A New Era in Culinary Excitement at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa – Interview

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Chef Nelly Buleje Takes the Helm as Director of Food and Beverage

The AAA Four-diamond Grand Geneva Resort & Spa just announced that Executive Chef Nelly Buleje has been promoted to director of food and beverage.  Known for his innovation in the kitchen and on the menus at Grand Geneva’s five restaurants including the Chophouse, Chef Buleje’s vision is extending to the rest of the resort’s food service.

Born in Chicago and raised in Lake Geneva, Wis., Buleje began his culinary journey at the age of 11 cooking for his family and began his career as an evening cook at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. He later traveled to Milwaukee; Richmond, VA; Hilton Head Island; and Cleveland, OH before returning to Grand Geneva as executive chef.

While in that role, he was credited with expanding restaurant menus and offerings as well as encouraging and highlighting the culinary team’s strengths and passions in menu development and by creating a cohesive food and beverage team all focused on the same standard throughout the resort. During his tenure as executive chef, Buleje also expanded upon the resort’s involvement in local community efforts such as the local Badger High School’s ProStart Culinary and Management Teams program where he and the culinary team mentor students in cooking and hospitality skills. 

“Nelly Buleje is a dynamic professional that has curated a talented team of individuals to continually ensure a flawless culinary experience,” said Steve Magnuson, managing director, Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. “We look forward to his continued success overseeing the Food and Beverage Department.”

Chef Buleje was kind enough to answer a few of our questions as to what changes and continuity of excellence guests can expect in the near future at Grand Geneva.  

 “I am excited for the opportunity to oversee culinary operations and programming at Grand Geneva while continuing to support and work closely with the resort’s talented chefs, cooks, and staff,” said Buleje. “Grand Geneva offers guests and the community some of the most special dining experiences in the Midwest and we will continue to enhance upon the offerings that guests know and love.” 

SPLASH:      What is the first change guests can expect to see in food and beverage at Grand Geneva under your leadership?

CHEF BULEJE: As we prepare for season we will be taking a different approach on service training, menu development, and our beverage program.  For service development, we have been working on new training materials and treating all outlets as if we are gearing up for our first day of opening.  We will spend a week training both front and heart of house staff together with in-class training and live trails.  This will allow us to truly enhance all of our guests’ experience as it will make the teams much more knowledgeable and add to our cohesiveness goal for all staff members.    

I will work with our new Executive Chef, who is no stranger to our culinary program, as he was my prior Executive Sous Chef.  Chef Dustin Urbanik and team have begun the menu development for all outlets and banquets for this summer season and have some awesome recipes in the works.

We are introducing the new role of Beverage Manager this summer that will lead the charge for our new beverage program.  This individual will work one on one with myself on creating a new re-energized cocktail program across all outlets from our main lodge bars, restaurants, to outdoor pool, golf and banquets department.   We are focusing on summer cocktails with more personalized, crafted take.  We are also focusing on introducing new and grand spirits to enhance not only our cocktails but also for those for who enjoy an elegant bourbon, whisky, mescal and rum. 

SPLASH:      Please tell us about any new additions to the wine list and dishes that can be expected in the restaurants?


CHEF BULEJE: Our resident sommelier, Andy Kulakowski, who is also our Chophouse General Manager, is putting together an amazing wine by the glass pour offering. 38 different options ranging from a full-bodied Daou Reserve Cabernet, a fruit-forward Grgich, 8 Years in the dessert beautiful blend by master Dave Phinney to sparkling white J Vineyards Cuvee Brute.  He is also rewriting all of our outlets’ wine lists by introducing wines ranging from 3 Palms, Leviathen, Daou Soul of the Lion, Pahlmeyer Cabernet, an amazing Locations Flight from around the world, Stoneleigh NZ Sauv Blanc, Scharffenberger Rose and Perrier Joeute.  He is also crafting a captains list of only 20 wines that will include the likes of such wines as Highest Beauty Cabernet 2018, Dominus Cabernet 2011, Chateau Leoville Barton 2013, Ace of Spades, Dom Perignon 2018 and many more that you will have to come in and see for yourself.

Our two most notable food additions outside of all of the menu development is our Tiered Brunch in Chophouse offered only Saturdays that includes choices ranging from buttermilk fried chicken with caviar and homemade buttermilk biscuits, mini in-house made croissant breakfast sandwiches and to top it off we will have alive mimosa cart and over the top bloody Mary’s featuring everything from wings, sliders, cheese curds and pickled vegetables. We will also be introducing a duo of a southern Shrimp boil with Roasted Prime Rib and mouthwatering sides in the Grand Café. 

SPLASH:       What is your biggest goal in this new position?

CHEF BULEJE: To create the most cohesive Food and Beverage team whose goal is to exceed all of our guests’ expectations by delivering the most memorable experience.  


SPLASH:   What do you most think guests would like to know about? What should they be excited to learn?  What are you most excited about?

CHEF BULEJE: There will be something new to look forward to with our returning guests as well as our new guests in food and beverage.  We will still stay true to our traditions but deliver new innovative experiences across all of food and beverage.  We are also working on a number of local partnerships with purveyors such as Pinn Oaks Farm, Simple Bakery, Lake Geneva Country Meats, Hill Valley Farms and even local Wisconsin  Wollersheim Winery & Distillery. 

It is obvious, from Chef Buleje’s own words, that guests at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa have many exciting new tastes in food and beverage to enjoy as they relax at the resort.

You can make reservations for a stay or a meal at Grand Geneva’s website.

Photos provided by Grand Geneva Resort & Spa.

About Suzanne Magnuson 102 Articles
Professional writer with 20 plus years of experience. M.A., M.B.A. Travel Editor and Social Media Manager for Splash Magazines Worldwide. Senior Editor. Member of Advertising Team.

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