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Cam's Corner: Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve never judged a competition at the state fair, and Food Network hasn’t invited me to go head-to-head with the top chefs to create the ultimate cookie. Despite those unfortunate misses, I do consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on the subject. From Girl Scout Thin Mints to Subway’s Peanut Butter, I’ve sampled about every variety – and the raw dough from most – and I have my favorites at spots across the country to sample the best. 

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So as a Team Member at The Greenbrier, I know a little something about Jim Justice’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies. If I see one sitting around – whether at the back of the room during a meeting, on a tray while I’m walking through the pastry shop with a reporter to conduct an interview or even left over from a training session from the training room down the hall from my office, I’m no stranger to playing quality control manager and picking one up for a sample – just to make sure it meets the standards, of course.

But until our Social Media Manager approached me about doing a story on how these chewy, delectable discs of goodness make their way from The Greenbrier’s kitchens into the mouths of hungry golf fans each summer during A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, I never thought much about bringing these Justice family favorites to life.

But what an eye opening, and mouthwatering, experience it was.

The morning began in The Greenbrier pastry shop, watching pastry chefs dump eggs, flour, sugar and chocolate chips into a mixer that looked more like something that should be on a construction site mixing concrete than in a kitchen creating sugary magic.

When everything was mixed properly, the ball of dough the size of a small blimp was scooped from the mixing bowl and onto a table, where the chefs went to work, diving into the glob of gooey goodness with ice cream scoopers and placing scoops the size of baseballs onto a tray. They worked quickly and efficiently, despite having to dodge me and my trusty spoon, scooping in for a few early samples while they worked.

The majority of the tan colored balls, dotted with dark brown chips, were covered and placed into a freezer for future use, though I demanded that a few be transported to the oven right away. I take this quality control thing seriously, you know. And when the cookies were pulled out piping hot, the only thing missing was a glass of milk.

My mouth-watering experience was witness to just one of 45 batches of cookies prepared in advance of A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, and considering the looks on the chef’s faces as I requested another sample, I’m pretty confident I won’t be invited back for any of the others.

With or without me, though, it’s an amazing process.

A thousand pounds of chocolate chips, 1,700 whole eggs, 600 pounds of sugar and 470 pounds of butter go into the cookies for tournament week alone. From the size of the bags of sugar to the discs the size of a Frisbee that are pulled from the oven, there’s nothing small about the operation of baking the 22,000 cookies that are purchased and consumed during A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.

“It’s a lot,” admitted Jean-Francois Suteau, The Greenbrier’s Executive Pastry Chef, who is in charge of the process each year. “The numbers are pretty spectacular. The first time I did it was a little overwhelming.”

Suteau has done it differently from year to year. One year he pulled his staff and chefs from other areas together and had one big “cookie assembly line,” as nearly 50 chefs mixed and scooped all of the cookies in one day.

This year, preparations for this annual Independence Week tradition actually begin in April, a full three months before the first tee shot of the annual PGA TOUR FedExCup tournament. Preparing 3,000 pounds of cookie dough is almost a full-time job for any pastry department, but Suteau’s team at The Greenbrier can’t focus on the cookies alone. The pastry team is also responsible for the breads and desserts sold at the 20 restaurants and lounges at America’s Resort each day, not to mention group meetings and special functions.

So to be sure that the popular cookies are inside the tents and ready for hungry golf fans by the first week in July, Suteau has to do some serious planning.

“It’s a long process,” he explained. “They are big cookies, and you can only fit so many in the oven. So we’re almost baking cookies for about 10 hours. It’s busy.”

It all starts with a recipe that’s pretty simple, but very particular. When his family first purchased The Greenbrier in 2009, Jim Justice, now the governor of West Virginia, was looking for the perfect cookie. So he headed to the pastry shop and tried several samples until the culinary team finally reached what he believed was perfection.

“I was not the pastry chef then, but I know it took a bunch of tries,” said Suteau. “He likes a lot of chocolate chips in it, and he likes things big. I’m sure they started with a little one, and he kept asking for bigger and bigger.”

But the recipe is just the first step. It takes 20 chefs to prepare 45 batches of cookies, nearly 70 pounds each, for tournament week, so Suteau and his team have to begin well in advance. The dough is made, the cookies are scooped onto a tray and then those balls of dough –the ones I don’t get to, at least – are placed into the freezer, where they are stored until they’re ready to be baked.

Each morning during A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, the balls are taken out of the freezer, put onto a baking pan and placed into several large ovens. They are pulled fresh from the oven, placed on trays and delivered to the various points of sale around the golf course to ensure every hungry patron gets the freshest cookie possible. And the fans can’t seem to get enough of them.

“It’s just amazing how many we go through in one week,” said Suteau, whom you might recognize from his recent appearance on Food Network's "Best Baker in America."

If you aren’t lucky enough to sample one of the Justice Favorites during A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, there’s no need for panic. The cookies are sold throughout the year around The Greenbrier, including through In-Room Dining, Sam Snead’s, Draper’s and even on the golf courses.

So get your hands on one and give it a try. But don’t leave it sitting on the table. You never know when I might need to test the quality.