I’m pleased to count among my friends the executive chefs of Kings Creek Country Club and Peninsula Golf & Country Club – both experienced guys with a multitude of tricks up their respective sleeves. Last June at Meals on Wheels Lewes-Rehoboth’s Top Chef of the Culinary Coast event I met Robert Iannaccone, the recently acquired executive chef at the venerable Rehoboth Beach Country Club. I learned two things that should be mutually exclusive, but in this case are not: First, Robert is armed with his own arsenal of culinary techniques and tricks of the trade. And second, he is barely out of his ‘20s! Along with his talented staff, he is working hard to lift the cuisine at RBCC to new (and delicious) heights.
Needless to say, Rob started early. As a first generation Italian, he grew up in the strong food culture of a traditional Italian family. That included the obligatory 2-3 hour Sunday suppers with a three-year-old Rob managing the pasta machine. See? I told you he started early. At the tender age of 16 Rob landed his first job bussing tables at a Bob Evans. He remembers thinking to himself over and over, “I’d rather cook than do this!” So it was no surprise that by 17 he was the lead trainer on the line (the long counter in a professional kitchen where cooks prepare the different elements of a finished dish). “It teaches you how to move,” Iannaccone laughs.
At 19 he was working as a pantry prep cook at Brookside Country Club near Allentown, Pa. and decided to jump-start the process by attending culinary school. The culinary arts program at his alma mater, Northhampton Community College, is highly regarded not only for the intensive curriculum but also for its student-run fine-dining restaurant, Hampton Winds. After graduation, his exceptional skills landed him the sous chef position at Brookside. In that year he won first place in the Pennsylvania Pork Producers’ Taste of Elegance competition and, as the only sous chef competing against executive chefs, won fourth place in the national competition. Robert further made a name for himself teaching community education in the culinary arts and presenting cooking demonstrations for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. It wasn’t long before he stepped into the coveted executive chef position at the country club where he had started in the pantry.
Iannaccone is proud of his title of Certified Executive Chef. The accreditation is bestowed by the American Culinary Federation after a battery of grueling tests, both written and practical, covering management, nutrition, sanitation and the preparation of a wide variety of dishes from French to Moroccan and everything in between. It was then that he became aware of the national search being conducted by the iconic Rehoboth Beach Country Club. A new venue with new challenges – at the beach, yet – was just what he needed. And on Valentine’s Day of this year he was accepted by the 12-person search committee as the new executive chef of RBCC. By the time he and his wife moved here and he became familiar with the huge kitchen by the bay, he hit the ground running for one of the busiest seasons the country club has seen in a long time. He is presently studying for his official recognition as a Certified Culinary Administrator.
Rob sums it up best: “Many of our members see us as their ‘home away from home.’ So we try to stay sensitive to their favorite dishes while still keeping things fresh with themes and specials. Country clubs are beginning to define their culinary identities and are embracing their chefs as professionals who can draw members into the clubs. I want to be a part of that.”