By Chef Ray Whitlock
We recently had the chance to catch up with Ray Whitlock, executive chef at The Georgia Club, an upscale, master planned golf community, just minutes away from the University of Georgia and a short drive to Atlanta. When we caught up with Chef Whitlock, he had just finished preparing the club’s weekly Sunday brunch buffet.
Two years ago, Chef Whitlock found his way to The Georgia Club via Nashville, where his creativity, eclectic training and unique personality made him one of the highest profile executive chefs in the Music City. During our time with Chef Whitlock, he discussed why he loves working at The Georgia Club, cooking with his family and preparing meals for music and movie icons such as Jimmy Page, Kenny Rogers, Steve Martin and Ed Burns.
Q: When and why did you choose a career as a chef?
A: I am one of the lucky ones. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to cook. I always enjoyed cooking with my parents when I was a kid and I can remember waking up on the weekends and my dad teaching me how to make pancakes. I loved getting up early and making a mess in the kitchen. I would try to put chocolate powder and bananas in my pancakes. Really anything to be creative.
Q: You opened up some of the hottest restaurants in Nashville (Virago, Whisky Kitchen, The Rosewall and Tavern Midtown) and had the opportunity to revamp the menu and catering at the Country Music Hall of Fame. How did you end up in the Music City?
A: Nashville is a small, big town and the people are fantastic. When I moved there in 1999, the restaurant scene was not super happening. There were just a couple good restaurants. The chef that was mentoring me at the time and the owner of a restaurant I worked for previously decided to open up a place in Nashville, and that’s why I moved there.
Q: You’ve cooked for some of the most recognizable movie and music stars in the world. What’s that like?
A: While in Nashville I crossed paths with numerous musicians and movie stars, including Steve Martin, Ed Burns, Miley Cyrus, Jack White, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Liam Hemsworth. I’ve also had the chance to prepare a private dinner for Kelly Clarkson. One Sunday night while I was working at Saphire, Jimmy Page and Allison Krauss came in for dinner, and they were the only two in the restaurant. That was really cool. At the Country Music Hall of Fame there were so many inductions—really all the greats in country music—Kenny Rogers, Keith Urban, Garth Brooks, Loretta Lynn, Big & Rich…the list goes on and on.
One of the great things about Nashville is that there aren’t paparazzi, so you can get to know these folks in a stress free environment. They just want to come into the restaurant, relax and eat a great meal.
Q: Why did you decide to come to The Georgia Club and what do you like most about the atmosphere?
A: What brought us down to The Georgia Club was quality of life. Previously, I was working 110 to 120 hours a week, which took away from the quality time I could spend with my wife and our two young boys. Once we came down here to visit, it became evident that this was a nice quiet area, with beautiful surroundings. The neighborhood is phenomenal and I love the club house and kitchen. But the magic started when I got to know our members. One of my favorite parts about the atmosphere is how our menu is determined by our homeowners. We take their requests into account when creating the menu and I use my skills to deliver what they want.
Q: What are some new ideas you’ve implemented at The Georgia Club?
A: We’re doing some fun things at the club. We’ve recently held prime rib night, trivia night and lucky Thursday. Last year we did a celebration of Julia Child. We played Julia Child movies, recreated her recipes and brought in a guest chef. Another fun event we just did is a pep rally before a University of Georgia football game. We had 550 Georgia Club members and friends join us for grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. During the rally, we also had the marching band and the majorettes here. Another thing I really love is our wine dinners where we focus on wines from different regions.
Ray Whitlock is the executive chef of The Georgia Club in Statham, Ga. A native of Springfield, Il., Whitlock has been mentored by and collaborated with some of the top restaurateurs and executive chefs in the country, including Robbie Wilson, Scott Alderson and Kevin Boehm.