Archive for the ‘culinary experimentation’ Category

Culinary R&D

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Almost all clubs except those in the Sunbelt and tropics have a winter-related slow season.  For most clubs that season falls after the end-of-year holidays and continues for several months until the weather improves and outdoor activities pick up.

While seasonal employees have usually been laid off for this period, the kitchen will have full time, year-round employees who may be underemployed.  Sure, this is the time to rest, recuperate, and take well-earned vacations, but I would like to suggest another activity to recharge the kitchen staff — Culinary R&D.  Since many clubs have a fairly static, or at least predictable, dining fare, I would encourage the executive chef and sous chefs to use the down time to enhance their kitchen’s skill level by taking on some creative tasks they may not have the time for during the more hectic pace of the busy seasons.

Depending on the club’s usual menus and kitchen skills, the amount of available time, as well as cost considerations, I would propose the chefs explore some of the following skills:

  • Baking unusual artisanal breads, and making made-from-scratch desserts such as tortes, pies, or cakes.  Another thought would be to create fresh made gourmet pizzas.
  • Pickling and preserving.  These skills and techniques offer limitless opportunities to create out-of-the-ordinary offerings for club members.
  • Exploring the art of charcuterie — again, the opportunities to make some really interesting creations is immense.
  • Focusing on a specific cuisine such as Asian Fusion, Indian, Caribbean, Middle-Eastern, or vegetarian, or even regional American cuisines such as Cajun, Low Country, or Tex-Mex.  The skills learned offer some new possibilities during the busy season.
  • Making homemade ice creams, ices, and puddings.  With today’s emphasis on comfort foods, members will appreciate the creativity and effort.
  • Preparing unique, interesting, and even exotic canapés and appetizers.  These may become regulars on your menus or offered for high-end catered events.
  • Exploring the products offered by local artisanal cheese makers or the many uses of yoghurt in various world cuisines.

Some of the skills mentioned here were more prevalent in restaurants and homes of the past but were overtaken by industrial production, time and labor consciousness, and menu standardization.  But if you watch any of the TV food channels you will find that more and more restaurants are making their own items from scratch on premises.

In investing in culinary R&D, the general manager and executive chef can expect some level of higher food costs during this off-season period of experimentation, but the additional skills mastered by the kitchen staff will enhance the club’s capabilities, reinvigorate the culinary curiosity and interest of the staff, and may even add some new and unusual offerings for members.  The additional cost of ingredients, and maybe even specialty cookware and utensils, may be better justified if some of the experimental efforts are used for “wow” factor offerings in the lounge on typically slow nights.

When well-conceived, planned, and executed, the club can build some slow season specialty nights into the club’s calendar of events that may attract additional dining business during the traditionally slow period.

The end result of off-season culinary experimentation is a more talented, versatile, and reinvigorated kitchen team, a more creative year-round food service, and appreciative members who recognizes the off-season efforts of the club’s culinary team to give them the very best.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

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