Bocuse D’or = Culinary, Mental and Intestinal Fortitude

Paul Rogalski - 18/01/2011

I had a dream last night. I was in the middle of a cooking competition, my commis was hanging out with some other competitors drinking rye whiskey n’ coke and telling funny stories. The room resembled that of an atrium. The size of a small airport with lots of spectators peering through the glass. Next thing I knew, it was our turn to plate our culinary masterpiece under the eyes of the discerning judges. I then realized we didn’t have the mandatory protein prepared, and I was already starting to plate the accompaniments! Oh the stress, the anguish and how dare my apprentice let me down with his lollygagging and chit chat with the competitors when he needed to get the job done…the treachery! I gasp.  Then suddenly I’m awake. Every memory from my dream present and in full-blown techno-color, the sweat was real and the adrenaline still in my veins and the one thing I was certain…that competition was no Bocuse D’or. Was it coincidence, that the night before I was having a beer with Chef Vincent Parkinson (whom I have mad respect for), the current Chef De Mission for Bocuse d’Or Canada? We had a nice chuckle at my expense reminiscing about 1994 when I took on Chefs Michael Nobel and Robert Allen Sulatycky for the right to represent Canada at Boucuse D’or that year. The rules of Bocuse D’or were our only guidelines. It was a hugely intense situation with blood, (a few fingers are always sliced) sweat, (of course this goes without saying and all good as long as none ends up in the food) and my tears -as I got my ass kicked by the other gents. (I think it was this memory that provoked such a vivid nightmare last night). Was my ego hurt? Crushed would be more appropriate. The truth is, The Bocuse d’Or brings such disappointment to 47 very talented chefs every two years. The first 26 don’t actually make it to Lyon. That hot-seat competition is reserved for just 24 of the 50 who dream of winning. The Bocuse D’or is the biggest head to head culinary competition there is in the world. Period. It’s taking place in Lyon, January 25th and 26th and can be viewed via video stream from Sirha TV. 2009 saw Philippe Mille from France take 3rd, Jonas Lundgren from Sweden take second and Norway’s Geir Skeie take the trophy. The President Of Honor was Daniel Boulud and Fabrice Desvignes was International President Of The Jury. 

If history repeats itself, Canadian Ryan Stone and the other international chefs will compete in the loudest, most boisterous environment ever, with cameras flashing, cowbells ringing and fans screaming. Most will endure major sleep deprivation, caused by trying to adjust to major time changes or simply the angst from the travelling to get there. And if that isn’t already daunting enough, factor in that they and one commis each are cooking for and competing in front of a gathering of the world’s most elite chefs; one from each country represented in the competition including culinary legends such as Thomas Keller, René Redzepi, Ann Sophie-Pic, Lea Linster, Eyvind Hellstrom, Philippe Rochat, Simon Smotkowicz and Mathias Dahlgren just to name a few. It is a perfect storm for either colossal failure or epic achievement. This competition is as much a test of a chef’s mental abilities and stamina as it is of their culinary skill. Either way these chefs are in for the adrenaline rush of their lives.

This year’s mandatory ingredients are Scottish lamb saddle and sweetbreads, Scottish monkfish, crab and langoustine. They sound mainstream but I’m sure the creations of these talented chefs will be nothing of the sort, as the boundaries of cooking technique and presentation will be pushed. There is a cash prize of 20,000 Euros for the winner of this contest but I imagine most don’t care so much about the cash.  Instead they are more interested in being labeled as one of the best in the world. The truth is that most of the competing chefs will have a significant career boost just because at they are competing.  The winner’s future will, undoubtedly, be launched into the stratosphere. . 1987 marked Canada’s debut when Chef Jamie Kennedy competed. Canada has had 7 top 10 finishes with Robert Sulatycky placing the highest with his 4th place finish in 1999. (Until very recently Robert has been both the Executive Chef and Director of Food and Beverage of the world-renowned Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows, part of the Dorchester Collection and Jamie has just been awarded the prestigious Order of Canada). Michael Noble has two top ten experiences under his belt and recently fulfilled a life long dream opening his own restaurant Notable. Other Canadian laureates have similar success stories. On a side note prizes are not just limited to the Chef as there also is an award for their brave assistants. In 2009 Canadian Grace Pineda won the Best Commis Award for providing some stellar backing of Chef David Wong in his 9th place finish. Best of luck to all of the competitors this year, I will be staying up all night watching the video stream, sitting on pins and needles, to find out who will be Bocuse D’or’s 2011 Champion.