the new Nines restaurant at River Club of Mequon opens this
month, it will be open to the public — not the norm at most
area country clubs. Executive chef Justin Disbrow plans on
serving flights of three locavore-inspired dishes. "In this
particular area there are a lot of local farms. The concept is
that we’re really here to showcase Wisconsin." A separate
bar menu features upscale snacks such as buffalo calamari
(calamari infused with buffalo chicken-wings flavor) and smoked
bacon peanuts, along with six Wisconsin beers on tap and 44
Chefs at country
clubs have a tall order — to satisfy pickiest of palates. After all,
members at these exclusive clubs eat artisan ingredients in far-flung
nations and often host multicourse gourmet meals in their homes.
people who call me up and say ‘Can you get me some lobsters? I have
some clients coming out,’" says Greg Abbate. As executive chef
at Wisconsin Club Country Club on Good Hope Road in Milwaukee he cooks
for 1,500 members a year — not just in the dining room but also for
members’ bar mitzvahs, weddings, birthday parties and corporate
events hosted at the club. He’s even set up a tailgate at Lambeau
Field for a members’ outing. "We know our members and how they
want things. I see an order come in the kitchen and think, ‘Oh, that’s
Mrs. Miller who likes her Caesar salad with a lot of dressing,’ or
know it’s someone who wants their dressing on the side."
To that end,
Abbate ensures he’s got top-notch ingredients like Strauss veal and
lamb, produce from local farms, artisan Wisconsin cheeses and Lake
Superior fish (whitefish, walleye and perch).
To get members
excited about the week’s meals, Kyle Pett, banquet chef at
Oconomowoc Lake Club in Oconomowoc, e-mails them the menu each
Thursday. Fresh seafood is flown in weekly and produce bought from
small, local farms. "We can get small, unique crops. It helps to
build a more personal relationship with our members."
Being a country
club chef also requires flexibility and a thick skin, because a dish
could be a flop with members who don’t have the option to dine at
another restaurant at the club. "It’s a very food-focused club.
Our members will tell us if it’s something they enjoyed or something
they don’t want to see again. There are different approaches (to the
same dish). We try to keep a lot of height in the dishes for visual
effects," says Pett, who has been known to drum up a burger bar
or shrimp kabobs poolside.
is what Darwing Cruz, executive chef at the 400-member Ozaukee Country
Club in Mequon, likes most about his job. "A country club is an
extension of a member’s home," he says, which is why Cruz doesn’t
hesitate to grill burgers and brats at a pre-game tailgate at Lambeau
Field, or lobster tails and flambé desserts back at the club’s
pool, which is fresh off a $1.2 million renovation. For Halloween he
might craft a "scary foods" buffet, and he’s become
skilled at cooking for multiple generations at Santa brunches each
Christmas. "Our members know about food. Remember, you’re
dealing with people who travel a lot. You can’t pull a fast one on
them. They know their food," Cruz says.