View our other publications:

World class cuisine at a historic Rochester club

Chef Ilhan Erkek makes memories at the Genesee Valley Club

Chef Ilhan Erkek has lived in many places, but he might love Rochester the most. “I like to go hiking,” he says. Erkek also enjoys Rochester’s proximity to lakes. “Last weekend I went to Stony Brook,” he says. “It was a great place.” His wife is from Newburgh, New York, so this is fairly close to home for her, and their three children love the outdoors as well. “They told me we had to stay here,” Erkek recalls with a smile. He also loves his role as chef at the Genesee Valley Club. It is Erkek’s first experience with a private club, and he has been in the role for around eighteen months. He finds it to be a wonderful, intimate environment. Some families have been club members for five generations. “It’s like their entire family tree is growing here,” he says. “You are really part of something.”

He explains that the food, service, great ambiance, and large property make the Genesee Valley Club unique in the area. This historic private club was founded in 1885, and generations of members grow up marking their special occasions at the club. Erkek and his team take pride in making birthdays, class reunions, business dinners, and weddings incomparable. When people decide to host a big event at GVC, “They know they will not be disappointed,” says Erkek. The team endeavors to make every occasion special with delicious cuisine and exemplary service.

Erkek grew up in Istanbul and earned a degree in hotel management from Istanbul University. He began his culinary career at the Ritz Carlton in Istanbul, then moved on to Ritz Carlton locations in the United States as well as tenures at other highly respected restaurants in Florida and Maryland. The life of a chef is very demanding. “That’s why you see some of the chefs on TV, they scream their lungs out,” he says. “I don’t do any of that.” But he says the stress is there, and people often transition to other careers because it is demanding. But that’s who he is, he says. “You can’t complain, you know, if you’re a fireman and there’s a fire.” Sometimes GVC has seven or eight events happening in one night, all with different menus. There’s a lot of math and organizing involved, he says, especially with concurrent events.

During the pandemic, there were shortages, and, of course, things could not continue as normal. For two years, like everywhere else, things at the club were a bit scaled back out of necessity. When Erkek came into the position, he brought more structure to the kitchen operations, clarifying staff responsibilities and increasing efficiency to meet the post-pandemic resurgence of the social scene. He listened to the members’ desires and brought back the classic French and Italian food that they loved. “Our members, they have traveled a lot. They eat in great restaurants,” he says. He “picked their brains” to give them what they want.

Erkek tries to use New York State–produced food and local ingredients as much as possible. He enjoys incorporating those into the “old-school cooking” that is appreciated by the club members. Regarding the menu, “It’s been done for years, and everybody loves it,” he says, so “there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.” He’s happy to find local farmers to work with. He has worked with Pittsford Dairy as well as local growers that produce mushrooms and herbs. He buys strawberries from Lagoner Farms and tries to stick to local apples. 

Erkek has many more opportunities to make personal connections with people than at any other place he has worked. The memories of someone’s wedding, for example, last forever. And he wants people to look back and remember an absolutely amazing event whether it is “your birthday, or someone comes to propose,” he says. The club’s maître d’, Genaro Felix, has been a fixture for fifty-one years, has seen generations pass through, and personally calls members on their birthdays and anniversaries. “That’s something I’m not going to find at the Ritz,” says Erkek. He loves getting thank-you notes from members, getting to know them, and reaching out to them on special occasions. “We don’t just cook, we make memories.”

∼Pastry Chef Tammy Fuchs∼

Every year, Chef Tammy Fuchs participates in the Empowering People’s Independence bake off to raise money for the organization, which meets the needs of people with developmental disabilities, epilepsy, and brain injury. “Chef (Erkek) supports me wholeheartedly with doing that and the extra time it takes to make that cake,” Fuchs says. 

Fuchs is originally from Pennsylvania and has been at the GVC for nine years. She loves to work with local peaches—the fruit close to the lake is wonderful, she says. As much as possible, the menu changes with the seasons. She loves to make sorbets, ice creams, and souffles. To the chef’s knowledge, souffles cannot be found anywhere else in the Rochester area. She makes them in many flavors, the Grand Marnier being the most requested. She has formed close connections with club members. “Just getting to know what people like, and what they don’t like, and having things ready for them,” makes her job rewarding, she says. Walking out with something that’s an unexpected surprise that people love makes her day. She loves making birthday cakes for kids, watching them grow up, and then sometimes making cakes for their weddings. Another great compliment is when a dessert reminds someone of something their grandmother used to make. They celebrated one couple’s seventieth anniversary at the club. “Talk about celebrations,” Fuchs says. “That was definitely amazing.” She has worked in clubs for her entire career, almost thirty years. “Sometimes kitchens are not the nicest places for women to work,” she says, but she has never felt more respected or part of a team than at GVC. “You always say ‘surround yourself with great people,’ [and] I think we have a really great team.” 

To learn more about Genesee Valley Club, visit

Subscribe to our newsletter