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The Lodge at Torrey Pines is ‘Open’ for business

On any given day, professional chefs can be found cooking and creating in the kitchen. But last week, Jeff Jackson, the executive chef at The Lodge At Torrey Pines, spent the majority of his time either in meetings with hotel event staff or huddled up close and personal in his office with key members of his kitchen brigade.

What force could be powerful enough to pry this devout gastronomist from his natural environment?

Three words – The U.S. Open.

From June 9-15, hundreds of the world’s best golfers and an estimated 55,000 spectators per day will converge around The Lodge to take part in the most prestigious annual golf event in the western hemisphere.

“The United States Golf Association is pretty much taking over The Lodge,” said Jackson.

That takeover does not apply to the kitchen, however, where Jackson and his colleagues will be responsible for providing 1,000 to 1,200 people with breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks ordered off a catalog’s worth of diverse menus selected by corporate clients who have rented out every meeting space the hotel has.

All that is in addition to 24-hour room service and The Lodge’s fine dining gem, A.R. Valentien, which will be open nightly for regular dinner service throughout the U.S. Open.

(A side note: A.R. Valentien was recently named by San Diego Magazine as the critic’s pick for Best Hotel Dining, while Jackson got top honors as Best Chef.)

Jackson and his crew have spent many months preparing to meet the inevitable challenges associated with hosting this high profile event.

The Lodge’s main kitchen, which services guests at A.R. Valentien as well as all of the hotel’s banquet facilities, is located on the northern half of the property, affording it easy accessibility to the hotel’s grand ballroom and a number of banquet rooms. The Grill, the hotel’s smaller, more casual restaurant, will service Barona Casino (which is renting the restaurant and its bar area) and field all room service orders. That takes care of roughly 690 attendees and approximately 170 overnight hotel guests. But that’s only half the story.

There’s still the matter of 500 or so attendees in rented facilities on the south side of the hotel, a good football field or so away from the aforementioned kitchens. There is simply no way for the kitchens at A.R. Valentien or The Grill to properly produce, find room for or effectively transport and serve so much food to so many people. What is a chef to do?

In this case, for this chef, the answer was clear – build a kitchen on the south end. And that’s just what The Lodge is doing.

As you read this, the hotel’s on-staff construction crew is erecting a twenty-foot by forty-foot tented kitchen complete with three ovens, a stove, fryers, a twenty-four foot mobile walk-in refrigerator and a twenty-foot pantry container on a black-top parking area just a few feet away from the cluster of rented rooms on the south end (including a luxurious suite, which is typically reserved for Tiger Woods during the Buick Open but has been rented by American Express this time around).

Constructing something so large for a singular event may seem a colossal task, but not when you consider all of the other changes that have taken place at The Lodge since it was selected to host the U.S. Open in 2002.

The entire north end of the course has been shut down for two months and the 17th and 18th holes were reconfigured so the USGA could construct a widespread “village” which includes staging areas and a 60,000-square-foot merchandise pavilion that is expected to receive 20,000 visitors per day.

The Lodge also got in on the action, building a brand new 50-person venue complete with a patio and fire pit next door to The Grill and directly across from the first tee box.

But that’s not all. The course’s driving range was moved and reconfigured to provide space for corporate tents, which will receive separate meal service from a 14-strong fleet of semi trucks hauling trailers that convert to full kitchens which will be responsible for feeding four times the number of people as the hotel’s crew.

Even with The Lodge utilizing every nook and cranny of its expansive property, there still isn’t enough room for everything, most notably the gargantuan daily food orders which, due to the heavy traffic brought on by the U.S. Open can only be delivered between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and must be subjected to extensive security checks.

“We are depending a lot on the relationships we have with our purveyors,” notes Jackson, who will borrow a significant amount of off-site cold storage space from long-time vendor, Specialty Produce, and other trusted edible providers.

“It’s been a real group effort,” said Jackson, referring largely to his coworkers at The Lodge; everyone from his diligent, tireless kitchen staffers to the expedient on-site builders to the hotel’s Director of Catering and Conference Services Heather Guthrie.

A brief rundown for people visiting The Lodge At Torrey Pines during the 2008 U.S. Open.

  • The U.S. Open begins Monday, June 9 and continue through Sunday, June 15 unless there is a tie on Sunday, in which case an 18-hole round will be played on Monday, June 16.
  • The Grill will be closed to the public as of 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 8 and will re-open on Monday, June 16 (unless there is a tie-breaker).
  • Beginning June 9, A.R. Valentien will be closed to the public for breakfast and lunch, but open to outside guests for dinner. Reservations are required and guests are suggested to arrive at or after 6:30 p.m. to avoid heavy traffic flows out of the golf course.
  • On Thursday, June 12, A.R. Valentien will hold a special Artisan’s Table dinner for Travel & Leisure Golf Magazine as well as members of the general public. The event is nearly sold out, but there are a few spots still available. Call (858) 777-6635 for reservations.
  • The Spa will be open to hotel guests only from June 9 to June 15.

Brandon Hernández has been featured numerous times on The Food Network hit program Emeril Live, is the author of a cookbook titled The Restaurant At Home. He offers his expertise as a culinary consultant at deepcrimson2008@gmail.com.