At Oregon’s Tetherow Golf Club, Head Chef Rian Mulligan provides members, guests and local diners from the fast-growing town of Bend with plenty of tempting reasons for regular culinary do-overs.
Tetherow Golf Club lies in the Central Cascades and Oregon’s High Desert region. At 4,000 feet elevation, its panoramic views and distinctive layout quickly made it another one of Oregon’s popular new golf destinations after it was opened in 2008. Managed by OB Sports, Tetherow is semi-private, with a golf course designed by David McLay Kidd, who is also known for his work at Oregon’s Bandon Dunes resort, as well as Scotland’s Castle Course.
Current Position: Head Chef, Tetherow Golf Club, Bend, Ore. (2009-Present)
Tetherow is only seven minutes away from Bend, Ore., a picturesque city of 76,000 that has become the country’s 6th fastest-growing metropolitan area. Besides having one of the most challenging course layouts in the West, and even though the golf course is only open from April through November, the Tetherow Club Grill and clubhouse have become year-round destinations for dining and catered events, thanks in large part to the efforts of Head Chef Rian Mulligan, who has held that position since 2009.
As you will read in this interview, Rian has gained tremendous insights into the sustainability trend and how to effectively utilize local products. We appreciate his taking time out from his many hands-on responsibilities in the Tetherow kitchen to share his experiences.
Q: Chef, the sustainability trend and “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” initiatives are as big in Oregon as anywhere. Tell us about Tetherow’s vendor programs with local farmers and specialty growers.
A: I am a native Oregonian from Portland, coming from a huge family that includes a grandpa who used to be a dairy farmer. So small farms have always been close to my heart. We use beef, chicken and pork that is raised in Oregon on smaller, family-owned farms and distributed by a family-owned business out of Portland. We get line-caught fish that comes from the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean, and shellfish from a sustainable farm in Washington state.
During our summer months we have a regular CSA—community-supported agricultural—event at Rain Shadow Organic Farm that brings in the freshest items grown at the farm for that particular week. We turn much of what we can get here into our specials for the night. All of my microgreens come from Tender Greens Farm in Bend year-round. I have been working with them for four years to grow special and exotic greens that I don’t have to ship up from California.
Just recently, I was approached by a tomato farmer after he heard about us, and he will be growing our heirloom, cherry, and beefsteak tomatoes for next summer. We also work with a local goat cheese farmer, and fishermen who travel over from the coast with fresh fish. I will also forage for chanterelle and morel mushrooms when I have the time.
In all, I have ten local purveyors right now, and do orders six days a week, with more to come in the future. I think my kitchen staff would agree that it can be challenging sometimes to keep all of the information in our heads about the “who, what, where and when” of all of the orders we’re now making, but they do a great job keeping up with me as I find new people and farmers to get the best produce I can find. Although we cannot, of course, survive on just Oregon-made ingredients, we do the best we can to support the farms and families of the Pacific Northwest.
Q: Here on the East Coast, the number of Farmers Markets has exploded, and I’m sure it’s the same in Oregon. Do you expect this trend to continue, as the demand for locally grown products keeps skyrocketing, and transportation costs stay high?
A: Five years ago, the demand for buying local fresh produce for everyday homes seemed, to me, to be just a fad. But when you drive down the streets in Bend today, you will notice a “support local” sticker on just about every other car. To my great surprise and enjoyment, this trend has spread like wildfire.
It’s the same for restaurant and club chefs, too. About four years ago, we started to see farmers coming to our back doors with fresh product from their farms. We chefs were naturally skeptical, until we tasted the difference in their marbled, juicy steak, and produce that was just cut 15 miles away and was truly fresh, with no chemicals to sustain it.
After restaurants started using these farm-fresh ingredients, customers instantly noticed how magnificent the food tasted. Patrons began to ask chefs, “What changed in your recipes?” and were very surprised to hear the simple answer, “local, fresh produce.” They also began to notice the difference between what we were serving and the produce they were buying for themselves in the supermarket. It has all had such an effect, in fact, that the Safeways in Bend are now buying some produce from local farmers themselves—and this is a trend, not a fad, that I think will continue to grow and is here to stay.
Back when I first started cooking six years ago, there was one small farmers market in Bend, which just recently grew so large it had to be moved to a new location. Now we have five, one of which is open three days a week. That’s pretty impressive for a town of only 80,000 people.
Recently, I was invited to be a guest chef at one market, to cook with products bought there that day and showcase what is possible. I was told to be prepared to cook for 300 people. I almost ran out of food before they even announced what I was doing there! I had to go back and buy more produce because of how many people attended, and that does not include the people who didn’t try the dish.
This is all taking hold as everyone comes to realize how the difference between commercial and fresh products can imprint a lasting memory in the dishes we prepare. For example, I am not a fan of fresh, uncooked tomatoes. I had to learn to eat them once I became a cook, but never enjoyed the encounter. That changed after I tried a fresh, off-the-vine tomato from Mark, my new tomato farmer. My eyes instantly rolled to the back of my head as a juicy, ripe, bright red tomato touched my palate; he changed my view on what a tomato should taste like.
Q: Chef, I can market and have success with any local product, except grass-fed beef. You have access to a grass/corn combo-fed animal that you’ve had good luck with. Can you tell us about it?
A: I believe the fad of grass-fed beef in America is a result of Americans watching TV and movies that highlight large corporate farms, which in turn has led to the belief that all corn-fed cows in the United States are crammed into pens, forced to stand in their own filth and stuffed with feed and injected with hormones. We in the industry know this is simply not true.
Here at Tetherow, we use a three-year-old cow that has been in pasture for twenty-seven months, and then is slowly switched to a corn feed for the last nine months. The corn eliminates the grassy flavor that is so commonly associated with purely grass-fed beef and gives the meat some much-needed marbling, without over-stressing the animal and its natural metabolism. I am also told the cow lives a happier, healthier life, which adds to the meat’s flavor. I don’t know how much truth there is in the last statement, but I do know we have a good response from the steaks we serve, and I commonly hear that we have the best burgers in town.
Q: Chef, upon completion, Tetherow will have 375 single-family homes and 200 townhouses. While remaining a destination restaurant and golf course amenity, what has your F&B department been doing to prepare for this type of growth?
A: Tetherow Golf Club is three years old, and our F&B Director, Kevin Gilman, and I have been running the restaurant and catering operations here for the last two and a half years. Kevin has been managing restaurants for 15 years, so I lean on him for his experience and staff-management skills. He has been an indescribably great asset to becoming the chef I want to become, and I would not be in this position without his guidance and patience.
We have been fortunate that we have both been able to grow with the club from the ground up. That’s allowed us to implement the systems we need to attain our end-result goal: making people happy while giving unprecedented service and turning a profit.
For the restaurant, it was easier to get systems and procedures created because it was not as new to us; we were weaker as a whole team when it came to specialized events and weddings. But the two of us, along with our Banquet Captain, Jeremy Minteer, and Event Coordinator, Heather Arns, learned the only way we could, through execution.
It has taken two seasons to finely tune our operation, but we are always striving to execute better and to incorporate solid systems. That includes finding off-the-radar activities for members and their children. Our latest successes have included a combined movie night, a glow-in-the-dark par-three course, a flashlight-tag championship, and a super s’more competition.
Q: Actually, you never thought you’d be in any chef position, after going to Oregon State to study engineering. Do you now encounter things that would be easier if you had a culinary degree?
A: After leaving OSU and moving to Bend, I got a job at The Blacksmith restaurant by accident, when the dishwasher did not show up the day I happened to apply for a job. I took the job because I needed income, and they needed a dishwasher. I was told to show up at five o’clock. When I did, I walked into a hundred-degree, blistering-hot kitchen and what appeared, to me, to be uncontrolled chaos. On the outside, my smile was ear to ear, as inside I realized I had found what I was born to do.
I became a sponge at that point; I wanted to learn everything. Not having a fine-dining background and no schooling definitely made this a challenge, but I did everything I could to overcome that hurdle. I kept a notebook with me while I washed dishes, and would write things down as the cooks said them, so I could look them up later that night and try to figure out what they meant by these foreign terms they were using, for everything from equipment to cooking techniques.
I would also come in early so I could work in the slower-paced and “less stressful” prep kitchen. At first I thought I was being annoying with all of my questions, but I soon found that everyone was more than willing to share what they had learned as long as I was willing to listen—and then do it their way.
Yes, culinary school could have sped up this process, but I think that can be a double-edged sword. As I learned everything at a slower pace, I also learned more in-depth and practical applications and made day-to-day use of that knowledge, while executing it on the line. It was difficult and stressful, and I always felt one step behind everyone else, but that drove me even harder.
The first time I had a customer come up to my station in our open kitchen and tell me, “This is the best salad I ever had,” the only thing I could think was, “All I did was put someone else’s recipes together.” I wanted nothing more at that point than to have someone say that about something that came from my heart and soul. At one point I actually went to wash dishes at a lunch/dinner pub in the mornings, before going to my night job, just to be around a different side of the restaurant industry.
I spent three years bouncing through the brigade system, with a minor setback of a third-degree burn and a shattered lower back, before finally becoming a sous chef. I left soon after to work at a mediocre pasta joint that did huge volume. I did not learn about cooking there, but about speed and consistency, as I worked a 16-burner star top with 25 dishes. That was fun for a while, but I realized my passion was making “edible art” that was an expression of myself.
After seven months of slinging pasta, I got a chance to come to Tetherow and realize my main goal of becoming a chef. That become a brand new hurdle, but with the support of my colleagues I am now realizing the potential I possess, as well as just how much more I have to learn.
School or no school, I believe that anything is attainable in this field, as long you have a desire to never stop learning and love what you put in front of the people who support you, the customer.
View Chef Mulligan’s recipes for: