Tampa Yacht & Country Club has evolved into a “food-driven” club with modern menus, upscale twists and empowered employees.
Like a smooth-sailing vessel, guiding a well-run food & beverage operation is all about leadership—from the chef, the clubhouse manager, the general manager or a combination of all three. Their voices must be steady, commanding, clear and consistent; and they must lead, and teach, by example.
F&B at Tampa (Fla.) Yacht & Country Club (TYCC) has this leadership at all levels. At the helm in the kitchen are Executive Chef Jean-Christophe Setin and Sous Chef Robert Cauley. With the firm support of General Manager Scott Fairbairn, CCM, CCE and Clubhouse Manager Jay Butler, the TYCC team has successfully steered the club on a 16-year cruise out of an initially shallow berth ($1 million in 1996), to create a well-anchored program that now runs in much deeper waters ($3.1 million in annual F&B revenues in 2011).
The secrets to how the TYCC captains have charted this success? Empower the staff; give them the tools and knowledge they need to do their jobs, and the freedom and trust to do those jobs well.
Getting Things Ship-Shape
Chef Setin was born in Nice, France and trained at some of the most prestigious establishments on the French Riviera. He came to the U. S. in 1995 and worked for several private French restaurants in Florida and Colorado. In 2000, he moved to the club business, becoming the Executive Chef for San Jose Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla. In 2007, he accepted the Executive Chef position at TYCC.
“Before I arrived here, the kitchen had been running on auto-pilot for several months,” Setin says. “The menus weren’t bad, but they lacked creativity. Food costs were high—between 60-65%—and overall organization of the freezers and dry-storage areas was poor.”
To retool the operation from the inside out, Setin says he spent the first few weeks on the job “in a tank top and shorts” so he could clean the kitchen, reconfigure shelving and lead his new team by example.
“I didn’t come into this job with some earth-shattering reorganization strategy,” he says. “The operation wasn’t bad before I arrived; in fact, it had been steadily growing over the years. But it needed some updates, and I knew what needed to be done. So I grabbed a Sawzall and got to work.
“I am not the kind of chef to bark orders at my cooks,” he adds. “I took it day by day, demonstrating how we could transform this operation together. Eventually, I was able to get full buy-in. They trusted my vision, and they were excited to be a part of the evolution.”
Once the kitchen infrastructure was in better working order, Setin set about delegating key tasks to top performers. “Some of my cooks didn’t have the types of responsibilities associated with their tenure, yet they are very capable and talented individuals,” he says. “It was clear they were hungry for more, so I gave them the chance to prove themselves.”
With 1,425 members on its roster, TYCC serves between 900 and 1,000 a la carte meals per week. Ordering enough product for this kind of volume is an immense job, but Setin was convinced his team would be able to handle it, with proper direction and division of duties.
“My pantry chef, Joanne, has been here for 25 years,” he notes. “She knows this operation and our members quite well. We agreed she would be in charge of ordering all of our produce.” Setin walked her through the negotiating and purchasing process for four weeks, and once she showed a full grasp of it, he backed off and let her do the job.
“I did the same thing with two other cooks for fish and groceries, so each of us is now part of the whole process,” says Setin, who kept the role of purchasing meats and specialty items for himself.
“The key is to get the best out of each of your employees and make them feel valuable,” he notes. Including them in purchasing and in planning for the “big picture” has been a critical part of TYCC’s success, he says, because “it brings accountability and pride to their jobs.”
Reorganizing the kitchen’s infrastructure also paid off with a significant reduction in food costs, which now run between 45% and 50%. “Proper pricing and accurate purchasing are pivotal to staying in that range,” says Setin.
Setting Sail for Success
With four dining venues on its 13.5-acre property, there’s something for every taste at TYCC. “We are a food-driven club,” says Fairbairn, who has been with TYCC for 16 years and has served as its General Manager for the past six. “We have a marina, stables, a swim team and a fitness center, but dining has always been one of our biggest draws.”
One of the more impressive areas of F&B growth at TYCC has come through its recently reimagined poolside pavilion.
Previously, the space had been used as a snack bar only during the summer months—but with a menu that was all over the map, reports Setin. “When I arrived, the snack bar menu was as involved as the dinner menu!” he says. “I started eliminating some items, slowly. The key is to change items often and keep the offerings fresh.”
Seeing the space’s physical potential (the pavilion is one of the few waterside dining options in town) as well as its culinary possibilities (tapas and small plates work well in the setting), the TYCC staff set out to expand its purpose.
“In the summer, the pavilion offers traditional snack bar items and more upscale casual items like wraps, salads and hummus platters,” says Butler, a Johnson & Wales graduate who has been Clubhouse Manager at TYCC for 16 months, after previously serving in the same role at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club. “In the fall during football season, we bring out a few extra televisions and serve a limited menu of tailgate-type food.”
“The sports-bar theme took off like crazy,” adds Setin. “Everyone loves it. It also allows us to use the area for private parties. We don’t generate that much more money with the concept, but we met a need by offering a new place to hang out and watch football. It has also helped to stabilize food and labor costs.”
All Hands on Deck
A beautiful setting is all well and good, but if the food doesn’t live up to the hype, you’re dead in the water. Fortunately for TYCC, the quality of the food has been the driving force behind its success in recent years.
|C&RB CLUB RECIPE
GRILLED LOUP DE MER
with grapefruit, orange, fresh chervil and warm fingerling potato saladServes two:
2 boneless loup de mer
1 large grapefruit
1 large orange
2 ozs. fresh chervil
½ lb. fingerling assorted potatoes
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 ozs. fresh basil
1 large shallot
Submitted by: Jean-Christophe Setin, Executive Chef, Tampa (Fla.) Yacht & Country Club
“We offer an eclectic mix of both traditional and comfort food with modern influences and a touch of French heritage,” says Setin. “We cut no corners, strive for consistency and offer the best available quality.”
TYCC’s lunch menu changes every quarter, but the dinner menu changes weekly. “Menu writing is a great place to engage all parts of the staff,” says Setin. “I like to sit down with the front of the house and get feedback. Your servers can be your greatest allies, so it’s really important to get their buy-in.
“I also involve my cooks in recipe development,” he adds. “Toward the end of the week, I’ll pull my grill cook, veggie and sauté cooks and expeditor aside, and tell them we’re going to put New York strip, snapper, veal and ostrich on the menu for next week. I ask them to do some research over the next few days and come in on Tuesday prepared to tell me what they’ve found. This is how we keep our menu fresh. We’re all constantly looking for new ideas.”
Even with a constant stream of new dishes, traditional favorites still rank high with members. One of TYCC’s signature dishes is pepper-crusted venison with stewed apples, butternut squash mousseline and sauce perigourdine. Other popular dishes include the Copper River salmon with citrus-scented couscous, baby vegetables and warm basil and arugula salad, and seabass with parmesan risotto, basil and chive oil and micro bulls blood. “I love exploring the sous vide process and trying to incorporate it in our daily preparations, while understanding the challenges we face as a private club,” says Setin. “We just did a sous vide beet salad with bleu cheese cream and frisee that went over really well.”
“The challenge is being all things to all people,” says Fairbairn. “We are successful in part because we invest in our chef’s talent, sending him to conferences like C&RB’s Chef to Chef Conference.”
TYCC’s wine society is another proving ground for the team. For the group’s monthly wine dinners, Setin, Cauley and Butler can push their culinary limits. “The wine society is kind of the voice of the membership,” says Butler. “It’s a good test for new ideas. For the monthly dinners, I’ll bring in four or five new wines, and chef will put together a pairing menu. Some of our most popular menu items have come from these events.”
TYCC also serves as ground zero for the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a week-long event that includes a brunch where TYCC serves over 1,700 breakfasts and does over $45,000 in bar sales before noon.
“During Gasparilla, this place pumps out more food than I’ve ever seen,” says Butler. “I’m amazed at the quality and volume. It’s impressive, even compared to [Masters week at Augusta National].”
If TYCC has one continued challenge for Setin and his team, it’s space—or lack thereof. “Imagine serving 1,000 a la carte meals out of a residential kitchen,” he says. “As organized as we’ve become, during a busy week like Gasparilla, you can’t even walk into the freezers.”
The club has been working with a master planner to address the issue by replacing some kitchen equipment and expanding storage areas. The long-range plan, Fairbairn adds, also calls for “an outdoor sports bar with a spectacular view of the bay, great drinks and great food that truly showcases all that TYCC has to offer.”
In 2005, TYCC Executive Chef Jean-Christophe Setin’s son, Sebastien, was diagnosed with a rare Mitochondrial disorder. Chef Setin’s determination to help fund research to find a cure for the condition led to his development of the Provencal Meat and Poultry Rub, an all-purpose, entirely natural seasoning that contains no MSG. All proceeds from sales of the spice rub go directly to Mitochondrial research.To read an interview with Chef Setin about his son’s condition and the efforts that he, and TYCC, have made to raise funds for research, click here.
Information on how to obtain the spice rub can be found at the chef’s website, www.chefjeanchristophe.com