It has been said the Beatles were only as good as the sum of its parts.
In analogous terms, for years golf club chefs have suffered from the Ringo Starr complex. Similar to Starr’s unsung strengths during the Beatles’ halcyon days, chefs have for the most part remained in the shadows, serving as the beat of any member-driven club.
If the golf course serves as a club’s skeleton, then food and beverage makes up the nerve center. Food consumption, events and catering go hand in hand inasmuch what takes place from tee to green. The difference between Starr and chefs has been in exposure.
Enter Australian-born photographer and fashion publicist Diana DeLucia.
DeLucia, who once ran an insider culinary magazine called New York Restaurant before the 2008 recession caused it to fold, has been shining the spotlight on haute club food and the people who make it. She tapped into the golf industry cuisine niche by first reaching out to Long Island’s Sebonack Golf Club six years ago.
About the same time Rhy Waddington became executive chef at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Waddington was lauded for developing a diversified dinner menu every week. He was the first chef from a private club to be invited to cook for the prestigious James Beard Foundation membership.
An awakening was taking place. Country club chefs were starting to get recognized and DeLucia entered the picture at the right time.
She worked in concert with Sebonack to get inside its kitchen — as well as those of other ultra-private clubs — and published her first coffee-table-sized book in 2013 called Golf Club World, Behind the Gates.
From there, with more clubs taking interest, she put out the behemoth 6.9-pound, 500-page follow-up Golf Kitchen in November 2016 at a release party hosted by Winged Foot. More than 200 people attended, including chefs from Dubai’s Emirates Golf Club, Kiawah Island Club, Sebonack and more.
The event started a snowball of interest that continues growing.
“In my wildest dreams did I ever think it would get to this point? No,” said DeLucia. “This isn’t about me. The wheels are in motion. Owners, clubs and GMs are all in. This gives chefs an outlet and finally allows them to show their work.”
The books led to Sebonack owner and founder Michael Pascucci encouraging DeLucia to launch Golf Kitchen, a quarterly insider publication aimed toward country clubs and chefs’ efforts, and the website GolfKitchen.com. The website features country club recipes, stories and personalities.
Since then, the magazine has promoted and sponsored events in which chefs come together to mesh, share ideas and compete against each other in food and golf.
Borne out of this came the inaugural Golf Kitchen | Edgewood Fine Dining Soirée and Golf Kitchen Culinary Excellence Awards Premiere at Edgewood Country Club in Edgewood, N.J., which will be held Thursday, Oct. 4. Specialty guest executive chefs from some of the most prominent golf and country clubs in the Northeast and Florida will attend.
“I feel flattered, happy and nervous at once,” said Edgewood's executive chef Anthony Villanueva. “I’m so grateful to Diana for reigniting the passion for food.”
When DeLucia first approached Edgewood Country Club’s owners Eric Witmondt and Bruce Schonbraun about hosting the event, they graciously and enthusiastically wanted to do it, said DeLucia.
Increasingly, fine dining is making its way into the country club scene. This roasted quail with spring salad is the work of Anthony Giacoponello, executive chef at Sebonack Golf Club. (Photo: Golf Kitchen)
Zach Bell, executive chef at Addison Reserve Country Club, located in Delray Beach, Fla., was proud to be invited as a participant at the Golf Kitchen Culinary Excellence Awards. After making the transition from high-end restaurant chef to the private club sector several years ago, he admitted the transformation wasn’t easy. Even after working for world-renowned chef Daniel Boulud for 13 years.
DeLucia said she wasn’t surprised. She believes it’s harder for a chef to make such a transition more so than the other way around primarily because the hours are even more unforgiving and additional duties bring more responsibility.
“I came from the outside world,” said Bell. “Without a doubt, it’s a hard transition. It is nice to get recognized, but I’m a little different. It scares me a little because you need to really step up your game. Every time you do, then more eyes are on you to produce at an even higher level.
“A rising tide raises all boats, as the saying goes. I always think a pit bull is on my tail. I’m just that way.”
No doubt members demand a certain level of service and excellence for the dues they pay. And that’s fine with Bell and Villanueva. Both agreed that feedback can only help them improve. It’s all about service, service, service.
So it goes without saying that putting together the perfect plate or menu is the, pardon the pun, dangling a carrot never reached.
“My favorite dish is the one I have yet to create. I put pressure on myself to evolve. It is an art,” said Villanueva. “You either evolve or dissolve.”
Participating Chefs: Zach Bell, executive chef, Addison Reserve Country Club, Delray Beach, Fla.; Anthony Villanueva, executive chef and host chef, Edgewood Country Club, River Vale, N.J.; Anthony Giacoponello, executive chef, Sebonack Golf Club, Southampton, N.Y.; Michael Ruggiero, executive chef, GlenArbor Golf Club, Bedford, N.Y.; Keith Armstrong, executive chef, Westchester Country Club, Rye, N.Y.; Dana Iannelli, executive pastry chef, Addison Reserve Country Club, Delray Beach, Fla.
Ken Klavon was the online editor and a senior writer at the U.S. Golf Association for 12 years. He has covered golf for 22 years.