Pine Valley has its snapper soup, Castle Pines its chocolaty milk shakes. And now Ballyneal Golf and Hunt Club, the Tom Doak–designed private course in Holyoke, Colorado, is cooking up a worthy rival: lobster macaroni and cheese.
Frank Bonanno, consulting chef at Ballyneal, first introduced his gourmet version of the kids' classic at Mizuna, one of his two restaurants in Denver's historic Governor's Park. This month, he will test his talents against four other chefs in the Food Network's Macaroni and Cheese Challenge. The competition will consist of two rounds—classic and signature recipe—and the winner will take home a $10,000 grand prize.
But unlike other reality-TV chefs, Bonanno has already landed his ideal job. Ballyneal founders Jim and Rupert O'Neal approached him after reading that he dreamed of being head chef at Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska. The brothers had become acquainted with his cuisine, dining at Mizuna and its sister restaurant, Luca d'Italia, and they invited him to tour the Ballyneal property. Eventually, Bonanno bartered his kitchen savvy for a founding membership at the club. Since it opened in 2006, "I'm out there about four times a week," he says. "It's one of my favorite courses—every hole is just spectacular."
Bonanno, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, honed his talents at the French Laundry in California and Gramercy Tavern in New York City. "We're preparing real simple food" at Ballyneal, he says, comparing the offerings to those of a chophouse. "It's a lot of meat and potatoes, because that's what guys want to eat when they come off the golf course," he says.
When Bonanno isn't behind a flaming range, he's out on the course improving his 10.5 handicap. "That's the good thing about the restaurant business," he says. "I have a lot of customers who are friends and like to play golf. I am very fortunate and get to play a lot of great courses."