The Joy of Sharing

by M. Linda Lee

 Jul 16, 2019 at 8:08 PM

A sister club exchange program allows McConnell Golf chefs to mix things up

There's wisdom in that old adage, “two heads are better than one,” especially when it comes to dining programs at McConnell Golf. “We asked our chefs to take a turn both hosting a chef and visiting a chef during the year,” says James Patterson (aka JP), the company’s corporate executive chef who oversees the culinary programs at Sedgefield Country Club and The Cardinal by Pete Dye. “It could be any type of event, a beer dinner, a wine dinner, a farm-to-table dinner, even a member-guest.”

Each of the sister properties differ based on size, membership, and activities, and each chef has his own style and menu. Some are more formal, others laid-back. So the informal exchange program lets the chefs switch things up. “It gives us a chance to step outside our box and our comfort zone, and go to another property and see what that chef and that staff deals with on a daily basis,” states Chef JP, who honed his cooking skills in the distinguished kitchens of Cypress and Magnolia restaurants in Charleston, SC. “It gives us a chance to do things for another club’s membership that they may not see on a regular basis, and gives us a chance to see what the chef at that property is capable of.”

In addition to these individual visits, all the chefs come together each year for the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield. The result is a collective culinary brain trust.

“Anytime we get an opportunity to cook with another chef or another staff or even go to an event where we’re volunteering our time, it broadens our horizons and gives us an ability to see different styles, different flavors, different presentations,” declares JP, who makes it a point to visit other cities to stay on top of current culinary trends. “There’s so much to gain from working with other people."

At one Sedgefield event, he hosted chefs Jason Neal from Providence Country Club and Todd Jackson from Wakefield. “We let them have their own Knife Fight [based on the former TV show], where they each had mystery ingredients they had to cook with, and our members were the judges. So the members got to see how Todd cooks and how Jason cooks and they got to vote for what they liked.” That type of exchange gives members another reason to come to the club – “it creates another buzz,” as JP puts it. “Whatever we can do to mix things up, that’s what we’re looking for in the club business; to come up with that next idea.”

The visiting chefs program puts the onus on individual chefs to continue to push the envelope. “Visiting other clubs really does push our chefs to be as creative as possible and to give members the best dining experience possible,” JP notes. “And for McConnell Golf, it’s a point of pride to be able to say we’ve got some of the best chefs out there.” 

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Cooking for a Cause

by Chad Flowers

 Mar 22, 2019 at 7:00 PM

Executive Chef James “JP” Patterson sharpens his skills and finds inspiration by giving back.

If you're active on social media and follow McConnell Golf accounts, there’s a good chance you know — or at least know of — James “JP” Patterson, executive chef at Sedgefield Country Club and corporate executive chef for McConnell Golf. Whether he is touting his daughter’s Girl Scout cookies on Facebook or posting a close-up photo of an extraordinary dish on Instagram, JP educates and inspires online.

Through social media, JP’s followers also see many dishes that come out of other area kitchens. No, he isn’t cooking for a restaurant on the side; he’s very active in charitable  cooking competitions and exhibitions across the state. These fundraisers bring much-needed dollarsto some great charities, put his skills to the test, and help JP spread the McConnell Golf name across the area.

While JP and other country club chefs have the opportunity to be creative in their own kitchens when writing new menus and planning specialized member events, an on-the-fly cooking competition provides an exciting platform to spread their wings.

“Outside of the charitable impact of these events, one of the greatest aspects is the opportunity to step outside of our comfort zone and get the creative juices flowing,” says JP. “With many of the ingredients being event-day surprises, we really have to focus on what we want to do and commit to it. From the items used, to the preparation and plating, there are a lot of variables to navigate in a very short period of time. It’s very exciting.”

In addition to the funds raised for worthy causes and his continued personal and professional development, JP enjoys meeting other local and regional chefs and helping expand their exposure in the area.

“Oftentimes, country club chefs are hidden away in their clubs, simply because they cook at member-only facilities. Whereas a chef at a popular local restaurant, for example, the opportunity to cook for new people night in and  night out. Sometimes we as country club chefs can get bogged down in our routines. I love our members and I enjoy cooking their favorites, but it helps me to be at my best to think outside of the box every now and then. I enjoy bringing those experiences back and implementing them at Sedgefield and most importantly I think our members benefit also.”

While JP has impressively flexed his culinary muscle in past events, winning some or finishing near the top in others, perhaps the one he was most excited about was the Chef’s Showcase — a kick-off event for the North Carolina Azalea Festival in Wilmington in January. JP is originally from Wilmington, where he got his start in the culinary arts business.

“I have not really had an opportunity to cook in Wilmington since I left in 2001, so it was great to see so many familiar faces and to have my Mom and other family members and friends attend. It was just a great experience. I cannot wait to hopefully be invited back in the future.”

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Perfect Pairings

by Martha-Page Althaus

 Dec 19, 2017 at 4:10 PM

It's no secret that dining at a McConnell property rivals that of any restaurant in town. And when you add in the number of growing wine society programs at several clubs, you’ve got the recipe for something really good.

A key proponent of the programs is Dave Marra, who spent time at Sedgefield Country Club before taking his current position as director of club operations for Grande Dunes. He’s credited with growing the thriving wine society programs at both clubs, which offer monthly Grape Nuts and quarterly Wine Indulgence dinners.

At Sedgefield, the Grape Nuts dinner series began in 2010, named after a core group of wine-enthusiast club members who called themselves — what else? — “the grape nuts.” Today, this popular monthly dinner typically showcases a specific winemaker and is enjoyed at a reasonable price point.

“Grape Nuts dinners are attractive because they’re themed and focused on cost-effective, member-friendly wines,” says Marra. “It’s not about the formality of wine tasting. It’s a social affair.”

Recent Sedgefield Grape Nuts dinner themes include “Pinot, Pinot, Pinot,” “Blockbusters of Wine,” “90+ Pointers,” “Kings of California,”and “Syrah, Sirah, Shiraz.”

These dinners feature a tapas-style, three-course menu paired with pours that complement the food. Sedgefield Executive Chef James Patterson, along with Maya Panayotova, Sedgefield’s director of dining services, plans a menu after meeting with a wine distributor and sampling the varietals. “I’ll look at the year, the weather, and expectations of the grape,” says Patterson. “I examine the wine’s flavor profiles and come up with a menu from there.”

At a recent Sedgefield dinner, the menu consisted of baby spinach with baked apples and pears; Italian sausage-stuffed ravioli with ricotta and smoked-gouda cream sauce; and peppercorn crusted New York strip with herb-smashed Yukon Gold potatoes and grilled Portobello, topped with a Gorgonzola bacon demi.

“This is a chance to do something entirely different,” says Patterson. “To try things that our members may not normally order .... We can be a bit more aggressive in the style of food we’re presenting. We can serve things like beef tongue and pork cheeks, and we can think outside the box.”

In addition to the Grape Nuts dinners, Sedgefield and Grande Dunes host a quarterly Wine Indulgence dinner. These events are a bit more elaborate, according to Patterson, and the menu is more ambitious. “We recently had a truffle dinner featuring truffles hand-selected and flown to us from Italy,” says Patterson.

At both clubs, one of the biggest Wine Society membership benefits is the locker program. For a minimal annual cost, members have access to a personal wine locker to store their favorite bottles.

“Wine Society members can buy wine from the club, or they can bring their own wine in,” explains Marra. “The corkage fee is waived. So, if you have your own great bottle of wine and it’s something I can’t get, you should still be able to come enjoy that wine in our dining room. You shouldn’t be penalized for that. You’re able to enjoy your favorite bottle, which means you’ll enjoy your dinner at the club that much more.”

Grande Dunes’ Wine Society membership is significant, says Marra: “We’re currently at 93 members, out of 383 members total. This is a very sociable club, so that program works well down here. I’ve purchased six sets of new lockers to keep up with the demand of the Wine Society.”

Recent Grande Dunes events include a fall Wine Indulgence dinner featuring Riedel glassware. “We brought in five different wines at slightly higher price points, and we taught members the difference in stemware. What’s the difference between normal stemware and Riedel stemware? Riedel enhances the pour with varietal-specific glasses. So there’s an educational component of these dinners, too.”

Dean Banks is one Grande Dunes member who enjoys the perks of Wine Society membership. “The wine dinners are my favorite,” he says. “Both the monthly Grape Nuts and the bigger Wine Indulgence events. There’s such a variety of wines we get to try, and I’m always finding a lot of gems. I also order a lot of wine from Grande Dunes .... If I find something I want, I’ll send a picture of the bottle to Dave and he can usually get it for less than I can if I buy it in the store. It’s so convenient.”

So whether you’re a novice wine drinker or a complete oenophile, the convivial atmosphere of McConnell’s Wine Society events is something not to be missed.

“It’s all about interactions,” says Marra. “I love to talk and tell people about the wines they’re drinking.”

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It Takes A Village

by Brad King

 Aug 11, 2017 at 1:30 PM

Who feeds the players, caddies, families, and media during the Wyndham Championship? The McConnell Golf culinary team comes together to make it happen.

For Professional Golfers "Moving Day" typically falls on Saturday, after the tournament cut has been established and the field’s hottest players see how much ground they can gain heading into Sunday’s final round.

But for Sedgefield Country Club Executive Chef James Patterson (“JP” as he is known) and his culinary team, moving day during the Wyndham Championship occurs on Saturday before the tournament week even begins. That’s the day they move all the day-to-day items out of the kitchen — right down to emptying the walk-in freezers — to make room for the stampede of supplies they’ll be needing during the club’s biggest week of the year.

Unlike almost all other events on the PGA Tour, for the Wyndham Championship nearly every single item of food consumed on site comes from the Sedgefield kitchen. Patterson estimates his staff feeds approximately 5,000 people a day — players, caddies, families, hospitality suites, media — and this doesn’t even include spectators.

To pull it off, club staff swells from 12 employees to 60 during the tournament. Each executive chef from every McConnell Golf property comes to Sedgefield for the week to help, in addition to club managers such as Phillip Loney of Brook Valley Country Club.

“I like to see the comradery between all the properties”, says Loney, a four-year Wyndham veteran. “It’s good to see people are excited about it.”

Each chef is in charge of their own territory. For instance, Treyburn Country Club Executive Chef Pedro Villasana makes 3,000 sandwiches every day out of the Sedgefield Dye clubhouse. Culinary operations run nearly 24 hours each day, starting with the first group of the day arriving at 3:30am to prepare breakfast.

“I can’t be everywhere at once,” says Patterson. “These McConnell chefs are away from their home clubs. I’m so grateful for what they do. We haven’t found another PGA event that handles the volume of food that we do. It’s an amazing endeavor.”

Numerous players have told Patterson that the food during the Wyndham Championship is the best they enjoy on tour all year. Tracy Cottrell, a sauté cook at Sedgefield, returns to helm the omelet station for her seventh consecutive year. She’s become a familiar face over the years — having grown famous for her omelets, and the players, caddies, and families know her pretty well, too.

“Super fluffy,” says McConnell Golf Founder and CEO John McConnell. “You have to try one of her omelets.”


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