Imagine This (The Met Golfer)

4/18/2018

Glen Ridge’s executive chef James Haberstroh likes a challenge, whether it’s culinary or logistical.

When hiring a new cook, Glen Ridge Country Club executive chef James Haberstroh sometimes tests prospects by giving them a few ingredients to work with and seeing what they can create on short notice. While attending the recent Chef to Chef Conference presented by Club & Resort Business magazine in Seattle, Haberstroh was on the other side of the challenge: He was one of four contestants in a mystery basket competition.

He wasn’t facing the pressure to prove he was worthy of being hired, but he did find himself trying to impress a roomful of fellow chefs. The setting was an evening cocktail reception with a limited workspace consisting only of butane burners and an electric flattop grill. Haberstroh and his fellow competitors were given just 20 minutes to whip up something tasty and creative from four ingredients unknown to them until the competition, along with a range of pantry items.

“It was fun. The other chefs were heckling you a little bit, joking around,” says Haberstroh, who put together a plate of pan-seared sea scallops, herb and mushroom crusted flat-iron steak, glazed baby beets, and heirloom carrots. “It became a good conversation piece throughout the cocktail party.”

Haberstroh was one of a dozen chefs who had indicated a desire to take part in the mystery basket when registering for the conference, and one of four chosen at random to compete. They went two at a time, sharing some supplies in a frenetic atmosphere.

“There was only one bottle of oil and one bottle of wine,” he says. “The other chef and I were running back and forth; we kind of worked together rather than fighting against each other.”

Two chefs and one of the magazine’s editors judged the results, graded on presentation and taste, with two competitors picked for a second round. Haberstroh didn’t make it to the finals but came away thinking of it as a positive experience. He also added something new to his wish list. “I never worked with an Evo grill before,” he says. “From using that piece of equipment now I want to buy one.”

This wasn’t the first time Haberstroh has had the attention of other chefs at the annual conference, which he has now attended four times. In 2016 in San Diego he gave a presentation on the utilization of liquid nitrogen to create crowd-pleasing items like dragon’s-breath popcorn and smokin’ sangria.

Haberstroh believes the three-day conference, featuring informative presentations and a chance to compare notes with fellow chefs from around the country, is very beneficial to his work—which is why Glen Ridge has it in its budget to send him. It’s particularly valuable because the chefs are not from standalone restaurants but rather from country clubs, city clubs, and resorts, so they face similar issues.

“There’s so much knowledge in that room. Just from side conversations and the camaraderie you develop, it becomes a social network on its own,” says Haberstroh. “Now I can send guys a text with a quick question anytime, and when I’m looking for ideas throughout the season I have a reliable group of people I can communicate with.”

Haberstroh has been at Glen Ridge for two years, coming there from Trump National Bedminster. It wasn’t just his cooking skills that got him the position: He had completed a kitchen renovation during his time as executive chef at Trump National, and Glen Ridge was looking for someone to spearhead a major expansion of its food and beverage service. As part of an extensive clubhouse renovation, the club not only redesigned an antiquated existing kitchen, it built a new second kitchen along with a new dining area.

“As soon as I was hired, that project was the first thing I did,” says Haberstroh. “Having all new equipment is great.” The new facilities opened in March 2017, transforming how the members utilize the club. It’s a casual restaurant, serving a variety of food from dry-aged steak to New York-style pizza. One highlight is seafood that Haberstroh has shipped in fresh from Hawaii. (Perhaps they should have given him something that exotic in his Seattle mystery basket.)

“Nearly all of the members live in the town of Glen Ridge, and the club wanted to become the favorite restaurant for all of the members,” says the chef. “In the past, the dining room would be empty at times. Now there is sometimes a 45-minute wait on Saturdays.”

There’s no mystery why. 

The full article can be viewed in the April/May Edition of The Met Golfer.