Crystal Mountain’s new executive chef adapts to any situation
April 27, 2020
THOMPSONVILLE, Mich. – Starting a new job can be nerve-racking. Starting a new job during a global health pandemic is downright unheard of.
But that’s the type of thing to expect from Crystal Mountain’s new Executive Chef Jack Wenz – an adventurer who can adapt and flourish in any situation.
Wenz was recently hired to manage the culinary operations of the four-season ski, golf, spa, conference center and wedding resort. He started in April, about three weeks after the resort closed under the statewide mandate to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
He hasn’t met the entire staff and hasn’t cooked a meal there. He’s only been in the kitchen a couple of times, and one of those was during his interview.
“It’s perfect timing and it’s terrible timing,” he said with a laugh, adding that starting at the closed resort offers a chance to use the downtime to focus on the re-opening with a fresh, focused outlook.
As executive chef, Wenz said he’ll use the time to look at the existing menus of the resort, how the resort presents itself in those menus and the food served and see how it can be refined.
The resort has several restaurants, serving guests year-round – Thistle Pub & Grille, The Wild Tomato, Betsie River Pizza and Subs and The Clipper Café, which is only open in winter.
But menus are also needed for conference and banquet guests, as well as for wedding parties and other special events.
“The biggest part of being a chef is adaptability and being able to make the best out of any situation,” Wenz said.
Wenz’s goals include creative menu offerings based on the highest quality standards, blended with local indigenous products and local growers, focused on creating a positive environment where culinary staff feels empowered.
Sheraton/Starwood Corp. helped him with his training for 13 years, where he studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He’s worked in hotels, private clubs and resort hotels. He’s even been a chef on doing campfire cooking for horseback riding groups in Montana.
Among other places he's cooked: an Alaskan fishing camp, a NASCAR racetrack, a performing arts center, a Florida yacht club, and Mountain Winery, Paul Masson’s original vineyard and the first registered vineyard in California.
He’s also cooked for two sitting Presidents – George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“My dad was a baker, so I grew up sleeping overnight at his office in the bakery. I guess you could say being in a commercial kitchen has always been very natural to me,” Wenz, 55, said.
But he always wanted to travel.
So combine that love of cooking, the need to be in a kitchen and travel and you get Chef Jack – on horseback, at a campfire, or using a variety of spices in a kitchen in Casablanca, Morocco.
“I don’t really have a ‘style’ of cooking. I’ve been around so many places and I’ve been exposed to a lot of cuisines. So I love to indulge in the regional cuisine,” he said. “So many places, and lots of stories, so you pick up a little bit from every place you go.”
He’s still trying to figure out what “local” cuisine Crystal Mountain and Benzie County is known for. Most recently he worked on the Leelanau Peninsula where vineyards and small farms are abundant. He likes working with local farmers and using fresh, local products.
He may even start a resort garden of his own at Crystal Mountain and harvest fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs for the menu.
The chef’s first order of business at Crystal Mountain was designing a Mother’s Day brunch menu. He wanted to do something that could be prepared in fine dining style that would be easy for guests to keep overnight and re-heat and serve for Moms. (It will come with all the directions for re-heating.) He also wanted a seasonal meal that reflected some of the great vegetables on hand this season.
Here’s the menu:
- Fresh spring salad, organic spinach and arugula tossed with dried cherries, fresh blueberries, toasted pine nuts and crumbled feta cheese. Served with a Michigan cherry vinaigrette.
- Ciabatta bread with basil pesto butter.
- Sleeping Bear honey glazed pork tenderloin, stone ground mustard.
- Slow roasted natural turkey breast marinated in fresh herbs, served with roasted turkey pan sauce.
- Vegetable quiche with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted kale, Gruyere cheese, fresh basil and oregano.
- Mushroom and asparagus risotto.
- Grilled vegetable display with fire roasted Portobello mushroom, eggplant, yellow squash, sweet red peppers and carrots finished with olive oil, Parmesan cheese and balsamic glaze.
- Chocolate bread pudding with a Grand Marnier anglaise.
Mother’s Day Brunch To Go is for four people for $95. Orders should be placed online by May 5.
We don’t know when the resort restaurants will open full-time, so Wenz is trying to get to know his team and the team at Crystal Mountain and the facilities from afar – and stay healthy and safe like everyone else.
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Established in 1956, Crystal Mountain is a family-owned, four-season resort destination located 28 miles southwest of Traverse City and a short drive from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The resort features lodging, dining, downhill and cross-country skiing, two championship golf courses, shopping, award-winning Crystal Spa, Michigan’s only alpine slide, the Park at Water’s Edge, Michigan Legacy Art Park, weddings and a conference center.
Crystal Mountain Media Contact:
Sammie Lukaskiewicz, Director of Public Relations