Cooking at Hawaii’s most exclusive golf club
It was love at first sight in 1991 when Chef Roger Bartle flew into Lanai as part of the opening team for the Manele Bay Hotel – and he’s been hooked on Hawaii ever since.
“I worked for two rock resorts in Arizona and Wyoming, and from there had a job interview for a small island called Lanai, which i never heard of,” says Bartle. “i accepted the position and flew in three weeks later, not even knowing what Lanai looked like.”
Luckily, he and his wife were pleasantly surprised and spent five “wonderful” years there.
Bartle’s connection to the islands came into perspective in 1995 when he accepted a job offer at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Arizona.
“i was in Arizona for a year and realized that i missed Hawaii so much, so i started applying for different positions and got a job at Mauna Kea Hotel right after it reopened after renovating,” says Bartle. “and i was there for four years.”
The Arizona-born chef, who, like many chefs, started his career washing dishes, quickly realized he wanted to be involved in a different part of the kitchen process – cooking. Now, as the executive chef of one of the most exclusive private golf clubs on the planet – Nanea Golf Club – Chef Bartle has a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful Kohala Coast.
If the name Nanea Golf Club doesn’t sound familiar, it’s not because of its lack of prestige within the islands. instead, it’s just the opposite. Nanea is Hawaii’s most private golf club, with an invitation-only membership of just over 200. When it opened in 2004, the club had just 50 members.
Accustomed to the flow and feel of working in a major resort, the idea of possibly having days with no reservations was quite an adjustment for Bartle. and he attests that when the club first opened, they sometimes went a few days without anyone coming into the restaurant.
Again, not because its members-only restaurant lacked clout, but because 85 percent to 90 percent of Nanea’s members don’t even live on the island.
Bartle and his staff do see busier days now that membership has grown, but their kitchen philosophy has remained the same – food for the taste of food.
“We try to serve the best-quality stuff that we can, and have you taste it rather than hide it with different sauces and things,” says Bartle. “We want our members to be able to treat our restaurant as their house. When they built this place, they wanted something that is relaxing when you come up, and where you can be treated as family.”
Home-cooked meals away from home is the best way Bartle can describe the food served at Nanea. Which is fitting, as Bartle describes his role as more of a personal chef for each member than a restaurant chef.
“Every member is different in their likes and dislikes, so what can be challenging is trying to make a menu around that, because although we have a set menu at lunch, we always try to accommodate each member’s needs,” he says. “For dinner, i don’t have a set menu. What i’ll normally do is come in and write a menu on a daily basis, or as people come in during the day i’ll go and ask them what they’re hungry for tonight. Or members will approach me with their dinner requests. and we try to make it happen as much as possible, because this is their clubhouse – they own this place.”
Bartle adds: “We don’t require any reservations, so the challenge is keeping food we need on hand and being able to use it in a timely manner,” says Bartle. “With the food here, i like to do very wholesome, down-to-earth flavors and keep it simple – something that you would do at home for your family and friends.”
The three clubhouse favorites are Nanea Snapper (opakapaka sauteed with a warm tomato vinaigrette), the Kobe steak (a 14-ounce Kobe steak with a variety of sides) and bread pudding (classic bread pudding with vanilla ice cream).
Bartle refers to his cooking style as always-evolving, and he isn’t concerned about what regional style he best represents. He says learning to blend what the position and restaurant require has always been his way of approaching the kitchen.
“it’s all about making the person eating the food happy,” Bartle says. “That’s the bottom line.”