented quinoa with baby carrots, a shiitake mushroom salad, bok choy, and sunchoke, as well as a carrot emulsion infused with herbs and finished with coriander oil.
“When serving a large membership,” says Arnold, “a chef must figure out how to address all health concerns and create dishes that appeal to the everyday diner, all without sacrificing flavor and variety.”
Q&A with Daniel Buss Executive Chef, The Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, Aventura, Fla.
Q: Do you find members and guests requesting more healthful menu items?
Q: What are some challenges in the back of the house with
Q: How do you successfully marry nutrition and flavor in your dishes?
Q: If a chef came to you for advice on creating a more healthful menu, what advice would you give?