If Anthony Martelli gets to shine on the greens at the Masters this week, it will most likely be of the salad variety.
Martelli, chef of the Ladies' Golf Club of Toronto in Thornhill, Ont., is one of two Canadian chefs invited to cook at the prestigious tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia this week. Joining him will be Michael Rosano, chef of the York Downs Golf and Country Club in Unionville, Ont.
Martelli acknowledges that cooking traditional southern food for the 400 members, sponsors and VIPs at the event (the first round is on Thursday) will be somewhat of a departure from the signature burgers and salads he normally prepares for his regulars, whose food preferences he knows by heart. But the chef is thrilled about the opportunity.
We caught up with Martelli last month as he was preparing for his journey south.
How did you get invited to cook at the Masters?
Every year, we have an event called the CSCM, which is the Canadian Society of Club Managers. And last year, the keynote speaker was Mr. Jimmy James, the senior director of hospitality for Augusta National. So I sat down at the table, and I see this gentleman dressed to the tees. I say, "You must be Mr. Jimmy James." And he says, "Why, yes sir, I am," in his nice southern accent. So I quickly pelt him with 1,000 questions in the span of 10 minutes. You name it, I asked the poor man.
Then, after his speech, he told us he was looking for some Canadian chefs to go down. He thought Canadian chefs would be ideal because we work in private clubs, which is just a little different from working in a restaurant. You take extra special care of your members. You never say no. Also, Canadian clubs don't usually open up until after the Masters is over.
Do you know what are you going to be cooking yet?
I just got my assignments the other day actually. They're very tight to the vest at Augusta National. I'm going to be looking after the pavilion, which is part of the new facility, Berckmans Place. The facility has four restaurants and the pavilion is an indoor-outdoor restaurant, the first to be at Augusta National. For as long the Masters has been going on, all they've done is sold sandwiches and done outside catering. I get to take care of what I would say is the patio lounge, which is to me fantastic, because that's the place you want to be.
So what sort of food will you be serving?
Some of the interesting items are a barbecue pulled pork bruschetta, corn-meal dusted fried oysters, sweet corn and crab hush puppies, southern-style deviled eggs and the tournament burger. We have a jumbo-lump crab cake sandwich, barbecue pork sliders, a lot of pimentos. They're very famous for pimento cheese. Desserts? We've got a southern pecan pie, which is to be expected, peach Melba and Bananas Foster. So it's a really southern-flair menu.
So they've put the menu together for you.
Yes, the hierarchy is they have an executive chef and a restaurant chef who's overseeing the four restaurants.
How familiar are you with cooking southern food?
I haven't dived into the southern, New Orleans style, but when you have a love and a passion for food, picking up the trends and tastes are pretty simple. I hope that I can play with the flavours a little bit. But I just want to go there; I'm just a soldier going into war.
It is intense. I'm scheduled from 5 o'clock in the morning till 7 o'clock at night. But it doesn't matter. You're at Augusta National. And it's on the bucket list.
The funny story is I was watching the Masters last year with my son, who is nine years old, and I said, "I met the hospitality manager for Augusta and I might be going down there." And he starts laughing, and he goes, "Dad, you're not good enough to play there." And I smiled, and go, "Yeah, you're right. I'm not good enough to play there, but I'm good enough to go down there and cook." He smiled and said, "Yeah, that you can do."
You're coming from a ladies' club. And yet until last year, Augusta didn't admit female members. What do you make of that?
I think that's fantastic. I'm a chef; I cook. The politics involved? I leave that to the big guys. But I'm thrilled and excited for our participation. Our ladies here are fantastic and they deserve this little light shone on them, that a chef from the Ladies' Golf Club is going to Augusta.
Are you bringing any of your own ingredients with you?
I'm bringing my knives. They're providing uniforms down there. They won't let you bring anything else into the club. But I will have my Ladies pin on me, I will have my Canadian pins – I'm a proud Canadian, a proud chef of the Ladies' Golf Club – and a pocket full of my business cards, because if Bill Gates happens to walk by, "Mr. Gates, here you go!"
This interview has been condensed and edited.