June 29, 2012: The derecho hits Potomac and Bethesda, causing devastation and cancellations. Trees are down, high temperatures with even higher humidity prevail, and there is no power for a week resulting in refrigeration issues and camp-outs in basements. But Bethesda Country Club's Annual Fireworks Extravaganza – dinner for more than 1000 people — was set to go on as scheduled. How could that be possible?
Executive Chef Mayo laughingly describes how he and his staff prepared the bar-b-que for the crowd of hungry families. "We stayed calm and cooked everything on three grills," he said. "It wasn't easy but we got the job done and all the members and guests had plenty of food to eat. We had to work around the fact we also had no refrigeration for a week. Once darkness set in, we really had a challenge. There were no outside lights and still we continued to cook and serve. Head-lamps became a must-have item."
Mayo arrived at Bethesda Country Club in July 2011. The Woodbridge, Va. native had begun his cooking career at the Silver Diner there, then moved in 1992 to the Ritz Carlton, Tyson's Corner where he stayed for nine years.
"I had never seen some of the ingredients before — or the presentations. I began studying cuisines and learning how to create banquet, buffets, salad station, grills, specials and more — everything — because I had a passion for cooking, for learning and improving."
He then received a call from the Ritz Carlton, Palm Beach where he worked with the catering manager preparing banquets. After a short time, he was inducted into the management training program where he learned about the Ritz culture, leadership skills and customer relations. "I fell in love with banquet management — I loved the challenge of preparing attractive meals for a large crowd — could be 90 or 900 — but I wanted everything we served to have a ‘Wow! factor.’ I became the lead banquet chef, and for the last two years of my tenure, we were chosen as the number one banquet facility in all of the Ritz Carltons. It was a challenge, but I was excited about it."
Mayo came to BCC at the behest of General Manager Brad Cance who had worked with Mayo at the Palm Beach Ritz. "Brad really believes in the culinary arts and in giving me the tools to work with. We have renovated the kitchen and I have been able to put my own stamp on the organization of the kitchen, the service and the menus. I'm excited that we receive a lot of positive comments from our members and guests. We do about $1.3 million in banquet revenue each year. With each one, I am striving to be better than the last one. We hold weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, anniversary and birthday parties, corporate parties — not to mention our regular restaurant business. I oversee five restaurants here on our premises — our pub, adult grill, family grill, cafe and pool cantina."
Mayo says he has changed the BCC cuisine by making it more creative and building plates out of foods that complement one another. "You definitely eat with your eyes, and when a dinner is served to you, it should look pleasing and taste as good as it looks." He explained that meals have changed in the years that he has been working as a chef. "People want lighter and healthier menu items, fewer starches, smaller portions and lighter sauces. Many people follow special diets and I have to be cognitive of that, also."
He must also be a recycling expert so as to not throw away unused food. "You have to have a lot of plans for making interchangeable foods. It's very important in this business," he said.
He is always researching, reading cooking magazines as well as the internet, checking menus from other restaurants and other chefs and staying abreast of the latest trends in the culinary world: "I love my job and I want the creativity to go on forever. Making my guests happy with their meals is the most important thing in the world to me.”