Basic and standard not acceptable
He makes an imposing figure as he strolls the Our Lucaya Beach& Golf Resort property–more often than not he’s on his cellular phone or in conversation with a member of staff–always working to ensure that the 10 dining outlets on his property are striving for perfection. His dominating presence makes it almost hard to believe that he stands a mere six feet two inches–he seems so much taller–but, it takes a big personality to do what he does and Executive Chef Dwain Clare is doing it.
The former 2003 Cacique Chef of the Year winner oversees a staff at a resort that offers dining options that are as diverse as the guests who visit–from casual beachside eating in true Bahamian style to a more elegant steakhouse experience with everything from Asian cuisine to coffee house favorites at dining options at Irie’s Island Seafood Restaurant, Prop Club Sports Bar&Grill, China Beach, Churchill’s Chophouse, China Grill, Waves, Sugar Mill, Barracudas, Willy Broadleaf, Plantation Coffee Kiosk and catering and conventions, their banquet operation.
“You can travel to Our Lucaya and travel around the world as far as the food and beverage outlets are concerned, because we have dining options ranging from the Starbucks coffee shop straight up to our fine dining steakhouse[Churchill’s]where we specialize in prime aged meat and top quality seafood, local as well as international,” says Chef Clare who oversees the entire production. Wherever you decide to dine on his property the one thing you will get a taste of is a taste of The Bahamas. Every restaurant menu is heavily influenced by Bahamian flavors and ingredients showcased in a modern, upscale dining format, which allows the dining options at Our Lucaya Beach& Golf Resort to set themselves apart from their competition.
“Wherever you want to go . . . the coffee shop, you can find a banana bread pudding. You go to the sports bar and you can have macaroni and cheese, sweet potato fries, conch chowder. You go to China Beach and grouper is there with sushi and all these other elements, at Churchill’s the same thing. Wherever you go on this property, the local ingredient base is there and that’s what sets us aside.”
Think local crab meat crab cakes, Lobstertini, Mushroom Pan Grouper, Mango Red Snapper Filet, Corned Grilled Salmon at Churchill’s Chophouse; Wok Stir-fried Bahamian Lobster Tail, Chinese-style Steamed Grouper in Soy Sauce at China Beach; Creamy Grouper Chowder, Minced Lobster Spring Roll, Grouper and Scallop Martini, Sweet Corn and Plaintain Fritter, Grilled Wild Mutton Snapper Fillet; Thyme and Coconut Breaded Queen Conch on Skewers at Iries; Jerk Conch Quesadilla, Reef Grouper and Spinach Dip, Curry Chicken BLT, Tamarind Glazed Salmon, Jerk Conch Fajita, Balsamic and Tamarind Veggie Fajita, a jerk conch pizza, curry crab meat pizza at Prop Club Sports Bar&Grill.
Chef Clare and his team are doing Bahamian flavors and influences in a big way at Our Lucaya Beach& Golf Resort–offering foreign visitors exactly what they want–a taste of The Bahamas, and giving locals the opportunity to enjoy the flavors of home in a more upscale dining experience.
Actually, Bahamian influences and flavors are the style of the chef, who has traveled the world and been exposed to a number of cuisine while working in Europe, Canada and the United States. He’s proud of the fact that Bahamian influences and flavors have been a big part of the resort’s menus for a number of years as he and his staff work daily to set themselves apart from other resorts their size in Nassau and around the Caribbean, but ensure they remain on par with the best restaurants in the United States.
“We don’t need Prop Club[Sports Bar]to be a duplicate of TGI Friday’s or something like that. We want it to be a sports bar with local items, and that’s what sets us apart from any other resort this size around the Caribbean. We have basically localized menu options in all of our restaurants,” said the chef who has worked at the resort for 11 years and is in his seventh year as chief, charged with taking the resorts restaurants to the next level.
In an effort to raise the standard, he has evolved the various restaurant menu offerings over the years in an effort to get them where he wants them to be, and he’s looking forward to continuing menu evolutions as he seeks the perfection he’s after–ensuring that Our Lucaya Beach& Golf Resort restaurants are on par with the best restaurants in the United States that they are comparable to, and would be able to compete with them if they were sitting on the same street.
Any good executive chef worth his salt has to be tough. In true executive chef fashion, Chef Clare looks like he can be an explosive force in the kitchen when things aren’t going right, as he takes pride in what is put out under his name. It appears that he could almost be”rabid” about his staff getting it right. If you ask the chef, he says most of the staff would say he’s a pain, but he likes things to be detailed and right.
On any given day if a secret camera was trained on him as he entered any of the restaurant outlet kitchens, he would be caught seeking out the staff to see how they were doing first, and very quickly after that looking to see what was on the stove–checking the preparation, checking and smelling the seafood, looking at the meat, checking the coolers–going over the pot just to smell the stocks or sauces. Chef Clare says he could almost be described as”fidgety”in the various kitchens. He says he knows his staff wonders what he’s looking for. If they didn’t, or aren’t exactly sure, he’s looking for what it needs to be and that his staff is striving for the perfection he wants them to achieve in the various kitchens. When the chef walks out of the various restaurant kitchens with a smile on his face, the staff know that whatever he was looking and searching for, he didn’t find anything he shouldn’t have, but he found what he was looking for.
In an effort to ensure that his staff can do their best work, Chef Clare spares no expense in ensuring that his various chef de cuisines get the best ingredients they require to work with, despite being on an island. He requires that his purchasing department seek out the freshest produce and best quality products they can buy for his chefs.
As he seeks the best ingredients, he’s also the type of head chef who wants the best people to work with, and encourages them to broaden their horizons. He does not allow his people to stagnate in one outlet with 10 restaurant options and various cuisines on property. He rotates staff–line as well as managers–to allow them to gain exposure in the various outlets. He also doesn’t allow any one outlet to rest on its laurels. If he has an area that is loaded with talent, the chef is quick to spread that talent around to help develop other areas so that they all operate at a high standard. And he is happy to see his people achieve.
“At the end of the day Chef Clare really is someone who is going after perfection.”For him going to work every day isn’t a struggle, but a high more than anything else, because he wants to satisfy the culinary palates of the restaurant’s guests. He also admits that he’s not immune to rollercoaster feedback, but he ensures that he and his staff focus in on the items that are negative, and fix the problem.
He says they’re getting close to the perfection he strives for at Our Lucaya Beach& Golf Resort, but says they’re still not where he wants them to be in terms of level and standard.”Food goes through cycles and changes, and in terms of a resort this size, I’m one of a few chefs who can boast of being able to take menus from five or six core restaurants, and actually twice a year, turn the menus and enhance them, reduce them during off season, but still keep key offerings, and go lighter during the summer and spring, and go heavy in terms of menu size, quantity and substance during the winter months. This whole concept allows you to not become bored, because at the end of the day, every day is also about enhancing. What also helps me is that even though we have a banquet kitchen, most of the menu items are written and created specifically for clients, based on their budgets and their need and their requirements. There’s no such thing here as basic and standard. That is just not acceptable.”
For the chief chef, the delivery of fantastic product to the customer is also important. He says his staff can prepare the food in the kitchen, but if the service on the floor isn’t up to par, they are defeating what they are trying to do.
“In order to improve and meet that standard, we have to work on the menus, work on enhancing the service levels and that is an on-going process along with menu training and development. Acceptable standards with us is being on par with any similar restaurant operation in the United States or wherever else it is. Once you go in to Churchill’s and you look at the ambiance, you’re going to be like wow, so if the food is coming out and the service is there, you actually know that we have the bar set high.”He says he’s half-way to where he wants to be.
If you happen to dine at Our Lucaya Beach& Golf Resort, the executive chef says your must have dish depends on which restaurant you’re in. If you’re at Irie’s, he insists you try the Creamy Grouper Chowder, or the Minced Lobster Spring Roll. He boasts about the conch chowder in the Prop Club Sports Bar and Grill, and the Wok Stir Fried Lobster Tail and Chinese Steamed Grouper in China Beach. He boasts about the crab cakes they serve in Churchill’s Chophouse, and the fact that they offer delicious, flavorful, aged beef to their customers–a 22-ounce Porterhouse, Chicago cut bone-in, 22-ounce T-Bone, 14-ounce New York Strip, 16-ounce Kansas City Sirloin, and four and eight-ounce filet mignon.
They also offer a five-cycle rotational Sunday brunch buffet in Willy Broadleaf, so you can eat there for five straight weeks and never eat the same thing. They offer eight rotational menus running nightly for the Bahamian night buffet, so that means eight soups, eight varieties of salads, eight variety of desserts, eight variety of chicken dishes, meat dishes, pasta dishes, to give people options. And he swears that the food on the buffet is just as good as the food from your favorite eatery.
“If you’re coming to our Sunday brunch and it’s a day when they’re serving local conch and rice with red beans and salt beef, I would tell you go to your best restaurant you can find, get a plate of that, get a plate of ours, and see if you can tell the difference, there’s no such thing here as hotel-cooked food. That does not exist here at[Our Lucaya Beach& Golf Resort]. What exists here is quality ingredients, knowledgeable staff who understand the recipe specifications, and staff who are being managed by people who understand that at the end of the day we have to keep the standard high and keep it consistent.”
In his effort to achieve and maintain his high standards, the executive chef says it’s a daily struggle for him. He admits that their are days that he gets stressed out and angry, but he says it comes with the territory when working with a property the size he’s working with as he strives for perfection. But he says he has a staff who work to live up to his and their own high expectations daily, and who are trying to get it done consistently. In turn, they have an executive chef who spares no expense in getting them the quality ingredients they need to prepare the delicious food that they’re serving up daily.
THOUGHT YOU’D LIKE KNOW
Chef Dwain Clare’s home kitchen has the simplest stuff, and he likes to eat pasta. He has a variety of pastas in his kitchen which he prepares with olive oil, tomatoes, garlic or basil.
His favorite dishes are quick to prepare and on occasion he likes to eat things that are as simple as fire engine(corned beef and rice)or a sandwich with potato chips on the side, because he gets overwhelmed being around so much food at work.
Whatever he eats at home, he says he wants to be able to prepare something which from start to finish takes 20 minutes and he’s in front of the TV. He likes to start off a bite at the beginning of a movie or sports event.
His favorite ingredients to work with are lobster, grouper, any type of red bean or pigeon peas, mango, plantain–and he says he’s got to have fresh thyme, goat pepper, sweet potato, and thinly sliced cassava, because those ingredients can make such a simple, but delicious dish.
LOBSTER TAIL WITH XO SAUCE
Recipe: China Beach Restaurant
1 pound fresh lobster tail
1/2 ounce garlic,
1/2 ounce onion
1/2 ounce red pepper
1/2 ounce spring onion
1 1/2 ounce XO sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces carrots
1 teaspoon Sesame oil
Remove lobster meat from tail, keeping meat intact. Reserve lobster shells for garnish.
Cut a slit down the back and devein. Season lobster meat with Sesame oil, salt, pepper and Chinese cooking wine. Set aside.
Heat wok with oil over high fire. Add sliced garlic, chili pepper, scallion and stir-fry until fragrant and lightly browned.
Add lobster tail and stock. Stir fry for two minutes or until pink. Add in XO sauce, stir-fry to combine all ingredients well. Sprinkle Chinese cooking wine and continue to stir fry for another minute. To plate, arrange so that the lobster tails are spread over the plate, assembling reserved lobster shell on the side for prettier presentation.
CREAMY GROUPER CHOWDER
Recipe: Iries Seafood Restaurant
1 large carrot, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
8 ounce grouper meat, diced
16 ounces fish stock
1 clove garlic, chopped
8 ounces heavy cream
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 ounce thyme, fresh, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
In a preheated stock pot, add oil, and saute grouper, vegetables and herbs for approximately 3 minutes. Add stock and bring to a slow boil. Add heavy cream. Thicken with a little flour and water mixture. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Finish with field potato and okra. Serve.