It's all about tradition at Keeneland Race Course — from the racing to the food.
In 1936, when the gates opened at the Versailles Road track, so did the kitchens at Turf Catering. The two are almost synonymous.
Corned beef and burgoo have always been on the menu, and the chefs don't mess with the favorites. But on Friday, when Keeneland opens its spring meet, there's a new chef at the helm, and race fans will notice. Former executive chef Ed Boutilier has been promoted to general manager/chef de cuisine, and Joe Milanich is executive chef.
Many Central Kentuckians are familiar with Milanich. The Lexington native has worked his way up through the ranks at top restaurants including The Campbell House, Acres of Land Winery, The Red Mile, Friends & Company, and a la lucie. He's also past president of the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Culinary Federation.
His first job at Turf Catering was in 1988 as a line cook.
"I was working at a la lucie full-time, and we'd just had our second daughter and needed some money for Christmas. Over the years, I'd work a race meet, miss a couple, but kept coming back," he said.
Six years ago, management invited him to stay. He was named executive chef Nov. 1.
Milanich oversees about 140 employees, and some of them will be devoted to making special desserts this spring. Pastry chef Carolynn McDonald will hand-paint icing on cookies in the shape of jockey silks.
"Some are the actual logos of individual farms," Milanich said.
McDonald already has baked and decorated about 1,000 cookies in two silks designs. One is for the corporate box area and a smaller one will be sold in other areas.
Several items are new this spring, including bananas Foster bread pudding. Keeneland's bread pudding is famous, and once you taste it you'll understand why.
The chefs began working on the bananas Foster bread pudding right after the fall meet.
"We've been playing around with it through the winter, and it's turned out wonderfully," Milanich said. It will be served in all the clubhouse and corporate boxes.
He credits the house-made caramel sauce for the success of the bananas Foster. Personally, his favorite way to eat the caramel sauce is to dunk bananas in it. Or, better yet, blending the caramel sauce with vanilla bean ice cream for a bananas Foster milk shake.
Other new items on the menu are salmon and roasted red pepper hummus, gorgonzola dip, and spinach artichoke dip served with lavosh and thick crackers.
Clubhouse guests will be treated to small plates, or a tapas menu.
"They're lunchy type things, not heavy, but upscale things like blackened pork tenderloin served over sweet potato fries with green apple jam, Kobe beef sliders, and jumbo shrimp breaded in tempura pearls served over Asian cole slaw with a Thai basil sauce," he said.
There are several dining options at Keeneland, each with its own menu:
■ The Lexington/Kentucky Room overlooks the grandstand and offers buffet dining in a business formal setting.
■ Keeneland's Clubhouse is a private turf club for members and their guests.
■ The Phoenix Room overlooks the paddock and offers buffet dining in a business casual setting.
■ The Equestrian Room is on the ground floor of the grandstand, next to the finish line. It is casual.
■ The Limestone Café, in the historic sales pavilion, provides casual, indoor dining for Bluegrass Stakes Day on April 13.
Milanich closely watches the quality of everything served — from the party nachos and hot dogs, to the gourmet dishes at private functions at the Keeneland Mansion, sales pavilion and Keeneland Barn.
Milanich is ready for opening day but cautions racing fans to leave early for the track because of construction on Versailles Road. The food will be ready. Don't be late.
Turf Catering/Keeneland bananas Foster bread pudding
Vanilla ice cream
1 cup salted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
¾ cup heavy cream, room temperature
1⁄3 cup spiced rum
¼ cup bourbon
¼ cup banana liqueur
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 gallon milk
2 cups sugar
8 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 to 3 quarts cubed white bread
1 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Maker's Mark bourbon sauce:
1 pound butter
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 cup Maker's Mark bourbon
To make bananas Foster: Peel banana and cut diagonally into thick slices. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to add to sauce. Scoop vanilla ice cream and hold in freezer.
In deep heavy skillet, melt butter on medium heat, then add brown sugar, whisking until dissolved and bubbly. Add cream, whisking until caramel sauce is clarified and thickened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in rum, bourbon, liqueur and cinnamon (Tip skillet to light alcohol and let alcohol burn off, if desired). Add sliced separated bananas, gently turning over each slice of banana after 1 minute, then cook one minute longer. Turn off heat and let mixture stand for a few minutes before spooning over warm bread pudding, serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
To make bread pudding: Pour milk into a medium bowl and whisk in sugar until dissolved. Add eggs and vanilla, and stir. Add bread cubes to mix and let soak for several hours or overnight in refrigerator. Pour into a pan and sprinkle with raisins and cinnamon. Lightly push into the mixture. Bake at 250 degrees for about 1 to 11/2 hours or until firm.
To make bourbon sauce: Soften butter at room temperature. Add powdered sugar and whip bourbon into mix until it makes a frosting consistency. Ladle sauce over hot bread pudding, and it will melt into it. Serve with ice cream. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
IF YOU GO
Keeneland's spring race meeting
When: April 5-26; no racing on Mondays or Tuesdays.
Where: 4201 Versailles Rd.
Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog: Flavorsofkentucky.bloginky.com.