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Talented. Has a vision. Humble. Pays it forward. These are all descriptions of an incredible young man and the Head Chef of the Lake Geneva Hunt Club: Ryne Harwick.
It is amazing what I learn when I research for a book or travel story! I am wrapping up a book on Midwest Road Trips and now am focusing on Farm-to-Fork Favorites, a book that talks about Midwest gems that aim to source as much meat and produce as they can locally. That symbiotic relationship helps the local community keep approximately 70% of the profits in the area as it builds relationships. While chatting with the Visit Lake Geneva goddess, I learned of The Hunt Club and Chef Ryne.
I had to meet him.
Chef Ryne Harwick
Classically trained at a culinary school, Ryne searched for other chefs who had his final vision. He worked under them to learn more about the ideals he would build his future off of. Milwaukee. Chicago. Toulouse. He was willing to put the work in and learn as much as he could. Honestly? That is the way great chefs to learn: from their predecessors. The trick for many is to find the right ones to follow, and hope that they are willing to pay it forward, teaching the new generation of chefs the right way to do things.
Ryne takes joy in paying it forward. He isn’t always easy on his charges, his high standards are a must to be met, and they are always cleaning or doing simple tasks until they are merely muscle memory. It makes it easier to delegate to a staff that understands how each dish should look and taste exactly like the last, and how even the trash cans of a kitchen should sparkle.
He has incorporated those tough standards into this unique pandemic situation we find ourselves in; tables are distanced, the staff is masked up, and sanitation methods over the top by some measures. It is all about the customer experience and making sure that they feel comfortable when they are guests of the Lake Geneva Hunt Club. It is amazing how many readers send me either a private message or email about how a place may respond to the current epidemic. What most people don’t understand is that chefs go through sanitations certification coursework and learn stricter standards than current guidelines. If a kitchen is dirty or a chef sloppy, they are lazy. It will translate into all areas of their work and usually is the reason they jump from restaurant to restaurant.
One thing I have heard from many chefs is the fact that a supper club setting can’t locally source and be successful. Well, Ryne’s goal is to bring Wisconsin products to the table. He loves the microcosmic sourcing that the European communities model, making it a fun foodie destination. They know what they grow and harvest locally, and focus on those gems, and how to make them really shine on a plate. It’s working for him, and he proves them wrong.
Ryne proves them wrong. While he loves seeing things that are picked and served on the same day, he spent a lot of time looking at what Wisconsin does very well. He wanted to make his meals a “passion for his guests.”
Looking for high quality, locally sourced items, he visited farms to see their production and quality. He works together with his chosen partners to plan and harvest both produce and meat. A lot of the guesswork is taken out of what is to come into season as they pre-plan it all. There are no surprises when working with the farmers to co-ordinate their planing rotation. It’s quite brilliant. They harvest what they want to harvest and work on year-round produce. With the coming addition of greenhouses, they cement their source. It’s really quite brilliant.
With the seasonal variety, the Lake Geneva Hunt Club still has a menu that changes 4-6 times a year. The timing works for them as their communication with the farmers they partner with is excellent. His high standards make for his distinctive plate presentation. That attention to detail is something he drives home with the young chefs he mentors. Many of his tutelages have gone on to do great things on their own, and Ryne is happy to pay forward the mentorships he received with anyone willing to put the work in.
While many chefs like to cook what THEY want to see on a plate, the only thing I can disagree with is his passion for dark meats. As a chef myself, I know they are moister and fun to play with, but I am a light meat gal. Despite that, I still want to venture over for one of their monthly 5-Course wine dinners. He teased me with pictures of a prior menu of a melon/tomato salad, scallop ceviche, pheasant tostada, and I got as far as the coulotte of Ribeye before I was drooling too much to keep writing…
Seriously, how can you pass experience that up?
It pays to know where your food comes from and comforting to know that there are places like the Lake Geneva Hunt Club that make sure they serve not only the best that the local community has to offer, but take pride in helping those flavors shine to the best of their ability. Chef Ryne Harwick easily proves them wrong – local sourcing CAN be done in a fancy dinner club, and done well.