Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Local chef cooks extraordinary basics for Palmer

Cooking for a celebrity golfer can be awesome. The goal is to prepare foods the golfer is used to and likes in order to help him be comfortable during a tournament.

That's exactly what Chef Jim Rhegness did last week during the U.S. Senior Open.

Chef Rhegness went back to basic recipes when he was hired as the personal chef for golf legend Arnold Palmer for the week of the tournament. “He wanted simple food, no frou-frou,” says the chef. Yet, the graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and now culinary instructor at Penta Career Center in Perrysburg pulled out all the stops to make the very best of everything.

Timing the dinner meal was a factor. “If he got off the golf course late, then dinner was later. But I tried to have the food ready so there was no wait.”

Tuesday night's menu request for Palmer was homemade fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, for which the chef used chicken stock. The vegetable was succotash made with corn and lima beans, but “he had me hold the bacon,” says the chef.

Mr. Rhegness wanted the chicken to be crisp, but there was a cocktail party before the dinner.

To keep the chicken crisp, it was brined with buttermilk and spices for six hours in the refrigerator. “Then I air-dried it in the refrigerator for two hours; floured and dipped in buttermilk egg wash, back into flour, and then pan fried. It went great,” says the chef. “The brining puts the moisture in the chicken. You could actually see juices coming out of the chicken when cut.”

For the cocktail party, Chef Rhegness prepared mango chutney and cheddar cheese on crackers, bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, assorted cheeses, vegetable crudites, and homemade sauerkraut balls.

“I was told by his manager that pickled eggs was one of his favorites,” says the chef, who surprised Palmer Wednesday night with the classic appetizer. “He loved them.” (See recipe on Page 2.)

Wednesday night, the chef selected the menu. “We did sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and red onion salad with balsamic vinaigrette. The entr e was beef tenderloin with asparagus with butter and lemon and oven-roasted red skins with caramelized onion and blue cheese. For dessert, a scoop of ice cream.”

Thursday night's menu was selected by Palmer. “It was Boston brown bread (steamed), macaroni and cheese, baked ham, and baked beans. For dessert, he had a dish of cherry vanilla ice cream.”

The chef prepared breakfast each day, but Palmer ate lunch on the course. “He typically starts the day with breakfast of oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar.”

Mr. Rhegness had one week to prepare for this assignment; he had to stock cupboards and look into specific requests and dietary restrictions. Each day, he arrived at the residence at 5:15 a.m. to start breakfast. This gave him time for shopping and food preparation, which included appetizers followed by dinner. His day ended around 9 p.m.

“Securing the freshest ingredients has been the big thing,” says Mr. Rhegness, who went at least once a day to a grocery store plus stops at specific purveyors.

The chef describes the experience as “extraordinary because Mr. Palmer was wonderful to work for and it was great to get back to the basics.”

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