Diana DeLucia is the Publisher of Golf Kitchen and has traveled around the globe photographing and interviewing the chefs and teams behind the culinary excellence at Private Golf and Country Clubs.
As a woman in a publisher’s position, she prides herself in being collaborative in all aspects of the Golf Kitchen portfolio including a bi-annual magazine, books, unique culinary events, and an annual program, the Golf Kitchen Culinary Excellence Awards which is held at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, New York. Total Food Service caught up with Diana DeLucia to discuss the state of the clubs, trends, the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Tell us about your professional life before launching Golf Kitchen in 2014.
I have been living in the USA for 20 years and began my debut in the magazine industry in New York in 2004. I was part owner of NY Restaurant Insider and as the lead photographer, I photographed many of the world’s most famous chefs. My extensive work portfolio includes Alain Ducasse, Anthony Bourdain, Joel Robuchon, Donatella Arpaia, Maria Loi, Charlie Trotter, Daniel Boulud, David Burke and more.
We closed the magazine in late 2009, and I began looking for areas where chefs were not illuminated. That’s when I found the Private Golf and Country Club industry and embarked on authoring a book. After many conversations with club managers and executive chefs and in particular with the team at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, NY, I began my first book titled Golf Club World, Behind the Gates.
I went to 12 golf properties globally, and it was self-published in 2013. It sold out and then I embarked on my second book after producing several columns for Destination Golf Magazine ~ China Edition that we titled Golf Kitchen. My second book took the same title, Golf Kitchen. Limited quantities are left, but this 568-page coffee table book is a part of golf’s culinary history.
After launching the book at luxury member/guest events at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY, and again at Cassique at Kiawah Island Club, SC, the magazine was born. This September is the 5th Anniversary of the magazine.
I’ve created two Culinary Events, the Golf Kitchen Punta Mita, which took place in Punta Mita, Mexico. These were four-day culinary extravaganzas featuring private golf and country club chefs from various properties in the USA and South America.
In the fall of 2018, the Golf Kitchen Culinary Excellence Awards launched.
Thanks to the support of Morgan Gregory, President, his team, and membership at GlenArbor Golf Club, Bedford Hills, NY, we are celebrating our fourth year. We have added the Golf Kitchen Invitational on the same day this year. (September 8th, 2022) and it promises to be a delicious event showcasing some of the industry’s culinary talents.
In 2020 during the lockdowns, a group of advisory board general managers and executive chefs assisted in developing the Golf Kitchen Certification of Culinary Excellence program. I am working on a book collection titled Golf’s Culinary Pioneers, which will be a two-three volume collection.
What is the mission of Golf Kitchen?
My mission has always been to illuminate the exemplary culinarians that work in the top 10% of the industry. I work hard on this mission, which has been challenging but rewarding.
Lessons learned from previous jobs that you’ve brought to the culture at Golf Kitchen?
On my journey, I learned that I can and will keep getting back up after defeat. When some think I will fail, I have learned to keep moving forward one day at a time and keep the snowball rolling. I owe it to all those who have championed and mentored me to succeed in my mission.
I learned a lot from the chefs, restaurants, restaurant shows, and events like the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) Benefit Gala and James Beard Foundation Awards. These events, restaurants, and chefs were my food photography training ground; they all supported me. My most memorable was Charlie Trotter’s 20th Anniversary dinner. I also remember meeting Fred Klashman and Joyce Appelman. We were all pioneers ahead of our time. I was soaking up and learning about the hospitality of a fine dining restaurant; their culture was to give the customer a mini vacation for 2-3 hours. This translated to what I found in the private golf and country club industry on a much larger and grander scale.
How are clubs bringing catering and special events back?
Clubs were very prepared for the 2021 resurgence of events. They knew in advance that they had to service all the rescheduled events from 2020 and the scheduled events for 2021.
2022 is probably the biggest year yet in regard to golf and events. The facilities are utilized more than ever, and more events are booked at the club rather than elsewhere. The biggest issue is staffing and the supply chain, but they always seem to figure it out.
Beverage trends at clubs?
Upscale wine dinners are one of the fastest-growing trends in the industry. Clubs are hiring sommeliers, and members are demanding a much higher quality for their wine cellars. More and more members are dining at the club; they expect high-quality dining and a more robust wine list. I am experiencing high-quality Wine Estates paying particular interest in our magazine, awards, and events; we have a niche market of clubs and members who can afford to buy quality. I am particularly proud of wine reviewer Fernando Silva. Fernando is a wine director, sommelier, and wine critic. He has established our Wine Program Award as well as a niche market reviewing wines that he specifically feels should be in private golf and country club cellars and wine lists.
Artisan cocktails are also on the rise. It’s getting quite competitive in the industry, and it is an excellent career for any bartender or mixologist; the people you meet can change your life if you are smart enough to understand this!
Are clubs having difficulty finding staff? What are your thoughts in terms of where we are in the industry, and what have they done to find the work staff to be successful?
Clubs are busier than ever, with members and waiting lists at the largest in memorable history. The dining facilities are being utilized more than ever before. The Clubs I have worked with pay more than the minimum wage, have full benefits and bonuses, and often include housing or housing allowances. Innovative employees see the vast opportunity to care for some incredible members who could be valuable connections in their future careers. Post-COVID, many clubs offer even higher salaries, work-life balance, and more.
One of the most significant issues in the private club sector is that there is little awareness of the benefits of a culinary career outside the industry. This industry will give you much more culinary training than your average restaurant. You will learn every aspect from breakfast, lunch, banquets, weddings, golf events, fine dining, wine dinners, and more. You will be able to shine and be a part of menu creation if that is your desire.
How has the business during COVID changed, what you’ve seen and going forward, what do you expect that to look like? What is needed for the clubs to completely recover?
Clubs had to figure out how to entertain and feed their members even when the club was closed. Clubs had to hit the ground running when they were amid COVID. Members didn’t stop being members.
I had noticed that the clubs that kept their staff employed even when there was no indication of how long before they would open have been the most successful. They are loyal to the members and owners who took care of them.
I see so many people who stay at one club for their entire life, they take care of the members, and the members take care of them in return. Look at it like a big family. I have seen young people hired because they were kind to a club manager or owner who was dining at a restaurant that noticed their character and work ethic and offered them a dream job.
How is F&B being used to attract the next generation of members?
From around 2014-15, clubs were slowly awakening and realizing they had to up their culinary game. Millions of dollars were being spent updating kitchens and hiring exemplary culinary teams. Savvy owners, general managers, and club memberships understood that the next generation would be here, and they would not accept less than a great dining experience. Some younger members joined for the social membership, further showcasing the need for talented culinary teams and dining facilities. Once the pandemic lockdowns began, many clubs took the downtime to remodel or rebuild their kitchens, often spending millions.
Thoughts in chefs like Stephen Yen leaving Tao to go to Liberty National?
It is very challenging for a restaurant chef to transition to a club. If a diner is unhappy at a restaurant, they may not return. At a club, you work for members you might see 3-4 times a week or more. You are no longer creating everything you want; you must listen to the members and keep your ego in check. You must have a servant’s heart to make the membership happy. I have spoken to chefs that find it personally gratifying when they figure out how to turn a member’s complaint into a staunch fan. As a final note: You are now responsible for breakfast, lunch, dinner, golf events, banquets, weddings, keeping your staff engaged and happy, and so much more; however, it can be a very lucrative career that comes with many perks. It is Chef Yen’s first season at Liberty National Golf Club, and he has big shoes to fill.
What do you see for yourself, the magazine, and the Golf Kitchen portfolio?
My goal is to continue to illuminate this vibrant industry nationally and internationally. I want to continue to encourage more collaborations between club teams, find a home for our international Pro-Am, the continued development of the Culinary Excellence Awards and Certifications, Wine Program Award, and Scholarships.
I am thrilled to begin writing a new column for Total Food Service; it is an honor and assists me in my mission to bring awareness to the private club industry outside of the industry itself. It will cover stories about young and seasoned chefs, sommeliers, and food and beverage teams and highlight abundant opportunities.