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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bocuse d'Or 2015

I originally composed and posted this piece in December of 2012, prior to the 2013 edition of the Bocuse d'Or competition. I feel the need to update the post, and get this up before next week's 2015 event. I have left the background information about it unchanged, but updated with the "need to know" on this year's Team USA, and some slight changes. I hope I can bring a little more awareness to this interesting, and important, event.

Until I picked up the book Knives at Dawn: America's Quest for Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d'Or Competition by Andrew Friedman, I had never heard about the Bocuse d'Or World Cuisine Contest. I had heard of the Culinary Olympics that take place in Germany every four years; but the Bocuse d'Or is not to be confused with the Culinary Olympics. Friedman's work followed the training and performance of the 2009 Team USA's Captain Timothy Hollingsworth and Commis Adina Guest of Thomas Keller's French Laundry in Napa, California. It's a fantastic read, and I highly recommend it if you have any desire to learn more about the behind the scenes of a real cooking competition.

So, you ask... "What IS the Bocuse d'Or, Frank?" Well, you're in luck; I just happen to feel like dropping some Food Nerdery on you all, today!

Chef Paul Bocuse
Translated, Bocuse d'Or literally means "Bocuse of Gold." In 1987, renowned French chef and ambassador of modern French cuisine, Paul Bocuse, started the biennial contest as a way to showcase a cooking competition performed live in front of an audience. It has been told that the French wanted their own cooking competition, to show their superiority in cuisine, rather than having to go to Germany and not fare so well. So, every two years, teams of two (a Captain and his/her Commis) from 24 countries gather in Lyon, France for the two day competition. They have five and a half hours to complete a meat platter and a fish platter, each with three original garnishes, for the 24 judges. The proteins are announced in advance, in order for proper training, and to become familiar with the specific meat and fish.

The Bocuse d'Or has become a very popular competition in all the participating countries, going as far as having loud, boisterous audiences for each country in the audience while the cooking takes place. There has never been much enthusiasm from the people of the United States. In a world where reality and competition shows rule the airwaves, you would imagine people would clammer to cheer on Team USA and do well keeping up-to-date with the happenings.

This is something that has plagued The Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation. Other countries have provided very large budgets and well-structured training regimen for their teams. In 2008, it was decided that Team USA needed more structure in their training, needed an order to how the team was selected, and overall more support.

The Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation was formed. Daniel Boulud, Jérôme Bocuse (the son of Paul Bocuse), and Thomas Keller make up the Board of Directors. They formed a competition system in the United States to select the representatives to the event in France, to take place approximately a year before the world competition, and a means to fund their team more appropriately.

The brains behind Bocuse d'Or USA, left to right: Daniel Boulud, Dave Beran, Grant Achatz, Skylar Stover, Thomas Keller, Phil Tessier, Gavin Kaysen, Jérôme Bocuse (Photo courtesy ment'or BKB Foundation)

In 2014, the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation was renamed the ment'Or BKB Foundation. It continues "inspiring culinary excellence" in young, up and coming culinary professionals, in addition to organizing Team USA.

The newly formed organization has improved the training regimen each year.
Beginning with training for the 2013 Bocuse d'Or, an exact duplicate of their competition kitchen in Lyon, France was constructed in the basement of The Greenbrier, the home restaurant of competitor Richard Roesendale, to train to the precise size and shape of the competition area, and to the time and schedule they needed in actual competition. The training went so far as to have recorded audience banter and noise played while running through their simulated competition.

With all the effort, Rosendale and his commis, Corey Siegel, placed 7th, with France winning the 2013 Bocuse d'Or. It should be noted that Team USA has never placed better than sixth, on two occasions.

2015 Team USA: Commis Skylar Stover and Captain Philip Tessier
In 2014, the team that would represent the USA was selected in a different means than in the past: selections were made from submitted resumés, instead of a nation-wide cooking competition. Philip Tessier was selected to represent Team USA in Lyon, France this year, along with his Commis Skylar Stover. Tessier is the Executive Sous Chef of Thomas Keller's iconic restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville, California. He has worked in the Keller group for over ten years, although his career has covered some very prestigious ground. Stover is Chef de Partie at The French Laundry. His career has been short, thus far, but has been thrust to the top of the culinary world with his selection to Team USA. You can read more background information on the contestants over on the ment'or "Meet Team USA" page.

This year's Bocuse d'Or takes place January 27th and 28th in Lyon, France. The meat theme uses Free Range Guinea Fowl Les Landes Label Rouge, and prepared in a way to portray the team's "regional culinary culture." The fish for this year is Fario Trout of French Origin. The teams will be required to include a vegetable content of at least 50%, and all vegetables in the recipe will have to come from a fruits and vegetables market, provided by METRO. The teams will only know the stock available the night before the competition. Teams will also need to include a mandatory vegetable that will be randomly selected for them out of celery, fennel, butternut squash, and leek. Scores will be based upon the normal taste and presentation criteria, as well as how well they highlighted the vegetable components.

The Bocuse d'Or brings out some elegant and over-the-top presentations. I will include some photos to give you a little taste of what takes place. Most of the serveware and presentation pieces are custom designed and hand crafted.

Here are some examples of the type of presentations you would see at the Bocuse d'Or: 
Chef Rosendale's chicken platter that won the 2012 Bocuse d'Or USA

Team USA's Lamb platter in the 2011 Bocuse d'Or
Team USA's Monkfish platter in the 2011 Bocuse d'Or
Team USA's Fish platter from the 2009 Bocuse d'Or
Team Denmark's winning Fish platter from 2011 Bocuse d'Or
Team Denmark's winning Fish plate in the 2011 Bocuse d'Or

Frankly Speaking...

Ever since reading Knives at Dawn..., I was hooked on keeping up with the Bocuse d'Or. I find it very fascinating to keep up on the action, and training, of Team USA. I am a huge food geek, though. Even if you don't get excited about things quite this deep, I hope you are at least aware that this takes place, and our country takes part in it.

The platters that these chefs conceptualize is simply mind-boggling and incredible. They have show pieces created just for the presentation of their food. That entire year of training has to materialize into a platter of food that is stunning in its presentation, innovative in its creation, original in its existence, and lastly, delicious and perfected seasoned, balanced, and prepared.

As a side note, part of the competition is a poster contest! Yes, just like in grade school for "Say No to Drugs Week". Each team has to design their poster, and are voted upon to choose a winner. Here is Team USA's 2015 poster, designed by French culinary legend Jacques Pepin:

How can you keep up on the 2015 competition?

Easily! Social media has provided some great means to get all the up-to-date news and happenings!

You can follow the ment'or BKB Foundation's Team USA on Twitter,  Facebook, and Instagram, and check out their website.

You can keep up with the official Bocuse d'Or feeds, also on Twitter and Facebook, and the website.

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