By Amelia Levin
As chefs, it’s no secret many of you are forced to move around your own family holiday plans to accommodate the nature of the job. Country club chefs – with their season-long private dinners and massive banquet brunches and dinners – have an especially challenging position when it comes to planning for the holidays, in both work and personal life. Here’s a look at how two country club chefs prepare for their busiest time of year.
Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. hosts as many as 1,200 diners just for a Monday corporate holiday event, and up to 7,000 covers a week during December thanks to other banquet dinners and seasonal brunches on the weekends. The club also sends cooks to members’ houses and businesses for private holiday dinners and gatherings. “To put it in perspective, we do about $5 million in food and beverage a year, and $1 million of that is in December,” says Jonathan Moosmiller, CMC, executive chef.
That said, planning starts early – by late September or early October, most major events around the winter holidays have been booked and finalized. Thanksgiving plans come earlier, naturally, as the club cooks 80 turkeys (for about 700 people) for a Thanksgiving day lunch from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Moosmiller’s staff starts the brining process as earlier as 5 days prior, and then batch cooks all the sides throughout the week.
Timothy Recher, CEC, executive chef of The Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va. plans for the winter holidays an entire year in advance due to the massive volumes. The Club hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for up to 1,800 guests and will see anywhere from 600 to 1,200 guests just for a brunch with Santa during December. While the club is not affiliated with the military, many members include retired and active military members as well as civilians.
“We try to book parties about a year in advance, and then do as much as we can in the weeks leading up to the events,” says Recher. “We start making the turkey stock a week in advance and make a list of everything else we can make ahead of time.”
For Christmas, the Club hosts four-course, family style dinners for groups of 4 to 10 or more on the 22nd and 23rd and sees about 700 guests a night. To feed the hard-working kitchen crew, Recher switches up the nightly staff meal with seasonal favorites like turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and a brunch menu on Easter and Mother’s Day.
At The Army Navy Country Club, since the last Thanksgiving seating ends at 4 p.m., Recher and his staff are able to celebrate the holiday later in the evening. “My wife is a great cook so she will prepare food during the day and we’ll have people over later at night rather than in the afternoon,” he says. The same goes for Christmas Eve, when the Club closes at 2 p.m.
At Southern Hills, because many staff members are younger and have moved away from their families to work at the Club, Moosmiller extends an invitation to the crew to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner at his home.
“Since we leave at 4 on Thanksgiving evening, we have put on a holiday dinner at our house for whomever on our staff would like to come,” says Moosmiller. “We usually have 15-25 people. I’ve had to celebrate several holidays away from my family and didn’t enjoy it. At least this way they get to have a comfortable place to celebrate and at least have a good meal.”
On Christmas, since the club closes at 3 p.m., Moosmiller hosts a cocktail party for staff members at 5 p.m. at his house, and then by 9 p.m. everyone has gone off to do their thing and he can open presents with his children. Back at the Club, the staff even decorates a tree for the kitchen so everyone can take part in the spirit of the holiday though they’re working long hours.
“We string garland around the beverage station and I write staff names on the stockings and people can stuff them with different gifts so everyone goes home with something on Christmas Eve,” says Moosmiller. “It helps keep everyone reminded that it’s Christmas because you can lose site of that when you’re in the kitchen all the time and don’t get to see any of the decorations. We even decorate the tree with kitchen-themed ornaments like spoons, ladles and whisks.”
Now that’s holiday spirit.