Many private clubs have rich, long-established legacies and traditions ranging from golf course design, iconic annual events, clubhouse architecture, and connections to their respective communities. Club food and beverage operations occupy a distinct area of contribution to club traditions by offering members and guests dishes and drinks that they know and love, and featuring unique specialties that are proudly rooted in the lore and history of specific clubs.
Club signature classics are a compliment to a club’s culture and identity. These distinct creations can’t be found anywhere else but at that particular club; they are signature dishes that are familiar and comfortable, and add to the club narrative. Some are dishes that recognize and honor a notable member or club event. They are exclusive and help to tell a club’s story.
Cutting edge club chefs are creating menus that focus on on-trend cooking methods and techniques such as molecular gastronomy and sous-vide, and pay attention to dining trends such as small plates, locally sourced ingredients, and artisanal offerings.
An unfortunate by-product of this movement, however, is that some of the more familiar and comfortable menu “must-haves”, often viewed as old-school or past their relevance or appeal, are discarded.
As a result, chefs sometimes experience pushback from members who want their club favorites perennially featured on menus. Some chefs may feel that these dishes are not representative of his or her particular cooking “style” or vision and are eager to abandon them.
However, since club dining is a member-driven environment there is a need to find a connection that can bridge consistency, variety, and versatility with menu offerings. Keeping club classics permanently on the menu potentially presents a catch-22 with the need for frequency of menu changes and updates.
The good news is, it IS possible to find balance. Chefs can take a low-risk approach to introducing members to contemporary takes on familiar favorites by including them in menu R&D tastings and soliciting their feedback. It is important for chefs to make adjustments and focus on working creatively to maintain the balance of keeping long time members happy while still attracting new members.
While personal skill, training, and a developed palate are some of the keys to success for a chef, the ability to manage the ‘give and take’ of the wants and needs of newer members versus existing and longtime members is imperative.
In food and beverage, not everything old is new again. Sometimes dishes born of tradition are break-even propositions in terms of food cost or labor, or a perceived source of creative impediment for a chef, but their true value comes in member engagement and enjoyment, which energizes a club.
Across the United States, many clubs feature signature food and beverage offerings for which they are well known. Here are just a few:
Casino Club, Chicago, Illinois
Harvard Club of New York, New York
Centennial Club, Nashville, Tennessee
Pacific Union Club, San Francisco, California
Cosmopolitan Club, New York, New York
California Club, Los Angeles, California
Muirfield Village, Dublin, Ohio
Belle Meade Country Club, Nashville, Tennessee
University Club, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Philadelphia Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Ocean Reef Club, Key Largo, Florida
Next week the sports world’s quintessential “tradition unlike any other”, the Masters, returns to Augusta National and with it a food tradition, enjoyed amongst the storied white sand bunkers, blossoming azaleas, and of course the Green Jacket that are the hallmarks of this tournament.
The Masters Pimento Cheese Sandwich
makes 4 sandwiches
1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 tsp garlic salt
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup diced pimentos
8 slices white bread
1. Whip cream cheese until smooth.
2. Add in mayonnaise, sour cream, and garlic salt. Whip until smooth.
3. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.
4. Spread over fresh, sliced white bread and cut diagonally.
Chef Mary Howley is the culinary consultant to the RCS Hospitality Group and a former Executive Chef of her own catering company, several country clubs, and fine dining restaurants. She studied throughout Europe and honed her skills on the East Coast working with a myriad of culinary styles. She had the honor to serve as research and development chef for Food Unlimited, and held the position of Pastry Chef in two James Beard Dinner Events. Contact her at mary@consultingRCS.com or visit the RCS website at www.consultingRCS.com.