Since June, the Country Club has been home, an 81-year-old club with 400 members and a staff of 16, 32 if you count servers. The environment can be hectic, but as he told Staff Writer Kevin Clapp last week, the frenzy of activity is intoxicating.
"If it's too easy," he says, "it's not worth it."
Q: Why come to Chambersburg?
A: No. 1, it was closer to home. I liked the look of the club a lot, the building, the facility was new. The house committee took time to come to The Woods and see my operation there and I was impressed with that. ... It was just a real easy transition for me.
Q: What hooked you on the restaurant business?
A: I think it was just the adrenaline from always pumping, pumping, pumping constantly to get prepped for dinner. ... The anticipation of the crush of people, and there's always something else to do.
I've had eight-hour jobs that feel like I'm there 15 hours. I can be here for 15 hours and it feels like five hours. It's just one of those kinds of things.
Q: What attracted you to cooking?
A: I think it was mostly the flexibility of cooking. I like the fact you can take a classical recipe and adapt it to your own style and the people you're serving to. The flexibility and creativity you can put into it to sort of bend the basic rules. That's what gets me going.
Q: Do you have an example?
A: Here I don't really get too crazy.
Q: How come?
A: Well, we have a wide variety of members and our members here are more of a meat and potatoes type crew. They like their steaks, they like their fresh seafood.
I run different specials every night and some people order them every night and some people never look at the specials. I don't really get too crazy here, (but) a classic verblanc (butter and wine) sauce we'll twist it up a little and make a papaya verblanc.
Q: Is that fun?
A: Yeah, I think so.
Q: How important is it for you to have fun?
A: It's got to be fun. When it's not fun that's when your brain stops working and becomes stagnant. ... Kind of like a baseball pitcher that always throws a fastball and nothing else. He's just not trying and you need to try to mix things up. ...
Even if it's a steak and baked potato, you can still make it look great, and that's what we try to do here.
Q: You mentioned earlier having several restaurant experiences. Do you prefer working in a club setting?
A: I actually like it a lot. Even though we have 400 members I probably personally know 350 of them. It's more of a family atmosphere. I know husbands, I know wives, I know kids. I know what they like, I know what they eat. ...
It's just nice. Everybody knows who I am, (say) 'Chef Joe, how are you doing?'
On the other hand, I have 400 bosses, so it's a little different in that respect. I have 400 people to answer to.
Q: Do you enjoy the pressure?
A: Yeah. I love the pressure. Again, it goes back to the adrenaline type thing. If it's easy it's no fun. Everything in life worth having you have to work for. ...
It's kind of different from the restaurant setting where the server is the point of sale. Here, they'll come right back to the kitchen and tell you (what they think) because it's their club so they do not hesitate to tell me how they feel, which is great. I love it.
Q: Do you thrive on the pressure?
A: Yeah. It's great. It makes it fun to come to work.
Q: What goals do you have while you're here?
A: As far as the fare that we serve it's ... in a setting like this it's very important to give people what they want, not what you think they should eat. It's different from a regular restaurant in that respect. ...
We do much better here by listening to our clientele. If there's not something on the menu and we have the ingredients, I'll make anything. We have to be able to please a wide variety of people here.
Q: Do you have an example?
A: Let me think. ... I had one last night. It wasn't really that big of a deal. Somebody wanted a cheeseburger club, so we did that for them, and an order of mozzarella fries. And it makes it fun.
Q: What is most fun?
A: I like my staff. They're really dedicated, they do a wonderful job and it's made it so much easier on me in the transition. ... without them I'd probably still be lost.
Q: When will business pick up?