An interview with Certified Master Chef Derin Moore of Reynolds Lake Oconee on creating a top rated culinary destination for members, guests and golfers.
Are you familiar with the title, Certified Master Chef? This is the highest honor issued by the American Culinary Federation to currently just 68 chefs in the U.S. at the peak of their culinary expertise. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Certified Master Chef, Derin Moore, while visiting Reynolds Lake Oconee located near Atlanta.
The very first thing you notice about Chef Derin Moore is his stature and intensity. And then his warmth, sense of humor and passion for what he is doing comes through. At one point, I glanced at my watch and was shocked to realize we had been talking for 90 minutes. And yet, there was so much more to cover!
During our conversation, we discussed his background, what it takes to become a Master Chef, what his goals are for the venues he manages, what he sees in the food and restaurant industry in terms of trends and his philosophy when it comes to feeding others. To start with, let’s talk about what it takes to become a Certified Master Chef. Here are some of the (intimidating) requirements:
- Possess the practiced skills to perform culinary art to the very highest standards.
- Have a foundation of quality experience and education in advanced level courses, externships and/or competitions.
- Be physically and mentally prepared to perform eight days under extreme pressure to then be judged by peers.
To give you an idea of just how exclusive this title is, only 8 – 12 candidates take the exams that are offered every two years.
Certified Master Chef: The Consummate Chef.
“A CMC® possesses the highest degree of professional culinary knowledge, skill and mastery of cooking techniques.”
Chef Moore began his career in Michigan working at Detroit’s fine dining restaurants during the time of the big 3 auto manufacturers. He then transitioned to the high-end country club dining world, which allowed him to join the U.S. Culinary team where he competed in cooking competitions. Think culinary Olympics across Europe! In 2003, Chef Moore was awarded the title of Certified Master Chef.
As his path took him to the flagship Ritz Carlton Resort in Naples, Florida and Medinah Country Club just outside of Chicago, Illinois, it was a decision to settle in the Atlanta area that brought him to Reynolds Lake Oconee. This very unique and luxurious place is just 90 minutes outside of Atlanta. It is a world onto itself. An exclusive community that has 2,800 single family homes, 6 world-class golf courses, private clubs, a sporting ground, 10 restaurants (both private and public) and all located on 12,000 acres of lakefront property.
Reynolds Lake Oconee
Sandy Creek Barn
In addition, should you need hotel accommodations or have guests in town, the Ritz Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee is in the heart of the property.
From a culinary perspective, Chef Moore had his work cut out for him when he stepped into the role of Executive Chef. Overseeing the food service in this multi-purpose environment is far more complex than managing an individual restaurant or country club dining service. He recognized that his biggest challenge was developing a dining program for three different categories of service: resort, fine dining and club dining. After 12 to 18 months of evaluation, he had a plan with menus designed to appeal to the audience, theme and location of each of the 10 restaurants. Some of the key factors and actions he took into consideration are below:
1. EVERY recipe and menu was created by him. This maintained the integrity across the Reynolds’ brand allowing for menu diversity and flavor development.
2. Each restaurant had its own menu, theme, and demographic (family, golfers, occasion, public, private).Sandy Creek Barn
Sandy Creek Barn
3. Locally grown, seasonal ingredients are used as often as possible.
The Rock House
4. Menus had to accommodate those with health or food preferences – gluten-free, pescatarian, vegetarian, etc. Here is a creative example from The National Tavern. Vegetarian options are on the flip side of this card.
5. Dishes served in the restaurants are made from scratch.
6. The intention is not to be focused on molecular gastronomy that showcases “foam and bubbles”. The goal is “good cooking and flavor profiles”.
7. A unique characteristic that took some serious thought was the recognition that Reynolds Lake Oconee offered both year round living and resort life. That meant that how people dine is very different. When you are on vacation, you may splurge more on food choices than when you are home. When you are home, you may just want to stop by for a salad or lighter meal or take it to-go. This is a club community that operates like a resort, which makes for a fine line when it comes to menu offerings. Ultimately, Reynolds Lake Oconee restaurants want to offer the very best in food service and hospitality, as they see themselves as an extension of your home.The Creek Club
8. Making sure the private dining clubs served their members well from both a comfort food and variations perspective was a challenge Chef Moore had solved in his previous role. By offering a menu that provided traditional favorites on one side of the menu (think “home” cooking) and seasonal specialties on the other, resonated well with guests.
9. Knowing how important it is to keep menus fresh, 70 percent are turned three times a year, keeping flavor profiles and innovation always top of mind. Now, the exception would be the sourdough starter that Chef Moore created 7 years ago for his pizza crust that is still being used to this day. And that is a very good thing!The National Tavern – Golden Mushroom Soup, Cheese & Pepperoni Pizza, Lemon Fennel Glazed Salmon, Shrimp & Chorizo Tacos
10. To make sure their guests’ voices are heard when it comes to their dining preferences, Chef Moore implemented a feedback line. He and his team genuinely want to know what members are looking for on the menus and how they might be able to be modified or improved upon.
11. Hosting quarterly member culinary events on the property has proved to be a wonderful way to bring people together from a dining and social perspective. Whether it is inviting a Napa winery to one of the restaurants where an education on the varietals is offered along with food/wine pairings or an international club evening with a French theme, they all highlight the true nature of the food service being offered by Chef Moore’s team. To give you an idea of the success of these member programs, there is an estimated 1,400 banquet events planned for 2019.
12. The variations in how guests will dine at the restaurants are methodically thought out. Golfers are not looking to sit down for a long lunch while they are in the middle of a game. They want to eat quick and “not sloppy” dishes as they are eager to get back on the course. Think grab-and-go tuna sandwiches or a firehouse sub. After a game, they may want to relax with their friends at The National Tavern with a plate of sliders. Same quality food with different ambience. The National Tavern
“Always set trends, not follow them.” Chef Derin Moore
Interestingly, one key challenge stood out from our conversation that is actually an industry issue. Labor. Finding qualified candidates who want to cook at this level is a recognized problem. For those looking to cook professionally, there can be no better teacher than Chef Derin Moore. While he is running a business, he is also overseeing meal preparation for his guests and their families at any of the 10 dining venues. His commitment to his role is that special.
It’s always interesting to me to ask chefs what they cook at home for themselves or their family. Wouldn’t you expect some lavish, complex dishes? Well, you will be happy to know Chef Moore’s children request recipes that you probably make on a regular basis. Some are vegetarian/vegan and others are a simple piece of fish. Now, Chef Moore’s favorite foods fall in to a category known as offal. This delicacy includes such specialities as foie gras and sweetbreads.
Chef Derin Moore’s impact on the culinary experience at Reynolds Lake Oconee is dramatic. He designed menus that incorporate Southern cuisine and that of global dishes as well as fun twists on traditional favorites. Anywhere you go on the property, you will taste the freshest of ingredients combined with innovative collaborations that result in delicious flavor profiles. Whether you are living on the grounds, a community member, golfer, or resort guest, the opportunity to dine on meals created by Chef Moore will add to the enjoyment of your time at this beautiful and peaceful place known as Reynolds Lake Oconee.