After taking some clients on a tour of Greene Family Camp’s incredible retreat center, we sat down with GFC’s new Executive Chef and Retreats Director, Eli Cohn-Wein to learn about his vision for enhancing the experience retreat goers will have when they come to visit.
Hi Eli and thanks for sitting down with us to discuss your ideas on retreats, fun and most importantly, good food. Can you tell us about yourself a little bit and how you came to be part of the Greene Family Camp team?
Sure! I’m originally from upstate New York, and my wife and I moved to Dallas about five years ago. After starting the first few years of my professional life as an educator, I have now spent over a decade in the hospitality industry, progressing from my start as the fry cook at a glorified hot dog and hamburger cart on the Highline in New York City to having now opened and ran several critically acclaimed restaurants. Most recently, I was the Executive Chef and General Manager of the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center in Dallas. This summer I came and helped in the Greene kitchen for a few weeks and was reminded of the incredible magic that camp creates. After that, it only took a few conversations to realize that this role is a dream job.
What would you say was your biggest influence in deciding to become a chef?
My family did not have a gigantic house growing up, but we still managed to pack upwards of one hundred people into my house every holiday season for a Hannukah party. The house would be full of warmth and laughter; it made me feel so good that it was OUR house that was supplying the setting for this tremendous outpouring of joy. I remember such pride as I worked with my dad to fry the hundreds of latkes for the party, and the feeling of satisfaction watching people munch away happily. No matter how long I work in this industry, I still feel like a little kid when I see people smile after taking a bite of my food.
Would you say that your fun camp experiences in your youth influenced your decision to come and work with Greene Family Camp?
I grew up spending every summer at a summer camp on Seneca Lake, about halfway between Rochester and Syracuse, New York. That is where I really fell in love with camp – the tranquility that comes from being out of urban areas, the freedom and possibility that a gigantic and well-stocked campground can offer. The life-shaping work that camp staff does to help grow and nurture countless summer camp kids and families as well as the events and retreats that enjoy the property in the offseason, is a priceless reward all in its own.
What are some of your upcoming dishes that you are going to be excited to share with retreat folks?
Camp inspires a certain idea of cuisine in most people, and our goal is not to shake up that vision too much. We still want to be able to offer camp classics; what excites us is the potential of doing that in ways that feels new and exciting: an upcoming group is getting a slivered pear and brie grilled cheese, for example. Home-Baked Challah French Toast, tea-brined fried chicken, we even are getting some brand new gigantic off-set smokers – I don’t think it’s possible to run a Texas retreat center without top-tier barbeque, and not to brag but my brisket is award-winning.
When you think about your vision of the perfect retreat meal, what comes to mind?
When you leave the dining hall at Greene, the rolling hills beyond our property are filled with acres worth of produce and livestock farms; I think a perfect retreat meal at Greene should be able to convey that closeness. We have begun conversations with local farmers and distributors to ensure that all our produce, dairy, and proteins come from as close to Bruceville as we can get them, and we are exploring ways to better utilize the farm we have right here on our campgrounds to grow our own herbs as well as some fruits and vegetables of our own.
I also think that a “perfect” meal, from a retreat standpoint, is one that feels effortless to the retreat group; The food is hot and ready at the exact right moment, those who have dietary restrictions feel as catered to as those who do not, and the amount of food is plentiful and delicious.
What’s your favorite dessert and can we try some right now?
Ha! Of course. My favorite dessert is my Grandmother Elsie’s Chocolate Chip Cake, which is the only recipe I keep secret. It is a dairy-free yellow cake with chocolate chips and shaved chocolate that is incredibly moist yet stays quite light. One member or another of my family makes one for essentially every single family gathering we have, happy or sad – I even baked a slightly fancier version for my own wedding! It will definitely be on the menu this summer, and for rental groups too.
We happily thanked Eli for letting us try his chocolate chip cookie cake and laughed about our wide-eyed reactions. We all agreed that we hope to visit again during a retreat to try the wonderful food and take in all the serenity of Greene Family Camp and Conference Center.
Retreat Central and Greene Family Camp invites you to come to GFC anytime for a tour or event. Please contact Jeremy Harlan directly for inquiries.