A weekend snowfall failed to chill the excitement at C&RB’s fifth annual conference, where over 200 executive chefs, general managers and other industry food-and-beverage leaders heard and saw the latest ideas and techniques for boosting revenues, profitability and member/guest satisfaction in all parts of their club dining programs.
Despite a snowstorm that was severe enough to cancel hundreds of flights into the usually weather-proof Denver International Airport, over 200 executive chefs, general managers and other industry food-and-beverage leaders from 37 states and Canada made their way to Colorado for Club & Resort Business’ Fifth Annual Chef to Conference, held March 10-12 at the Grand Hyatt Denver.
Those who came to the largest Chef to Chef Conference held to date were treated to an action-packed program that included live demonstrations for a full variety of culinary concepts, including fine dining, contemporary cuisine, regional specialties, healthier menu options for children, seafood and desserts and pastry. In the Conference’s final session, Perry Kenney, Director of Food and Beverage for Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., provided a fitting finish by transforming a block of ice into an elaborate seahorse sculpture in just 30 minutes.
The Conference began on Sunday night, March 10, with a reception and sit-down dinner that was followed by a keynote address by Jeff McFadden, CCM, General Manager of The Union League of Philadelphia, to provide attendees with details on how his club—largely on the strength of the reputation created by its fine-dining concept as well as other food-and-beverage innovations—had recovered from the brink of collapse in the late 1990s to be named in 2012 as the top Platinum city club in the United States. McFadden also shared details of the $14 million kitchen renovation currently in progress at the League that will include the creation of a two-story wine vault, culinary academy and training school, butcher shop, full-scale bakery and chocolate room.
The Conference program then kicked off on Monday morning, March 11, with a demonstration of Colorado regional cuisine, including lamb fondue and Brussels sprouts hash, by “Top Chef” contestant Tyler Wiard, Executive Chef of the Elway’s Restaurant Group founded by Denver Broncos’ legend John Elway. Wiard was followed by a demonstration of fine-dining delicacies, including a foie gras terrine and crab and avocado roulade, by Executive Chef Martin Hamann and Chef de Cuisine Don Irwin of The Union League of Philadelphia.
The program then moved to presentations on Chefs’ Financials by Joey Abitabilo, Executive Chef of Shelter Harbor Golf Club in Charlestown, R.I., and on Staff Training and Internships by Philippe Reynaud, Senior Director of Culinary Operation for the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla.
The Chef to Chef Conference’s Program Coordinator, Jerry Schreck, Executive Chef of Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., then co-presented with Michael Burns, Executive Chef of The Olympic Club of San Francisco, on all that’s involved with preparing for special events like the U.S. Open, which was held at The Olympic Club in 2012 and will be held at Merion this June.
As the Conference moved to Monday afternoon, for the first time its popular “Chef to Chef Live” session moved to breakouts with smaller groups, moderated by Abitabilo, Reynaud and Schreck and Burns, where open, wide-ranging discussions of club chef-related issues were held to cover subjects that included controlling food and labor costs, dealing effectively with Boards and committees, adding new twists and innovations to menus, and creating special events to revive sluggish a la carte occasions.
Conference registrants then attended a Monday-night reception that included lively “Culinary Quizzo” competitions and a “Mystery Basket” cookoff (see separate report), before venturing out into the Denver environs to sample local restaurant offerings.
On Tuesday, March 12, the Conference program resumed with a demonstration by Matt O’Connor, Executive Chef of Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y. of contemporary dishes that included his innovatively presented “Shrimp Cocktail 2013,” featuring cocktail-sauce wrapped shrimp with lemon puree, and a “steak tartare” made with watermelon and mango. O’Connor also provided attendees with his recipe for a homemade energy bar, sold for $3.50 at the halfway house of his previous club, that he said brought in an extra $4,000 in revenues in one golf season.
O’Connor’s demonstration was followed by a presentation of lowcountry comfort-food specialties, including crawfish cakes, fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and peppery jelly, sautéed chicken livers tasso, and jalapeno cheddar biscuit with lump crab gravy, by Jeff Dowdle, Executive Chef of The Heritage Club and its 1250 Heritage restaurant in Wake Forest, N.C.
That was followed by a “Don’t Forget Kids” presentation by Paul O’Toole, Executive Chef of Deerfield Golf Club in Newark, Del., who has been an active figure in the campaign against childhood obesity through the “Chefs Move to School” initiative. O’Toole shared a variety of menu alternatives that can still appeal to younger diners while greatly improving the nutritional profiles of what they eat, including sushi wraps, kabobs, alternative spaghetti sauces and smoothies.
Next, Bernard Pilon, Executive Chef of Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis, Mo., provided a comprehensive guide to building a successful seafood program, even in non-coastal locations where fish might not be front-of-mind. Chef Pilon’s presentation included demonstrations of an innovative “edible cocktail,” Scallop Negroni, and “Fish in Chips,” featuring fluke coated in dehydrated potato flakes.
The Conference’s final session, before Chef Kenney’s ice-carving demonstration, featured Meegan Roberts, Executive Pastry Chef of the Hollywood Casino in Columbus, Ohio, who demonstrated how to combine pastry techniques with savory ingredients to create innovative dishes such as “Charcuterie and Cheese.” As part of her presentation, Chef Roberts, who also was the winner of the “Mystery Basket” cookoff at the Conference’s Monday night reception (see separate report), provided recipes and demonstrated preparation for distinctive offerings including beet chips, candied pork cracklin, cheesecake flan and guanciale tuille.
More details and photos of all presentations and dishes that were prepared at the Conference will appear in reports in both the April issue of Club & Resort Business and the Spring 2013 issue of C&RB’s Chef to Chef Supplement.
Announcement of the location and dates for the 2014 Chef to Chef Conference, based on preferences expressed by 2013 attendees in their Conference evaluations, will be made this summer.