Guess again if you think those one-shot cruise line gigs are as cushy as it gets for high-profile chefs. The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa Celebrity Chef Classic is setting the new standard. The five participating culinarians in this three-day (11/13-15) event will assume the role of golf pros, meaning that customers will pay $1,450 per person to golf and otherwise rub shoulders with them during the weekend. If you like to hit the links in your spare time away from the kitchen—and we know many chefs do—this gives you something worthwhile to shoot for next year.
Pro-am events are fixtures before PGA tour events and similar golfing tournaments, often having a charitable purpose. The pros are the golfers entered in the tournament, and the amateurs are the sponsors or other high rollers willing to pay a bundle to play a round of golf with their heroes. Celebrity pro-ams spice up the format by mixing in movie stars, TV personalities and pro athletes along with the tournament pros. That’s why you’ll see the likes of Bill Murray, Alice Cooper and Michael Jordan at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am each spring.
But so far, chefs have mostly lacked the star power necessary to get in on the action as a participant in, let alone the focus of, one of these golf-based events. Usually, they’re stuck in the clubhouse kitchen, preparing food for the post-tournament banquet. The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa Celebrity Chef Classic is changing all that.
It won’t be the very first time an event has paired high-profile chefs with golf. Perhaps the most memorable occasion took place in 2004 at the Williamsburg Inn in Virginia, where Mario Batali and a few of his fellow chef-duffers took part in a golf event that honored the 100th birthday of James Beard. But, usually, chefs are thrilled just to get invited to a golf event, especially if they get a free room, have their greens fees comped and don’t have to cook too many times to earn their keep.
But the Ojai Valley Inn event is different in that the big attraction is not so much the opportunity to eat food prepared by the visiting chefs as it is the chance to play golf with them.
“The Celebrity Chef Classic provides a truly unique golf experience: enjoy the golf course, home to seven PGA Senior Tour events, while playing with some of the world’s most inventive chefs,” the Inn people say. “Then savor their unique creations at lunch and during an incredible tasting menu that evening.” Lunch takes place out on the golf course during the tournament, so we’re not sure exactly how much the celebrity chefs will be involved in the actual preparation or serving. Guests also get all-day golfing privileges the day prior to and immediately after the one-day tournament.
Who’s on board? The participants include:
• Todd Gray, executive chef and co-owner of Equinox in Washington, DC, the much-honored restaurant where the Obama family recently celebrated Michelle Obama’s birthday.
• Ming Tsai, long-running PBS cooking show host and chef/owner of Blue Ginger in Boston.
• Alan Wong, chef/owner of The Pineapple Room and Alan Wong’s Restaurant in Oahu, Hawaii. His newest: the Hualalai Grille at the Four Seasons Hualalai Resort.
• Budi Kazali, chef/owner of the Ballard Inn and Restaurant, rated by Zagat as having the best food in Santa Barbara, CA.
• Jamie West, executive chef at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.
A chef-driven golf event is apparently a good way to sell sponsorships. Consider the blue-chip list that’s backing this one: BMW, California Olive Ranch, Calloway, Evian, Footjoy, Preferred Hotel & Resorts, Southern Wine Spirits, Pernod Imports, Constellation Wines, Mondavi Wines, Greg Norman Estate Wines and Titleist. The two charity partners are Share Our Strength and Help of Ojai.
How can you get in on the action? Golf outings are a dime a dozen in most parts of the country. Whoever is in charge of organizing them in your town is likely looking for a way to make their event stand out from the crowd and, especially in this economy, attract new sponsors. A round with the town’s best-known chefs might just be the ticket. Be ready with a counteroffer the next time one of these outings or tournaments solicits you for a donation. We bet they’d be willing to negotiate a better role for you.