The Club at New Seabury
Interview with Matt Ward
Executive Chef Mark Porcaro has raised the bar in the area of casual and fine cuisine since arriving at The Club at New Seabury in October 2017 where he oversees five venues, including New Seabury’s newest 95 Shore, an upscale casual and award-winning restaurant and bar; The Lure Raw Bar, a prized Cape Cod setting with a beach bar and restaurant, The historic Popponesset Inn, just yards away from the coast line with sweeping views of Nantucket Sound and Martha’s Vineyard, Athletic Club and the Sand Wedge Bistro.
Porcaro, a creative force with well-balanced culinary dishes stemming from his 27+ years of culinary experience largely from four and five star venues, has traveled the world and visited many big cities to gain exposure of new restaurant concepts and designs.
He has earned numerous honors as the Executive Chef at the Top of the Hub Restaurant in Boston for 14 years with the Distinguished Restaurants of North America Award of Excellence, the Best Dish award two years running (2015, 2016) at the popular annual summer event Chefs in Shorts, the Artistic Creativity Award from the Art Institute of Boston’s Edible Art Competition, and first place at the Taste of Elegance cooking event sponsored by America’s Pork Producers.
THE POCARO STORY —
A number of experiences have shaped my career and different aspects provided me perspective to manage my present day role in overseeing our Club’s five dining venues. Right out of school, I was employed at the Royal Sonesta, Cambridge, MA, in the late 80’s and worked every outlet in the hotel, from banquet to casual and fine dining. I also helped them open a hotel in Sanibel Island, FL. What started as an externship resulted in a well-rounded four years and gave me a broad glimpse of culinary.
As for my creative experiences, I spent close to three years in Hawaii at the luxurious, Manele Bay Hotel in Lanai City and The Lodge at Koele and was inspired in how seafood was prepared and the array of fresh ingredients. It has influenced how I prepare and design new dishes today. In terms of management, I would say my time as a corporate chef broadened my scope of responsibilities.
You learn a lot when you’re overseeing 10 restaurants, working with different people in different states from Chicago to California to New Jersey. It required teamwork in our planning, menu designs, new kitchen designs and productivity. If you combine these experiences you realize you have the tools so on any given weekend at the height of our busy season, we can have as many as four weddings combined with full houses in our other restaurants or member events and we’ll serve upwards of 1,500 or more people. Each and every plate has to be just right.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
Every morning I renew my commitment to goals, whether it’s a special event, a theme I may be introducing or a special product a vendor turned me on to — it may be fresh calamari or black cod or a special or different produce item or seasonal offerings. I am challenged every day and afforded new opportunities.
The most misunderstood aspect many people have regarding food preparation is what?
Many people don’t realize what goes into food prep. It encompasses a vast range of methods, tools, skill level and time management especially when we’re talking about a certain level of guests. It takes dedication and a creative thought process. It’s really remarkable when you think about the finished product and how it got here — from our vendors to the back door to the plate.
When you step into a restaurant as a consumer – what’s the first thing you notice?
Attentiveness, recognition, delight and atmosphere.
Golf courses — of all types but mainly on the private side — have only recently been upgrading their food and beverage options. When you came on board with CC of New Seabury what key first steps did you take?
The first steps I took were to see how the operation ran as a whole unit on day to day operations, then I looked at the big picture. I slowly incorporated my style, with many food service outlets, taking it day by day and keeping chaos under control, slowly working and training my staff front of the house and back of the house to show them this is the new way to approach our day to day operations. I engaged with members to better understand their perspective, what was important to them and wanted to know what had been missing or neglected in the past.
Customer feedback is a crucial element. What role does it play in your activities?
Customer feedback is very crucial in what we do, especially because we have a lot of repeat diners so it’s important to mix up our offerings and change the menu. We want to ensure they have a good experience so their feedback gives me a feel for what they are seeking and propels me to be forward thinking with our menus and specials.
There’s been a major push for better food choices that dovetail with nutritious outcomes. What steps are you taking on this front?
The new definition of health food is real food, locally sourced, produce and seafood. On my menu I’ve added a special “simply prepared” section for members, to determine what they would prefer, simply cooked with olive oil and fresh lemon, with a variety of proteins and vegetables to choose from and they’ve responded favorably.
The biggest mistake many people make when eating out is what?
They aren’t adventurous enough. I recommend and encourage our diners to try new items outside of the box, expand their palate, and even explore numerous dishes in a shared format so as to try multiple bites. We want to provide a memorable experience as much as a delicious meal.
How challenging is it in today’s economic climate to find the right staff for your efforts?
It’s a tight labor market and there are a lot of restaurants vying for the same employees, even more so with the high number of new restaurants entering the scene. We are focused on retaining staff and offer better training so they are constantly evolving, learning new things and we’re keeping it interesting for them.
What’s the biggest challenges you face in your current position — short and long term?
My challenge is to provide culinary diversity and to keep members interested. With a majority of repeat diners, we have to keep evolving, stay relevant, identify trends and remain flexible so we can always offer a better selection of items.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
Cook from the heart, treat others as you would want to be treated and be confident. I’ve been afforded some great opportunities and apply these relevant pieces of advice every day.