The annual Masters Club Dinner generates huge interest every year at Augusta National, but which champions have impressed the most with their menus? Who better to decide than world-famous chef Michel Roux Jnr.
Many culinary enthusiasts around the globe eagerly await the publication of the menu ahead of the Tuesday evening gathering of all surviving Masters champions, a popular tradition started by Ben Hogan ahead of the 1952 contest.
Some have opted for classic fine-dining that you would expect to find at a Michelin-starred establishment, while others have stayed true to their roots and their heritage and kept it simple, with Tiger Woods offering up cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes following his breakthrough victory aged 21.
I met with Chef Michel at his Le Gavroche restaurant in London early last year, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold and rendered the promotion of fine dining in ultra-exclusive surroundings at Augusta National unthinkable.
“I love this tradition, it clearly makes the Masters that little more special and the week is steeped in tradition,” said Roux, who clearly revelled in being educated on the history of Hogan’s idea for a pre-Masters dinner for those wearing Green Jackets only.
“The way it started, back in 1952, would have been quite revolutionary at that time, particularly for a sporting event. It’s fantastic that this tradition has stood the test of time, and great that there is so much interest in it every year.”
Being a two-star Michelin chef, Roux was immediately drawn to the “posh” dishes, with Phil Mickelson’s lobster ravioli a particular stand-out, while he also noted that “Mac and cheese is clearly a very popular dish”.
“Lobster ravioli is probably the poshest dish to be served, so that’s the one that jumps out to me. It’s more high-end restaurant-style. Then there’s Olazabal’s paella and hake, wow – I’d love to sit down and have that. And Adam Scott’s choice – I really love Moreton Bay bugs, very nice.”
But Roux was just as impressed with the simplicity of a number of champion’s choices, with Sir Nick Faldo’s three selections scoring highly in the comfort grub stakes, and there was little surprise that Sandy Lyle serving up Haggis, ‘neeps and tatties in 1989 caused a little consternation around the clubhouse dining table.
“I love the fact that Nick Faldo, like many others, stuck to his roots and served up some proper English favourites. To serve up tomato soup at an occasion like this, you wouldn’t see that very often! And a fish and chip supper with Harry Ramsden mushy peas, and the cod being flown over from Grimsby, what’s not to like about that?
“It shows personality, and I’m sure when this tradition first started that getting an insight into champions’ personalities was one of the driving ideas. To get your character across to the others around the table and say: ‘Look guys, this is what I like to have at home, here’s a bit of me to you. And, whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to eat it!’
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“The nice thing is every man who gets to choose the menu has earned the right to do so. You’ve won the Masters, got your Green Jacket, and it’s nice to see a lot of these guys going with specialities from their country, and the regional favourites from around the United States.”
What the list of menus from the last 30 years also proved was that, despite the added emphasis on fitness among the top professionals in modern times, there was a distinct lack of food you would consider to be healthy, lean and packed full of protein.
“It’s interesting, looking at the menu choices down the years, that there’s not many proper healthy choices,” added Roux. “There’s a bit of sushi, and Bubba Watson with his Caesar salad and grilled chicken.
“We maybe don’t automatically think of golf as an athletic sport because you do see a variety of physiques, but I know the top guys spend a lot more time in the gym these days. There is still a variety in shapes of bodies, but someone like Rory McIlroy is clearly super fit, not just physically but mentally as well.
“Diet obviously plays a big part in that, but these champions menus don’t really show the new emphasis on better eating. It’s kind of typical golfer’s food, all of it looks quite filling and most of the choices good fall into the comfort food category. When I think of what a menu in a golf clubhouse might feature, then a lot of this would include burgers and grills, a side order of chips and fairly traditional puddings.”
So, to the crunch. The top-five Masters champions menus, as chosen by one of the most famous chefs, and the winner may surprise you …
1: Danny Willett (2017) – Mini cottage pies, traditional Sunday roast prime rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding, vegetables and gravy. Apple crumble and custard. Yorkshire tea, English cheese and biscuits.
“I love this, mainly because it’s not just about Yorkshire, it’s proper British traditional food and he’s not been lured by international cuisine. This is Danny saying: ‘This is what I have on a Sunday at home, whether I’m in a pub or at home with my family’. He’s showcasing the best of British, and that has got to be my number one choice. Well done Danny – he’s clearly got the brief bang on.”
2: Phil Mickelson (2005) – Lobster ravioli in tomato cream sauce, salad, garlic bread
“Phil’s choice of lobster ravioli sounds fantastic. With a tomato cream sauce and garlic bread, that’s a really posh dish. It’s not exactly a Californian dish, obviously more Italian, but if I’m looking at what I would choose, then I’d go for a lobster ravioli quite often. And, as a caterer preparing meals for that number of people, it’s one of the easier ones to produce!”
3: Angel Cabrera (2010) – Argentinian BBQ, featuring Asado, chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets, mollejas (sweetbreads).
“Angel’s Argentinian barbeque is really good. I’ve never visited Argentina, but it’s on my bucket list and the food looks very appetising. I love chorizo, I love blood sausage, ribs and sweetbreads. I would very much enjoy this meal.”
4: Mike Weir (2004) – Elk, wild boar, Arctic char. (Fried chicken and filet mignon were alternatives for the less adventurous!) And a selection of Canadian beer.
“What a superb Canadian feast served up by Mike Weir. Elk, wild boar and Arctic char is a delicious combination, but he should have banned the option of the fried chicken and stuck to his guns! What a great choice from a player clearly proud of his roots and his heritage.”
5: Vijay Singh (2001) – Thai-themed feast, with Chicken Panang curry, Tom Kah, scallops with garlic sauce, Chilean sea bass with chili, and rack of lamb with yellow kari sauce. Lychee sorbet
“I’ve got to go with Vijay’s selection, because I love Thai food. A chicken panang curry is properly good, and I would not have held back on the chilli. I would have told the chef to make it 100 per cent authentic, and if they were running to the loo the next day, too bad!”
If a Frenchman were to win the Masters and ask for Chef Michel’s input in choosing a menu the following year, he would jump at the chance. I would have to be “very French”, no matter what the feedback from the legends around the table.
“I’d love to get the call and prepare a menu for the champions dinner. It would have to be so French, and if it turns a few stomachs, then tough! I’d go full-on with snails, frogs legs and loads of garlic … and no alternatives!”
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