Through the implementation of hotel and resort systems, a two-week menu rotation and member request accommodations, Executive Chef Tony Larsen has shaped The Country Club of Florida’s F&B program into a personalized experience for members.
Tony Larsen, Executive Chef at The Country Club of Florida (CCF), in the town of Village of Golf in Palm Beach County, is just one of the many examples of young talent raising the level of cuisine in the club industry. Chef Larsen makes you think back to what club food used to be—and also makes you realize that there is no limit to its potential.
CCF opened in 1956 and now has tennis, pool and fitness facilities along with 18 holes of golf designed most recently by Lester George. Tony brought his talents to this exclusive club five years ago, and every member will attest to the huge improvements that have been made in all areas of the culinary operation.
C&RB would like to thank Chef Larsen for taking time to share some insights into how he’s worked to help turn CCF into a personalized, stimulating dining destination.
Q: Chef, prior to your club work, you had extensive training in hotels and resorts with Ritz-Carlton, Starwood and the Trump organization. What are some of the processes and procedures you learned through those experiences, and have since implemented at The Country Club of Florida?
A: Lots of systems—hotels need to run very efficiently, and to do so, they rely on systems. I have adapted some of them, but not all are necessary at CCF. For example, I use cleaning schedules, ordering guides and recipe-costing systems I learned while at hotels. This helps us to be more consistent in a changing environment.
Q: Your culinary stagiaire experience is impressive, with stints at The French Laundry, Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. What advice can you offer club chefs about how to go about looking for opportunities like this to expand their knowledge?
A: Persistence! If you want something badly enough, you can get it. The first thing is to decide where you want to go—then make phone calls, write letters and be persistent. You will certainly need to sacrifice something, but you will get your opportunity. The restaurants want solid cooks helping them, and some actually depend on the free labor.
These experiences can also be a wonderful “gut check” for chefs who have been in the same place for more than two years. You grind for twelve-plus hours, but you’ll see new foods, new techniques and new systems for running your kitchen. It’s invaluable.
Q: You do a lot of personalized service for CCF members, including dinners at their homes, takeout, etc. What made you decide to do this extra service, and what kind of positive buzz has it created at the club?
A: CCF is a unique club; the membership is relatively small, and the members are like one big family. I meet with most members on functions either in my office or the GM’s office. Sometimes they ask me to personally cook at their house and it’s only for ten people.
It makes for a great relationship and the closeness gives us instant feedback. They love it because they can voice their opinion and get results. We want them to know that we are their solution for food and beverage.
Q: Tony, I know clubs that change menus every day, and I know some that are seasonal. You change every two weeks. We all know how club members like their favorites, so what are the pros and cons involved with changing menus with such frequency?
A: The pros are that we can keep everyone stimulated with the food. The members eat here sometimes four nights a week or more. If they eat here with that frequency, they are not going to want the same menu.
The cons are food cost, consistency and training. You really put yourself out there when you change the menu that much. As for the member favorites, we get that a lot. I try to manage that with each menu. I also have a file on my computer that is for member requests. They will have their request on the next menu, usually within a week. If it’s something I can do for them the next day, I will, and they are satisfied.
Q: Chef, the “Speaker Series” you offer is something I have always wanted to try at my club. Can you talk a little about it, and how the F&B ties in?
A: We do two types of these events. One is called the “Speaker Series” and the other is “Great Decisions.” We have members organize them and schedule guest speakers, or one of our own members will speak on their area of expertise. Topics vary from “Overview of World Affairs” to “The NFL: A Business or a Game?”
All of the events are well-received and well-attended; we usually get about 120 members for them. After the speaker is done, we seat them in another room for a three-course meal—and if possible, the menu relates to the topic.tour