The place is called Hamilton Farm Golf Club, originally built in 1911 in the tradition of an English country estate. Like so many wealthy families from New York City, James Cox Brady wanted to relive the life of country gentry in the green fields and woodlands of the Somerset Hills region of central New Jersey. At its height, the property (named after his wife's family) spread across 5,000 acres of pasture, farmland, woodland, horse trails and formal gardens. The farm produced its own food and even produced prize winning Clydesdales, Percherons and Hackney ponies.
Part of the original buildings includes the great stables which were built in 1916. With 50 stalls, they were the largest and most lavish stables in the U.S. at the time. During WW2, the grand stables and carraige houses were converted into a hospital and rest center for the merchant marine seamen on the orders of Brady's widow -- who conceived, financed and directed the whole operation. Some 5,000 men were helped by Mrs. Brady's actions. Today, the impressive buildings are the headquarters for the US Equestrian Team, who use Hamilton Farm as its training ground for the Olympics.
The original main house burned down in 1921. James Cox Brady rebuilt on its foundation a Georgian brick mansion with 64 rooms, 11 fireplaces, 2 elevators, and a chapel with stained-glass windows and an organ.
The property changed hands a few times in the intervening years, including one corporate executive who had a fanciful notion of creating a private playground getaway and hired Hurdzan Fry to design a championship-quality golf course. There are two courses currently on the property: the championship-layout "Highlands Course" with old-style dramatic bunkering (Hurdzan-Fry are known for blending the 'necessary artificialness' of a golf course into the aesthetics of the area, and in Hamilton Farm's case that means an 19th-century sensibility); and the "Hickory Course", the only rated par-3 18-hole course in the states. When the economic downturn happened, the property was sold off to its current owner, who changed the focus away from a no-limits "private playground" into an actual club with members and everything.
The current owner made his fortune in real estate, but Hamilton Farm isn't just another investment property to him, and it shows in the attitudes of the staff he has under him, from the groundskeepers and the housekeeping crews through the wait-staff, caddies, kitchen crew and up to the management level. While I haven't had much experience (yet) in the culinary-end of the hospitality industry, I can still recognize morale levels and work ethics among the staff. The manager for the Food and Beverage department is also the Sommelier (wine steward) for the club; a very personable yet still quite professional gentleman who spends time each week educating the 'front of the house' staff about the extensive wine collection kept in the mansion's wine cellar -- and how to pair food with wine, an important skill to assist customers. The executive chef, Bruno Gubelmann, was classically trained (as in, was an apprentice for many chefs to learn his craft) in Europe and likes to add a touch of his native Swiss flavors into the dishes (especially when it comes to chocolate).
Bruno likes to make sure that all the staff are properly taken care of, at least within his domain of food. With dozens of groundskeepers, along with the domestic staff, business-office folks, clubhouse crew, and so forth, it's all too easy to decide to make "chow-hall" quality food to serve them, but Bruno doesn't. He even lets us cooks get creative about meal ideas (I made bagel tuna-melts for a Friday lunchtime during lent, for those who follow those rules). During the slow season, we just make a lunch and a dinner for 'family meal', but during the busy months a breakfast is set up for them as well. I actually feel good listening to the curious chatter and happy thank-yous from folks passing through the kitchen to grab food: it's nice knowing that what you are doing is appreciated.
Now, as an intern, I was in an apprentice-like position. Because of the relatively small scale of Hamilton Farm's kitchen, though, I got to learn about all the stations and then some. Everyone pitches in when needed -- yesterday was slow and our dishwasher was sick, so Bruno and I did all the dishes ourselves. I'm often called upon to create a new dessert for the menu, or help Maureen (our Pastry Chef, and Bruno's wife) with baking needs, but that doesn't mean I'm relagated to staying in the back. I've actually worked on "The Line" (the front half of the kitchen where all the action takes place -- grill, oven, range, etc.) and assembled orders. Tonight, we had a dinner party of 15 down at the mansion (the main kitchen's in the clubhouse, the mansion has a very small kitchen so we do as much as we can at the clubhouse first) where it was just two cooks -- myself and Zack. It was a five course meal, but the wrinkle of the night was the dinner attendees -- 7 adults and 8 children. True to the level of service Hamilton Farm prides itself on, we made "kiddie hors d'oeuvres" of bite-sized pizzas and slices of hotdog wraped in puff pastry! I was "in charge" of salads and desert (most of the time, reservations include a set menu but sometimes it's an open menu -- tonight the salads were fixed, but there were a couple of dessert choices so I had to be prepared for that). We only had the head dishwasher, Florencio, on duty tonight, so he had to split his time between clubhouse and mansion. I ran the first few loads of dishes while waiting for the party to arrive. Outside of the usual "hurry up and wait" that happens during the course of a meal, and the children making demands for things that weren't instantly available in the mansion ("Quick, call up to the clubhouse and have them bring down one chocolate-milk!") everything went pretty smoothly. From the time folks started to arrive until the time I finished wiping down the kitchen took just about three hours. It's hard work, but I'm enjoying it -- which is why I'm still awake!
Okay, enough burbling for the night (morning?). it's bedtime for the weasel.