All in the Family Meal

The secret ingredient of Colorado golf course success is well-fed caddies, cooks and groundskeepers

Photo courtesy of Ocotillo Restaurant and Bar

By John Lehndorff

There’s nothing like that breakfast burrito and coffee for an early morning tee time and those hot dogs at the turn. Is there anything better than a great sunset meal with vintage wines on the patio after a successful round?

Food may not be the most important part of a good day playing on Colorado courses, but golf wouldn’t be the same without it. That’s why feeding members, golfers and guests is always Job No.1 for golf resort chefs. They willingly share mouthwatering details about their menu delights. Take the koji-cured steak with miso butter, cippolini, spiced celery root purée and shiitake demi that chef Charles Klein serves at The Periodic Table at Catamount Ranch & Club in Steamboat Springs.

Ask those same kitchen generals and restaurant managers about feeding the men and women behind the curtain – golf club dishwashers, front desk hosts, cart attendants and office workers, and they get serious. “Family meal is very important. You have to make something to feed the staff, and you have to make it great. I tell my cooks: ‘You can’t say: ‘It’s just for the staff.’ It’s your family. You can’t feed them slop,” says Charles Klein. In restaurants and at golf resorts across the globe, feeding the help is often called a “family meal” whether everyone sits together for pre-service chicken pot pie or wolfs down Hot Pockets standing up in the middle of the dinner rush.

The “family” part is serious, not sentimental. During Colorado’s long sunny season, golf course employees often see their work family more each day than their spouses and kids. And given rural locations, golf staff can’t exactly drive out for a quick burger.

“Sometimes we use the same ingredients we serve in the restaurant. I may have some really good pork chops I can’t use on the menu and I’ll serve them or family meal. It turns a solid meal into something extraordinary. I love being able to do that,” Klein says.

Thanks to a steady parade of tournaments, choice leftovers are also on the staff menu at The Periodic Table. “The second those tournament lunches are done, there’s a line for the extra beef tenderloin. It’s a quiet rule – tournaments mean really good food for the staff. It rewards them for the long hours they put in day after day,” he says. Making the family meal can be intimidating for a young cook, Klein says.

“You’ve got to cook for the chef, too. Honestly, all the chef wants is a staff meal made before service starts. He’s happy to eat any meal he doesn’t have to cook himself.”

Besides fueling the work of cooks, caddies and groundkeepers, family meal is part of saving money and cutting food kitchen food waste, Klein says. “I always have a shelf in my walk-in cooler filled with produce, protein and sauces that are leftover, but still good. The cooks get creative with the things that we have. That’s really the core of it,” he says.

Chef Klein’s fall-back favorite family meal choice comes down to curry. “When I was younger, I did some travelling and cooking in Australia. We had curry every day there, whether it was Indian curry, Thai curry or Japanese curry. It’s a comfy, filling family meal everyone can enjoy.”

With its incredible views of the Colorado National Monument, Redlands Mesa Golf Course draws golfers from across the Southwest.

Ocotillo Restaurant and Bar at the Grand Junction destination dishes upscaled comfort classics to members and the public, and also feeds a large staff, according to Kate Weckerly, Octotillo’s restaurant manager. “In the summer, the staff can be working tournaments from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., but we technically don’t ever close year-round, unless there’s snow on the course. We had golfers with tank tops out there in early February.”

At Ocotillo, family meal is available as well as discounts for workers not on the clock. “The street tacos on our menu are a staff favorite, filled with ahi tuna, grilled salmon, crispy fish, steak, spicy chicken, Thai shrimp, shredded pork or vegetables. It allows them to customize,” Weckerly says.

“We want to cultivate a good culture here and make sure everyone is cared for and can get a break. It’s nice if the staff gets to decompress, eat, and make calls. We have a little office or they can eat outside,” she says.

The dining preferences of the staff are as varied as players on the links. “The caddies seem to like our pulled pork sandwiches, fish and chips, and burgers, of course,” Weckerly says. Because Ocotillo is also a popular venue for tournaments and weddings, the staff diet gets to enjoy some high-end party food. “It’s pretty fun after huge events because all of us – kitchen and front of the house, eat and talk about the highs and lows of service,” Weckerly says. When there are lots of leftovers, the staff gets to take food home. “That’s a really big thing for the college kids who work here,” she says.

The restaurant staff can order from the menu including shrimp po’boys, Cajun shrimp pasta and club sandwiches, according to Weckerly.

If it came down to just one dish that makes everyone on the staff and in the restaurant happy? That would be creamy chicken pot pie in a flaky crust.

Consider a golf season from the perspective of a veteran Colorado golf club chef. “For 175 days we crank every day,” says Sarah Wills, executive chef at Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club in Holyoke.

“Monday to Sunday, our kitchen is busy – breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve got someone cooking at 5 a.m., and someone else cleaning up at 2 a.m.,” she says. “It’s kind of a pain in the butt to feed everybody but it is so important during those long days. In movies and TV shows, people see the chef sit down and eat with the kitchen and bar staff. That’s not possible in a small place like this,” Wills says.

While members are dining happily in the restaurant, waves of staff members roll through Ballyneal’s kitchen. “We’re feeding greenskeepers at 10:30 a.m., the office people at 1 or so, then the night-time staff before service,” she says. Willis posts a monthly menu for maintenance, cooks and caddies that features favorites such as spicy Buffalo chicken on a bun or Caesar salad or in a wrap.

“I don’t ever sit down and eat. It’s just the nature of the beast. After cooking all day, my favorite meal is a burger patty smashed with American cheese on a bun. I’ll make them for everybody to take home at 11 o’clock at night. I always make sure the dish people are fed,” Willis says.

Maybe a burger doesn’t rank with tips and 401k contributions as job benefits, but the guarantee of a free meal should never be underestimated. “What we serve is not always fancy, but it works. We have people that come to work for that meal,” she says. Restaurant and bar staff who wait until after closing can order regular menu favorites like bison Bolognese and chicken alfredo, according to Wills.

“The members and diners always come first. I even order Hot Pockets. If we’re really busy, we make them with a side salad or fries. I always say: ‘If you don’t like the food, don’t complain. Pack a lunch.’”

Charles Klein

Beyond the Dish

Comfort food rules when it comes to the menu that golf course restaurant chefs offer their work families.

“No matter what kitchen I’ve been cooking in or the cuisine the restaurant serves, family meals have always included curry,” says Charles Klein, executive chef at Periodic Table restaurant at Catamount Ranch & Club in Steamboat Springs.

“You can buy yellow, red or green curry paste in little bottles at the supermarket. Mix it into coconut milk and broth, add whatever vegetables you have and fish, pork, chicken or beef. Give it a little attention and serve it with a nice bowl of rice,” Klein says.

family meal curry // photo courtesy of Charles Klein

The Periodic Table Family Curry

¼ cup canola oil

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon thinly sliced red onion

1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced

2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced

3 small Yukon gold potatoes, diced

½ cup sake (or white wine)

½ cup tamari soy sauce

2 tablespoons fish sauce (optional)

4 tablespoons yellow curry paste

2 limes – zest and juice of each
4 quarts of coconut milk

Salt and pepper, to taste

Garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro
In a stock pot over medium heat, sear the chicken in oil until golden brown. Add potatoes first, then onion, carrot and peppers and stir for two minutes. Then add ginger and garlic. Be careful not to burn them. Add sake or wine and stir for one minute. Add tamari, coconut milk, fish sauce and curry and simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with white rice and chopped cilantro for garnish. Make six to eight servings.

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