A day at Liberty National with ment’or and esteemed chefs
By Stephanie Wei under General

Our fivesome!

I wasn’t going to let a little whiplash or a sore back stop me from playing in the ment’or BKB charity outing at Liberty National on Monday, which featured famed chefs, including Thomas Keller, Jerome Bocuse, Chris Jaeckle, Scott Anderson and Mike Anthony.

It was an early start for me as I had to take the first flight out of Atlanta back to Newark (oh, and I didn’t have a confirmed seat, but no big deal). However, I managed to drop off my luggage at home in NYC and catch a car back to Jersey in time for breakfast and a quick warmup at the esteemed club that’s best known for its magnificent views of the city skyline and Statue of Liberty.

I got a five-star pairing with my playing partners — Lee, my cart buddy, Jason, Young, who runs ment’or, and Chef Anthony from the acclaimed Gramercy Tavern, who was wonderful company (and he hit some monster drives).

It couldn’t have been a more perfect day for golf. There was a light breeze, but nothing crazy, and it was about 70 degrees — like I said, absolutely ideal.

liberty national

View from 14 tee.

I’d been to Liberty National a number of times for the 2009 and 2013 Barclays, but somehow I’d never managed to play the golf course. Meanwhile, I’d played its neighbor around the corner, Bayonne Golf Club, at least half a dozen times. (I guess it’s all about who you know, right?) However, since I’d covered The Barclays, I’d walked the golf course quite a bit. Aside from the views, I’d never been extremely impressed — you may recall the bashing Liberty received in 2009 and Tiger Woods’ famed quote that Tom Kite had designed the course *before* his eye surgery. However, after the harsh feedback from the pros, Liberty received a facelift in time for the 2013 edition of The Barclays. In turn, the golfers were much kinder critics — or they were told by the Commissioner to keep their mouths shut.

View from no. 18 tee

View from 18 tee

So, what were my takeaways from Liberty National? Well, it’s certainly a picturesque track and you can rave about the spectacular scenery all day long, but I wasn’t the *biggest* fan of the course. There were definitely stretches of holes that were enjoyable and fun, like from nos. 1-6, but nos. 7-13 were quite unmemorable. Coming in from the signature no. 14 was a solid run of closing holes. But, personally, I enjoy Bayonne a bit more because I think that course is perhaps tougher, but more fair, and it has an identity, even if it’s “contrived.”

View of 14 green

View of 14 green

The most challenging part of Liberty National was definitely around the greens, which I found a little bit goofy at times (and they’ve been redone since the course initially opened) — there were a lot of double- or triple-breakers. It was also tough to hold the greens. You had to have the exact yardage to reach the slightly raised greens, otherwise your ball would easily roll off the front or off the back into a collection area or a bunker.

Random vista from the course

Random vista from the course

Overall, it was a fun experience and wonderful day — mostly because of the lovely company. Oh, considering my numerous injuries and the number of painkillers I was taking, I didn’t play so badly. I even won the long drive contest on no. 8, which was my second hole of the day, so at that point, I was still able to give it a big whack.

Teeing off (x) hole...

Teeing off (x) hole…

What is ment’or, anyway? It’s a leading nonprofit organization devoted to inspiring culinary excellence in young professionals and preserving the tradition and quality of cuisine in America. Their programs and services include:

  • Offering Grants as continuing educational opportunities for culinary professionals looking to expand their training and skill set
  • Identifying and promoting young chefs through the “Young Chef Competition Series”
  • Selecting and training the most promising young chefs to represent the Bocuse d’Or Team USA at the world’s most prestigious culinary competition

Thomas Kessler

At the end of the day, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Chef Thomas Keller. Here’s our Q&A:

How’d you get into golf?

I don’t really know, it just seemed like the thing to do. We started playing about 15 years ago. There was a small course in Napa called Chimney Rock — it was a nine-hole course. My chef and I used to go play early in the morning before work. I think it was a way for us to kind of have a meeting and being able to decompress — walk around a beautiful nine-hole golf course, chase a white ball around and chat about different things.

I found it very relaxing, actually. A lot of people I know take it very seriously, but I don’t try to take it to seriously. I try to enjoy just the walk around the park and chasing the white ball. I much prefer courses you can walk on.

What’s your favorite golf course?

Pebble Beach — it’s got history, it’s got tradition, it’s a beautiful walking course, it’s in a beautiful part of the world. Either Pebble or Cypress Point, but most people can’t get on Cypress, so you can’t really say Cypress, otherwise you feel like a snob. [Ed. note: For the record, if you can get on Cypress, I’d still say Cypress!]

I think Pebble is my favorite because of the history. That’s one of the reasons you love golf because of the history, right?

Oakmont is another one of my favorites, but I don’t get to play it that often. Again, I like it because of the history, tradition, and also the people — the people that I play with.

When I tell people they go out to dinner, especially if you’re going to Per Se, the most important choice you can make is the people you’re going with, and I think that’s the same thing with golf. Because you only have chit chat for maybe half an hour or an hour, otherwise if you’re not talking to somebody it’s just a miserable day — or a miserable meal.

You to get know people, you get to make new friends. Everybody in golf is so nice and so kind.

What do you think the overlap is between golf and food?

I think that you ask about golf and food — food just touches everybody, no matter what profession you’re in or no matter what you do. There are people who really enjoy food and then there are people who just eat food because they’re hungry. We much prefer the people who really like food.

The Open is at Silverado this year. We already have Luke Donald coming. We have Davis Love III coming. There are three golfers coming to the restaurant. Luke’s wife is a big foodie. We’re already starting to get lots of reservations.

What’s your favorite 19th hole cocktail?

Aperol spritz. Especially after you’re coming off after a round of golf. Either that, or a really, really, really cold Stella (Artois).

What’s a good 19th hole food?

There’s two restaurants I love on golf courses — that’s the Grill at Pebble and the restaurant at Oakmont. Those are just perfect golf course restaurants. You’re sitting in one of those two restaurants, what are you going to eat? A great salad, steak and great glass of red wine — that’s what you’re going to eat. Hamburger works well, too. Piece of fish, some lobster maybe, shrimp cocktail is also good. So is a caesar salad. There are so many options.

The thing I love about the Pebble Beach and Oakmont restaurants is their classic interpretation of food. They are old school.

You get to putt off the terrace at Oakmont. You have a couple of cocktails and then you putt off the terrace.

Is there a food you enjoy eating on the golf course?

You know, every time I eat something on the golf course for the next two holes, I just play miserably, so I try not to eat. I’ll have a banana, apple, maybe some almonds. I try to eat before — this morning, I had my three scrambled eggs with sautéed arugula and cup of coffee and my protein shake with banana, so that’s sort of my pre-round breakfast.  

What are some of your favorite foods to prepare?

One of the things I enjoy eating and cooking a lot is roast chicken. When you think about roast chicken, it crosses all economic boundaries, so if you’re rich, if you’re poor, if you’re middle class and it crosses all cultural boundaries, everyone around the world eats roasted chicken, so it’s one of those things that’s very universal. Roast chicken is really nice because there are lot of different textures and lot of different flavors — it’s a beautiful thing when it’s done well.

What did you enjoy the most about your day at Liberty National?

I think the people were the best thing about today. It’s a day on the golf course — I think that pretty much sums it up. You capture these scenes of the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center and then you’re in this area, where you feel like you’re in the country somewhere. They have a couple of different environments and the golf course was very nice.