The private club industry is way different from the traditional restaurant one, but they do have one thing in common: Even private dining spots are falling for the farm-to-fork approach. Such at least is the case at Sarasota Yacht Club, which in October received its first shipment of seasonal produce from Sarasota's Honeyside Farms. The club has inked an ongoing deal with Honeyside and pledged ahead of time to purchase a certain percentage of its goods; the farm in return brings in fresh vegetables weekly.
Yacht Club Chef Anthony Puccio belongs to the Club Managers Association of America, and he says sourcing locally is a frequent and fervent source of conversation at meetings. "The members are almost demanding this kind of stuff," he says.
The Honeyside deliveries will change throughout the growing season. For now, Puccio says the focus is on items like cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash. The freshness is immediately apparent. "It's picked in the morning and you're serving it that night, as opposed to sitting in a warehouse for a week," he says. "You can definitely notice a flavor difference."
The seasonal approach is a winner for the club in other ways, too. Unlike restaurants, the club is forced to change its menu constantly to satisfy its 640 members (plus spouses). They dine there regularly, and are always looking for new dishes. Puccio says the kitchen is trying to highlight the natural flavors, and so is presenting the majority of its Honeyside food simply — seared on the grill for a few minutes, or even left raw on the club's salad bar.
Yacht Club General Manager Bernie Kloppenburg says a private club thinks of its members differently than a restaurant thinks of its diners. People are joining the club for much more than just the food: They often sign up because they want to live a healthy lifestyle. The Yacht Club wants to "take care" of its members, Kloppenburg says, and that now means offering fresh, healthy, local produce.
Unlike at restaurants, members are allowed to see what's happening behind the scenes, and are frequently in the kitchen, Kloppenburg says. They can see for themselves what's different about the Honeyside deliveries.
The club buys its fish locally, and Kloppenburg says he'd love to go all in and buy Florida meat, too, but Sunshine State cattle can't quite compete yet with the Midwest's. Maybe one day, he says. Another idea: Plant an herb garden right on the property that Puccio and the staff could tend and harvest from.
Members are happy with the change, Puccio says. They're eager for the variety and glad to know where their lunch and dinner comes from. The club industry may be very different from the restaurant industry, but the goal is the same: satisfaction. The members want local food, Puccio says, "and we're here to give the members what they want."
This is the 35th entry in Eat Near, a regular column dedicated to all the lovely food that folks on the Suncoast grow, raise, kill or craft. If you have an idea for someone/thing to feature, email me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.