Have it Your Way… at ORC
by Gertrude Mann, Member Since 1974
For the past 40+ years, I’ve been eating at Reef restaurants with abandon. I never thought about ingredients other than what sounded appealing. However, this past holiday season, I looked at Ocean Reef menus with different eyes. My new grandson, Brendan, has recently been diagnosed with Celiac disease, which means he can never have any product with a speck of gluten in it (think all wheat-based products). As I watched him navigate meals in our restaurants, I decided I needed more information for myself and our community.
I sat down with Dennis Courtney, Director of Outlets, and Chef Philippe Reynaud, Chef/Senior Director of Culinary, to learn about how our Club accommodates Members’ special dietary needs. Dennis and Chef Philippe explained that the Club is available to consult with any Member’s special requests. In recent years, this focus on our expanding health-driven culinary choices has grown. “We are more aware of our bodies,” Chef explains. “Changing diets became a way of life for many of our Members. We fully embrace all dietary needs and requests and we deal with it every day.”
The Club views this challenge as falling under two separate and distinct umbrellas. Our growing population of health-conscious Members means that many people are choosing alternative diets. These may include vegetarian, plant-based (think vegan), soy free, gluten free, or dairy free cuisines to enhance personal health.
Other Members are driven by serious medical needs, such as my grandson’s requirement to steer clear of gluten products and potential cross contaminations. His food cannot come in contact with any cooking surface or utensil used for preparing wheat products without significant health consequences.
Dennis and Chef Philippe emphasized how our Club focuses on accommodating and catering to its Members. “All our chefs and managers are well-educated and trained in special dietary needs,” explains Dennis. “We encourage Members to communicate their culinary concerns directly to our restaurants’ managers and we will give our utmost attention to the situation.” While it is important for your server to know your need, the restaurant manager is the most informed and will communicate the information to the chef. Even if a dish is prepared with a “no go” item for you or your guest (such as a soy marinated piece of salmon if you eat soy free), by speaking up, the kitchen will always customize the preparation for you.
Some Members communicate their dietary needs before they arrive on The Reef. In these instances, Chef Philippe sends out a dietary alert to the different outlets. For special events, such as the numerous Wine Dinners, Keys Children’s Foundation luncheon, or Cultural Center dinners, Members can let the culinary team know in advance and a meal accommodation will be available.
Longtime Ocean Reefer Marylou Krause has been gluten free, soy free, nut free and corn free for over 15 years. Back at the beginning, she could never count on safely dining out. For her, Ocean Reef has really blossomed with knowledge and service in the last several years. “They really get it,” she says. “I am always very worried about potential cross-contamination, but at the Club, these concerns have lessened tremendously. When my husband and I attended the Cabaret Dinner and Show the other week, I simply reminded Donna at the Cultural Center of my dietary requirements when I made our reservation. I knew that I would be safe. Donna followed through to make sure my evening went smoothly.” Marylou also gave kudos to Chef Sue at the 19th Hole. “For years, Chef Sue has done an outstanding job of ensuring that her chefs are informed of my culinary needs.”
The Club has also expanded offerings for people who have adjusted their diets for healthier living. The requests from our Club’s population for more plant-based offerings, which Chef Philippe explains is the biggest trend now, can be seen on menus in every outlet. When a few Members wrote to him suggesting a plant-based meat alternative, the Club’s chefs engaged in a blind taste test to choose the best product. The Impossible Burger won hands down and is now used as a luscious burger alternative at the Raw Bar and Burgee Bar, and as an ingredient in fabulous new plant-based dishes in other venues, such as the Meatball Marinara at the Reef Lounge or the Polenta with Meat Ragout at Gianni’s. Currently, the culinary team is testing vegan ice cream products for Reef Treats.
Dennis points out that this expanding knowledge of healthier ingredients started at Ocean Reef years ago. “Ten years ago, we changed out our peanut oil for canola oil all across The Reef,” says Chef Philippe. “We have wiped the slate clean of peanut allergens in all our fryers. Also, we usually dedicate one fryer to shellfish free ingredients at every outlet so people who are allergic to shellfish can enjoy other fried items.” With french fries, most fries at The Reef are coated for crispness so they are not gluten free, even if made in a dedicated fryer. However, good news for my grandson and other gluten free Reefers, the fries at the Islander and Clubhouse are hand cut, uncoated, fried in a dedicated fryer and safe for Celiacs to eat!
Chef Philippe is the self-described locomotive behind it all, pushing awareness and knowledge for his culinary staff. He can count on the mastery of his chefs. “Our staff knows our Members and their food preferences. That’s the value of a private club,” he says. “We do not have a revolving door here. All our chefs are very vigilant. We will serve every Member’s dietary needs and desires. Just speak up!”