Hazeltine’s Latest Ace: Chef Aaron Anderson

Hazeltine National Golf Club’s new chef returns to Minnesota from Hawaii in time for the Ryder Cup.
Chef Aaron Anderson with his popular Southern-fried chicken on biscuits at the Hazeltine clubhouse.

Chef Aaron Anderson arrived in Minnesota after a three-year stint in Hawaii, and he’s bringing some Hawaiian ideas and ingredients into play with more traditional Minnesota offerings for a bright, fresh take on event food at Hazeltine National Golf Club.

If you’re wondering why a chef in Hawaii would end up running the kitchen at a golf club in Minnesota, there’s a good reason: Anderson lived here most of his life. Not only is he from Minnesota, but he grew up around golf courses. “I lived by a golf course growing up,” he says. “I started working at the club, collecting golf balls, then moved up to washing dishes in the kitchen. Being in the kitchen really clicked with me.”

Eventually he made his way from washing dishes to working on the food line, and from there he had a lot of experience in golf and country clubs, working at the Lafayette Club in Minnetonka, Oak Ridge Country Club in Hopkins, and Bent Creek Golf Club and Bearpath Golf and Country Club, both in Eden Prairie.

Then came an opportunity that no Minnesotan would want to pass up: His wife’s aunt invited him to help her build a banquet program at her restaurant—in Hilo, Hawaii. Besides the obvious (Hawaii!), there was another reason Anderson wanted to make the change: “To push yourself, you really have to get out of your comfort zone,” he says. “You have to do things, try things you’ve never done before.”

Working in Hawaii gave him the chance to work with different ingredients, especially fish that isn’t easily found fresh in Minnesota. “The restaurant was close to the fish market,” Anderson says. “I’d walk over in the morning and pick the day’s fish, things like ahi tuna, mahi mahi. I got to talk to the fishermen, and I went fishing with them, too, sometimes. They know what it takes to get that fish, and I saw how well they took care of the fish, kept it iced so it was safe. It’s hard to beat sourcing that way and knowing where the fish come from and how they’re kept. The more you know about the process, the more you respect the ingredient. It makes for a really intimate experience with the food.”

It wasn’t just fish that was a revelation to him. “I never ate a good starfruit until I was in Hawaii,” he says. He also became a big fan of Hawaiian chocolate—Hawaii is one of the only U.S. states that has the climate to grow cacao—as well as wild boar.

But as fun and fascinating as it was, Anderson and his wife found themselves wanting to return to Minnesota. “Most of our family is here,” he says. “It’s a big part of both of our lives.”

The opening at Hazeltine came at just the right time. He didn’t even know the Ryder Cup would be part of his first year’s work, but that just added to his excitement about the new kitchen. “We’ve got a great crew here,” he said. “We’re privileged to be able to put this [the Ryder Cup] on.”

He went straight to work, arriving from Hawaii on a Wednesday and starting work on Friday, and plans to incorporate what he’s learned in Hawaii—and some of the foods he discovered there—into his menus at Hazeltine, including wild boar and Hawaiian chocolate. But he’s also excited to revisit Minnesota’s seasonal specialties, too. In fact, he thinks in some ways, Minnesota’s short seasons, especially the growing season, create a greater anticipation. “We get so excited when we know it’s time for local rhubarb, asparagus, English peas,” he says. “And Minnesota corn is just so much better than the corn in Hawaii.” Hazeltine has a chef’s garden, which Anderson plans to source from, in addition to using items like Minnesota-raised Angus beef and pork.

Early successes from his kitchen included sliders made of Southern-fried chicken on biscuits with Tillamook cheddar and house-made pickles and steelhead trout with a charred lemon beurre blanc. One thing diners won’t find: mashed potatoes. “Our diners might be going out to play one, two, maybe even three rounds of golf,” Anderson says. “They don’t want food that’s overly heavy. They’re looking for big proteins, lots of veggies, high-quality ingredients, healthier items to give them energy.”

That’s something he’s more than happy to provide. “That’s what the membership wants, and that’s my style, too,” he says.

As for what he’ll prepare for private events at the Ryder Cup, Anderson points to the season—autumn—and says he’s been thinking about things like apples and pumpkins. “Really good apples, fresh local apples,” he says. “Not the awful apples that have been sitting in a warehouse for months or have been shipped from thousands of miles away.” He’s also focusing on other Minnesota favorites such as Jucy Lucys, chicken wild rice soup and more.

Anderson expects to take a similar approach to the Ryder Cup menu as to the regular menu. “I’ll have fun with the food at the Ryder Cup,” he says. “It’ll be high-end, fun golf food. I’ve got a few things up my sleeve.”

No matter what those things are, they will combine the best of Hawaii and Minnesota. What’s the Minnesota word for “aloha”?