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Life As A Club Chef
gourmet articlesarchivelife as a club chef

Iam the Head Chef of the Turf Club which is a Gentlemen’s club in the heart of London. There are around 90 clubs in London and many more around the world. They are mainly found in commonwealth countries but there is also a large number in North America.

The Turf Club was founded in 1860 and moved to its present site in 1965. The Club is in St. James’s and looks out over the Mall. The membership is based on gentlemen who have strong connections with horse racing and Polo.

We cater for a select band of people so the food has to be of the highest standard; we use only fresh ingredients and work to a very strict seasonal menu. We get through a lot of game in the winter, lamb in the spring, fish & lobster in the summer, and our beef is from the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate up on the borders in Scotland. We have certain ‘Club Dishes’ which stay on all the time e.g. Potted Shrimps, Smoked Eel, Calves Liver, Grilled Dover Soles, & Steak Tartar followed up with a menu which changes weekly. This is entirely at my discretion and gives us scope to do what ever we want. This week I have a Tomato cake with grilled goats cheese & coriander dressing, Medallions of veal fillet with salsify, braised onions, & Dijon mustard, Baked Cornish halibut, braised lettuce, honey & grain mustard sauce, Marinated saddle of hare, chestnuts & red cabbage, port wine sauce, Banana & mascarpone cheesecake, caramel sauce, Winter Fruit compote, vanilla cream mousse.

The club is open Monday – Friday and closes for Bank holidays, Christmas and for the whole of August in the summer. As you can see this is very different from working in a restaurant or hotel.

We have an organization called the League of Cub Chefs which is open to the Head Chefs of all the clubs and we meet once a Month to discuss various topics, we also organize competitions, trips out, gourmet dinners, and social events. I am the present holder of the Club Chef Competition which is held every 2 years at Hotelolympia. This is a competition open to all the Head Chefs. We also run a competition for Sous Chefs. This we find is good for the Clubs as it gets us publicity and creates a very healthy level of competition.

The job of Head Chef in a club is different from other areas in the catering industry, due to the fact that the club is owned by its members and therefore is not a money making operation. The members pay an annual subscription and I work on around 55% gross profit (45% food cost). Also as we see the members all the time you develop a good working relationship and get to know what they like and dislike. We do get requests from wives of members for recipes and many a time they bring in a bag of game that they have shot for us to clean for their dinner parties. The main difference is the working hours and the fact that you become very much part of the club so you are well looked after. The main draw back is because the club is private you do not get any personal publicity and there is still a conceived idea amongst people on the outside that all we cook is steak & kidney pie and semolina & lumpy custard.

On the whole though they are great places to work, totally unique and every club is different. I personally have a lot of freedom here and have no problems getting equipment or any other expenses........

Simon Camp is the Head Chef of the Turf Club, St. James's London

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