March 9, 2015
An Event to Remember
Recently, I was lucky enough to accompany the Minor’s “Battle for Bocuse” contest winner, chef Kurt Kwaitkowski, to Lyon, France for the 2015 Bocuse d’Or competition. It was certainly an experience I will never forget.
The Bocuse d’Or is a culinary competition founded by legendary chef Paul Bocuse. Every two years chefs from 24 countries compete for the honor of earning one of three trophies (gold, silver, bronze) resembling chef Bocuse.
For the competing chefs, it’s the culmination of a two-year journey. The first year or so is spent developing, critiquing and establishing the main elements of the platters they are going to present. The closer the competition gets, the more focused training becomes. This year, the U.S. representative, Philip Tessier, and his commis (assistant chef), Skyler Stover, spent the final six months working fulltime to perfect every element of their platters.
The first thing we noticed when we walked into the cooking arena was the environment—it wasn’t serene, controlled or favorable. Instead, it was crowded, bustling and loud. Down on the competition floor, each chef team has a kitchen to themselves. But once the large meat platters are prepared and shown to the judges, everyone moves to the middle of the showroom floor. The dishes are disassembled and the components are plated as individual servings for the judges to taste. Dozens of press, servers, judges and coaches are roaming about as everything happens.
The whole time, the crowd is in the stands chanting, using vuvuzelas, whistles and just about any other international noisemaker to its fullest capacity. All I could focus on was watching the contestants carefully removing and slicing the skillfully crafted, yet very fragile, components from their platters while a crowd of people hovered around them. An untimely bump or slip of the hand is all it would have taken for hundreds of thousands of dollars, years of work and any shot at glory to be lost.
The Bocuse d’Or is a bit like the Oscars in that it is truly an honor just to be nominated. Of course, winning gold is the ultimate prize, but just being in the top three is quite an honor. The best the U.S. ever finished was 6th, so the pressure has been on for several years to finally make it to the podium. After all the cooking was finished and the winners were announced, the U.S. team finally broke through and finished just nine points from gold (the contest is scored on a 1000 point scale)!
Experiencing the event live was truly a thrill. Chef Kurt and I both stood in awe of all the techniques, creativity and craftsmanship that went into each platter. Seeing it live, with all the pomp and circumstance, the palpable pressure and the success of the U.S., made this a truly special event.