Known as a top golf destination, Pinehurst Resort and Country Club has carved a niche for itself as a bona fide food mecca, too.
When your property is tied to legendary golf, establishing a reputation for your dining options is likely a secondary priority.
Not so at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, located in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C., where the food and beverage team—lead by Executive Chef Thierry Debailleul and Director of Food & Beverage Ed Peckels—has gone to great lengths to not only turn Pinehurst into a dining destination all on its own, but perhaps to also turn the tables on just why some guests visit this renowned property.
Established in 1898, Pinehurst features eight golf courses, making it one of the largest golf resorts in America. Architects Ross, Fazio, Maples, Jones and most recently, Coore & Crenshaw have made each course a unique test. As the site of more championships than any other golf course in the country, Pinehurst will welcome the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open Championships in 2014.
In addition to golf, the resort also features elegant accommodations, extensive spa facilities, a beach club, tennis, and family recreational activities.
But it’s the ever-evolving dining program that marries all that Pinehurst is with all it will be.
“Pinehurst is steeped in tradition,” says Peckels, who has been at the resort for nine years. “Change doesn’t come quickly here, but our guests preferences have evolved—and so our dining options reflect those changes.”
Pinehurt’s guests and 4,500 members, 2,000 of whom remain local year-round, are looking for more casual dining outlets, faster service, family-focused fare, appealing plate presentations, and local cuisine.
“Our menus reflect our traditions, but they are anything but old-world,” says Debailleul, who came to the resort nearly four years ago, bringing more than 20 years of international culinary experience with him. “A dish like Beef Diane is still on the menu, but it gets reconceived at least three or four times a year to be more modern and incorporate seasonal ingredients.”
His approach is evident across Pinehurst’s entire dining operation, which includes nine different dining venues as well as a butcher, commissary kitchen, saucier and pastry shop.
“We are very protective of the quality of our products and we’re fortunate to have these facilities on site. When I came to the resort, the dining operation was in good shape, but it needed an influx of new ideas and new techniques,” says Debailleul. “I’m the kind of chef who isn’t afraid to get my hands dirty. Show and tell goes a long way when working with your culinary staff.”
One of Debailleul’s initiatives—in addition to establishing a learning environment for up-and-coming culinarians (he works with culinary schools around the nation)—has been to work more closely with purveyors sourcing local produce, cheese and even beer. “For a resort our size, it doesn’t make sense for me to go down to the market every day,” says Debailleul. “It’s easier and more efficient for us to get our vendors on board with this initiative.”
Debailleul and his team work together to come up with the best ways to use these ingredients in specials, banquet menus and new menu items. Ingredients that are sourced locally are identified on the menus, which are printed in-house and can be changed as needed. “We change menus across the resort about four times a year,” says Debailleul. “This allows us to remain competitive while reacting to trends.”
A Cinderella Story
One such trend was the need for increased casual dining on property. Enter the Ryder Cup Lounge.
At first glance, the lounge looks like nothing more than an alcove off the lobby of Pinehurt’s Carolina Hotel. Yet every time guests pass by its double doors, they can’t help but want to stop in for a cocktail or a quick bite.
The PGA of America, which controls the Ryder Cup, granted Pinehurst special permission to use the name when the lounge opened in 1986, and for a Ryder Cup trophy used to be displayed in the room. (The trophy has since been moved to the resort’s clubhouse.) Four years ago, the resort upgraded and expanded the Lounge to better meet demand for casual, quick dining options.
“The Ryder Cup Lounge is our Cinderella story,” says Peckels. “We needed to add more casual dining to our operation, but the budget was tight. We were able to move a few walls and expand [the lounge] into an underused banquet space. We added draft beers and improved the menu.”
As a result, the Ryder Cup Lounge, open from 11:30 A.M. to 11:00 P.M., is now packed on a daily basis. The mahogany-wood bar seats only five, but the room, with its dark wood trim and tables, has proved to be a great setting for groups that want to relive the day’s rounds.
The Lounge’s menu features classic American fare with a twist, with items ranging from deconstructed pork nachos to crab cake sliders. “Speed is the issue here,” says Debailleul. “Quick turnaround is the key to success in this outlet.”
Food Teens Want
With more families visiting the resort, Debailleul and his team have put a special focus on writing menus and offering dining options that cater to all ages.
“More of our guests are bringing teens in the 12-to-17 range,” he says. “They’re too old to order off the kids menu, but often the regular menu doesn’t have the kinds of dishes they gravitate toward.”
In response, a young-adult menu was created with attractive price points and options that teenagers enjoy.
“We sell a lot of vacation packages, especially during Spring Break, so having a menu geared toward this age group makes sense for us,” Debailleul says.
The menu is a hybrid between the kids’ menu and the regular menu. “There are the kid standards—hamburger, grilled cheese, pizza—alongside more adult options such as steaks and fish dishes,” Debailleul explains.
The Carolina Dining room also offers a legendary breakfast buffet that is perfect for families. Piano music sets the tone as guests feast on made-to-order omelets, fresh fruit and Southern favorites.
“It’s ‘ginormous,’ ” says Debailleul. “The buffet has become part of the Pinehurst tradition.”
Celebrating Food and Wine
Beyond the breakfast buffet, another culinary tradition at Pinehurst is its annual Food & Wine Festival, held over Labor Day weekend every year. In 2011, the event featured more than 40 international wineries as well as award-winning guest chefs Robert Sisca, Executive Chef at Boston’s Bistro du Midi, and Bill Foltz, from L’Auberge du Lac Casino Resort in Lake Charles, La.
“After 20 years of hosting this event, many wonder how we draw larger crowds every year,” Peckels told The Pilot, a local newspaper, about the 21st annual festival. “The Wine Fest team starts working on the event the day after the last one ends. We add new wineries. We change event venues. We challenge our vendors to have seminar topics on cutting-edge topics. And we continue to draw exceptional chefs for our dining events that surpass all expectations.”
The 2011 festival began on Friday, September 2 with a wine tasting and competition, where guests served as judges to score wines in 10 different categories. After an afternoon of seminars, Friday culminated with a wine-and-dine reception at the clubhouse veranda, followed by a grand dessert reception and tasting later in the evening.
Saturday kicked off with a culinary demo and luncheon featuring the guest chefs, followed by seminars throughout the day and ending with an extravagant grand gala dinner featuring live music and dancing.
Sunday’s highlight was the expansive ultimate champagne brunch in the Carolina Dining Room. New to the program last year, the resort partnered with the Moore County Chamber of Commerce to add a “Culinary Showcase” to the festival agenda, which featured 16 Moore County restaurants competing in various categories.
“Golf may be one of the primary draws to Pinehurst,” says Debaailleul, “but the resort has put a lot of muscle behind establishing a culinary culture.”
View Pinehurst Resort and Country Club menus here: