In the kitchen with Brookside’s Ken Bucholtz

Asking a chef to choose a favorite recipe is a bit like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. So we started with an easier task for Ken Bucholtz: Pick a favorite spice or herb.

chef_2Asking a chef to choose a favorite recipe is a bit like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. So we started with an easier task for Ken Bucholtz: Pick a favorite spice or herb.

“Fresh basil. We use it on a lot of things — go through about 3 pounds a week,” said Bucholtz, executive chef at Brookside Country Club.

Eyes alight, he went on to describe, in mouth-watering detail, a Caprese salad made with micro-basil.

“We use homegrown heirloom tomatoes in all different colors — red, purple, green, orange — and a fresh soft mozzarella, aged balsamic and a seven peppercorn blend,” Bucholtz said. “It’s topped with seasoned, grilled chicken.”

Despite 29 years as a chef, the last 19 at Brookside, Bucholtz hasn’t lost his passion for food. He moved enthusiastically from discussing the Caprese salad to a favorite dip.

“Take feta cheese, the zest of an orange, some lemon, a little cream cheese, and whip it,” he said. “Put it in a bowl with pita chips or crostini. People love it.”

Since joining the staff at Brookside in 1994, Bucholtz has witnessed many changes at the club, from kitchen remodels to severe cuts in staff, and, of course, menu changes.

“When I started, it was about steak, grilled fish. Now things are more complex — like using carrots as a sauce,” he said. “Ever since food got on television, it has educated people and they expect more.”

What is his signature dish, his top seller? Tough to say, Bucholtz says, because the 410 members of the club tend to order a la carte rather than from the menu.

“Most orders are special orders,” he said. “Everything is personal preference. We run a crab cake dinner with risotto and asparagus and they’ll ask for broccoli instead of the asparagus or pasta instead of the risotto. If someone comes in and wants pancakes at night, we make pancakes.”

Bucholtz enjoys competing in cooking challenges, and when he had more time, regularly entered and frequently won American Culinary Federation challenges.

“I loved it, whether by myself or with a team. You’re judged on speed, creativity, presentation, but the biggest was taste,” he said. “You bring that excitement back to the workplace. Helps bring you up to a different level.”

He credits his job satisfaction and longevity at Brookside to his boss, General Manager Andrew Grove.

“He and I have conquered a lot of obstacles together,” Bucholtz said. “He works more hours than anyone. If there’s a problem, he’s the neutralizer, gets us back on track. If the staff is down, he picks us back up.”

Grove says Bucholtz and his small team of eight are a big part of the reason the club has been able to “successfully weather the economic storm.”

“The members trust him, he’s proven, that’s why they come back,” Grove said. “That’s why the Angel Auction comes to us, and Mercy Hospital, Timken, Diebold. They trust what Ken can do. He never lets them down.”

Grove is particularly impressed with how Bucholtz juggles the demands of the club and catering, with a crew of just eight people in the kitchen.

“We may have a party of 800 at the Civic Center, a party in our Founders Room for 40, plus a group of 25 in the Ladies Grill, 75 guys in the Men’s Grill and 50 or 60 orders coming in from the pool, all at the same time. He handles it all, with a crew of just eight in the kitchen. They’re amazing.”

Bucholtz and his wife of 10 years, Christine, met at the club when she was a server. She’s now a dental hygienist and they have, between them, six children and two grandchildren.

Q&A WITH KEN BUCHOLTZ

Q. What’s the toughest part of the job?
A.
Holidays, when our families are home without us. Thanksgiving — I’d really like to be off. Food and family — Thanksgiving is the best holiday.

Q. Favorite dish you make at home?
A.
The kids’ favorite is herbed breaded boneless pork loin, like a schnitzel. They like it with a lemon butter sauce. A little lemon juice, white wine, smidge of cream, salt, pepper, sugar. Reduce it then whisk in a bit of butter.

Q. If you could work for a day with any chef, living or dead, who would it be?
A.
Auguste Escoffier. He was the father of cooking.

Q. What chefs have you trained?
A.
We’ve had a lot of chefs come through here. Jon Belt— he’s with Giant Eagle now. Jerry Risner, now chef at Gervasi, started here when he was 15. His sous chef, Rocco Moretta, worked here too.

Q. Do you spend most of your time managing, or do you still pick up a knife now and then?
A.
Some days more managing, other days, more kitchen stuff. With our (staff) cutbacks, I’m in the kitchen more.

Q. How do you keep up your enthusiasm after 29 years?
A.
What I’m most enthusiastic about is pleasing the customers.That’s a high for me.

Q. What are your popular appetizers?
A.
We do a lot of stuff wrapped in bacon — olives with feta inside, or blue cheese inside, or garlic. Apple slices, mango, pineapple, shrimp — you name it, we wrap it in bacon.

Q. What do people say? Chef Ken makes the best (fill in the blank).
A.
Well, the warm cinnamon chicken salad does well. Dried strawberries, fresh strawberries, marcona almonds, julienned apple, Boursin cheese. Then you take the chicken salad and form it into a flat disc, kind of like a crab cake, and (coat it) in cinnamon sugar, and put it on top. People look forward to it. I can’t take it off the menu.

Q. Do you have the same personality in and out of the kitchen?
A.
Out front (with guests) I’m professional. In back, we have fun but get the job done. They are missing weekends, family events, so we have to keep spirits up, keep it light.

Q. If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you have done?
A.
Originally I wanted to be a marine biologist. Now, I’d want to be a surgeon.

Q. What’s next for you?
A.
My ultimate goal is to be a general manager of a country club.

FETA SPREAD/DIP

 1 pound feta
 4 ounces cream cheese
 1 whole lemon, juice and zest
 1/2 orange, juice and zest
 About 8 leaves of basil, chopped
 Pinch of black pepper.

Put all in mixing bowl and whip. Serve with pita chips, crostini, fresh vegetables or crackers.
-FROM CHEF KEN BUCHOLTZ