New LPN Executive Chef On the Job
By Susan Thompson
A native Iowan who has worked extensively since the mid-1990s in kitchens in Minnesota and Arizona now is in the Lake Panorama National kitchen. Brent Gaffney, who was born in Independence, Iowa, started February 5 as LPN’s executive chef.
When he was five years old, Gaffney’s family moved from Iowa to Tucson, Arizona. They later moved to Brainerd, Minnesota, where he graduated from high school.
At the age of 17, Gaffney started his kitchen career as a dishwasher in the Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, Minnesota. Two years later, he was the sous chef. At the age of 20, he was promoted to executive sous chef.
With that experience under his belt, Gaffney decided to get some formal training. He earned a degree in culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis in 2002. Over the next 10 years, he worked in several restaurants in Minnesota, including two fine dining steakhouses.
In 2013, he, along with his wife and daughter, moved back to Tucson when he was hired as the sous chef at Bodega Kitchen + Wine. Within two months, he was promoted to executive chef.
Most recently, Gaffney was working at the Stone Canyon Golf Club, a private club owned by golfer Phil Mickelson and his investment group. There he managed all banquets and line operations, helped develop a new menu, and implemented a kitchen call ticket system. He resigned from Stone Canyon in January to become LPN’s executive chef.
Gaffney and his wife Dorothy were high school sweethearts, and married in 2000. She was raised in the Brainerd area, and has family there. Gaffney also has family in Brainerd, as well as Independence, so this move brings them both closer to family.
Dorothy has a career in retail, most recently with Macy’s. The couple’s 11-year-old daughter Ella is active in Girl Scouts, Odyssey of the Mind, and theatrical productions.
Gaffney says he had been looking for an opportunity to return to the Midwest. “It’s been a long time since I lived in Iowa, but it’s familiar and comfortable,” he says. “Since Dorothy and I got married, we’ve always lived in bigger cities. We’re excited about the opportunity to live in a smaller community again.”
Dorothy and Ella will be in Iowa for a few days in March to attend a family wedding in Independence, and explore the Lake Panorama area. Gaffney says they will look at rental housing, in hopes of having a place for the three of them to settle into once Ella’s school year ends. In the meantime, Gaffney is staying in a Clover Ridge unit near the conference center.
The chance to be part of another golf club, rather than a restaurant, appealed to Gaffney. “There is a lot more going on in a place like the LPN,” he says. “Things aren’t so standardized and you’re not doing the same thing every day.”
Lake Panorama also was a draw. “Having so many outdoor recreation opportunities here with the lake, golf courses, fishing—I’m looking forward to doing lots of exploring in the coming weeks,” Gaffney says.
Because of the distance between Arizona and Iowa, John Rutledge, LPN director of operations, and Royce Shaffer, LPN operations manager, interviewed Gaffney by phone.
“Brent’s qualifications got me excited when we started looking at applicants. He has an impressive resume, outstanding references and wanted to return to the Midwest,” Shaffer says. “Brent was easy to talk to in our interviews and it was clear he would be a great addition to our team. I’m excited to have him on our staff.”
Rutledge says he also was impressed with Gaffney both during the phone interview, and after he accepted LPN’s job offer.
“I’m pleased with the teamwork that already has developed between Brent, Royce, and Matt Mikkelsen, LPN’s restaurant and special events manager,” Rutledge says. “We started regular conference calls with Brent while he was still in Arizona. He not only knows his way around the kitchen, but also is experienced with the numbers. Both are essential to LPN’s success, and make Brent a good fit for our organization.”
Gaffney’s first few days on the job were spent pulling together a special Valentine’s Day menu, that was offered February 14 and 15. “I’m trying several different things, from appetizers to entrees to desserts. This way I can gauge what guests like, and what should work well in the future,” he says. The Links menu will change slowly as Gaffney gets feedback over the coming weeks.
“I like to cook all sorts of things,” he says. “I’m a ‘meat and potatoes’ person, while using fresh, whole foods. I like to roast and smoke meats. I also like to do pickling and canning. I love to bake bread, and hope to eventually bake all breads served in the evenings. But at the same time, I can do a mean stir fry or sushi. There isn’t much I haven’t dabbled in.”
Gaffney is in the process of making connections so more food products can be purchased fresh, rather than frozen or canned. For instance, the pork and beef for Valentine’s Day entrees were sourced locally.
“When spring comes, I want to find a space close to the kitchen for a small herb garden,” Gaffney says. “I’d also like to get a vegetable garden going, and be able to offer specials based on what’s available. My emphasis is always going to be on more fresh foods, less processed foods.”
Mikkelsen and Gaffney will work together on all special events, especially weddings. “I’ve baked dozens of wedding cakes, serving from 25 up to 500 people,” Gaffney says. “I hope to have a chance to provide more wedding cakes here. I also like to do ice sculptures using a chain saw and other tools, and look forward to offering those at special events.”
The LPN staff will exhibit at a wedding show in Des Moines in March, which Gaffney hopes will introduce more people to the LPN. “Weddings aren’t just for those getting married that day,” he says. “Weddings also are opportunities to impress people in attendance, which can lead to future business.”
Gaffney knows the LPN’s busiest season is just a few weeks away, and he’s looking forward to diving in. “There are easier ways to make a living than working in a kitchen, but this is my passion,” he says. “I’ve only had two other jobs – one was selling cars, one was selling produce, and I hated both. I’m just comfortable in a kitchen.”