Former Murray’s Chef Brings Talent to PGA Tour-owned Club
John Van House combines his experience as a banquet chef at Grand Casino Hinckley with talents perfected at Murray’s Restaurant, bringing both to his executive chef position at TPC-Twin Cities.
John Van House didn’t know it when he first applied for a cook position at the PGA Tour-owned Tournament Players Club-Twin Cities more than 12 years ago that one day he’d be its executive chef.
In fact, when the then Le Cordon Bleu culinary student sent in his application, he didn’t hear a thing back. Fast forward to 2014. Van House is closing in on nine years as the executive chef of the venerable Murray’s Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis and his sous chef tells him Peter Metzger, chef at the private Blaine golf club, is leaving.
“I wasn’t looking really to move on … but Mr. [Tim] Murry said it would be stupid to not take the job,” says Van House, thinking back on his decision to part ways with the restaurant that had been like a second home since 2005 to be closer to his actual home just a few miles away from the club.
“Mr. Murray and I knew I’d never be a general manager with him, never be an owner. As executive chef, I was at the top of the heap. There were no growth opportunities.”
On Chef Van House’s TPC-Twin Cities menu: chicken wild rice soup and a harvest salad.
Now, just past his one-year anniversary at TPC Twin Cities, Van House has impressed his style upon both the menu and club membership. For the 36-year old chef that means his personality is front and center, as members want face time to give feedback and feel connected.
“We’re in the age of chefs right now,” says Van House. “I want them to go to any other place in town and say, ‘my chef is the best.’”
Van House isn’t “so egotistical that I want to put my name on everything,” but he did aim to make a little splash with a menu reflective of his knowledge of international cuisine, satisfying members’ tastes for everything from the Asian-inspired to classic French.
Keenly aware that members drive revenue, Van House was careful to protect items considered sacred, such as the burger, while intriguing them with new offerings, including a cheese plate with selections of imported Roquefort, goat brie, and Sottocenere al tartufo, a truffle-infused Italian cheese aged in an ash rind of nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, licorice, cloves and fennel.
“I aim to be very open with what I’m doing and the members eat it up,” says Van House, adding he’s fortunate they’re open to trying new things, which isn’t always the case for club chefs dealing with a set clientele set in their ways. “It’s important to have the backing of my membership.”
Van House, pictured here at a Performance Foodservice show last year, is also a consulting executive chef for the distributor’s Roma brands.
In addition to its main a la carte dining room and banquet space, the course’s beverage cars and Midway Grill fall under Van House’s supervision. His kitchen will even take special made-to-order requests and drive food out to the course. Van House also makes a point to feature health conscious dishes and, thanks to the private membership nature of the club, he and his staff of five cooks, sous chef and an intern are adept at catering to dietary needs.
“From the outset I try to structure my menus so there are those types of items readily available,” he says.
The TPC network also affords Van House the chance to travel and cook during PGA tournaments hosted at member clubs. He recently returned from The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Verda Beach, Florida, and when TPC Twin Cities hosted the 3M Championship last year, Van House found himself cooking for pro golf greats Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
Opportunities exist outside of restaurant kitchens, points out Van House, and he wants young cooks and culinary students to consider those options when applying for jobs. The pool of qualified cooks is “really dry right now,” he says, with those coming out of culinary school unprepared for the realities of the kitchen.
“They come out expecting to be the chef and they haven’t cut their teeth.”
Even after more than 15 years working in kitchens, Van House knows there are still things he can learn. As he continues with this next phase of his career, Van House aims to soak up and share as much knowledge as possible.