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Behind Closed (Bocuse) d'Ors: An Inside Look at Team USA

Chef Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud at the All-Clad booth, rapping.
Chef Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud at the All-Clad booth, rapping.
[Photos: Joshua David Stein/]

Somewhere in a kitchen not far from where I sit, James Kent and his commis Tom Allan are putting the finishing touches on all that they may prep before competition. The next time these trays are unwrapped, the United States will be embroiled in a war with 23 other competitors that can end only in victory or disgrace. I hope for victory.

Michael Ruhlman and I — and a dozen other folks, armed with cameras from a documentary crew — hung out in the kitchen of L'Abbaye de Collonges, where the American team had set up temporary shop. The atmosphere was very intense yet very calm. Gavin Kaysen was there as well as coach Mark Erickson and a stagiere named Daniel Catinella but known to everyone as Daniel Bocuse. Catinella had recently returned from a tour of duty as a Marine in Qurna, Iraq. "I was stationed where the Tigris and the Euphrates met," he said, as he delicately patted dry mint leaves, "it's the cradle of civilization." Funny since Lyon, where the Rhône and Saône rivers meet, is the cradle of cuisine.

Tom Allan stood in a corner near an immersion circulator doing something intensely. What it is I shall not say for fear of divulging state secrets. No Julian Assange I, if this post is short on details, it is because I am writing it, as it were, from the front and wish not to prejudice our chances. Tom Allan will turn 23 two days after the competition. "He just made it," said James Kent, looking with affection at the tall and tow-headed Allan. The two had worked together at Eleven Madison Park before Mr. Allan took a turn at Per Se working from the cheese station to entremets. "By the time I left," he said with evident pride, "I was cooking meat." Mr. Kent and Mr. Allan make an unlikely pair. Mr. Kent said, "I wear baggy pants. Tom wears skinny jeans. Tom," he said, "you could pass for a Swede." Mr. Allan does, in fact, live in Williamsburg. "But I live in South Williamsburg," he doth protested too much. Though what other 22 year old hipster with a tattoo on his arm and ACNE jeans has worked hundreds of hours over the course of a year (and thousands more before) to perfect two dishes to be made and served in five hours and thirty five minutes in a town in France few in Williamsburg could locate on a map I shall never know. He puts the flannelled flaneurs of Egg and Diner to shame.

Mr. Kent meanwhile repped New York hard. "We passed by another team yesterday in the market," said Mr. Kaysen, "and James opened his jacket. He was wearing a USA shirt and just strutted by." "I'm not here to make friends," averred Mr. Kent, while flashing a menacing look he had practiced, he said, "in the halls of high school."

Mr. Kent looked to Mr. Kaysen for guidance. [Mr. Kaysen had competed in 2007 and has done much to build the infrastructure that currently supports the team.] "Gavin had a five year plan," said Mr. Kent, "Win the Bocuse. Have a second child. Open own restaurant. Win Food and Wine Best Chef. Win Beard Award Best Chef." But Mr. Kent and his wife already have one child — named Gavin — and are expecting a second. "I skipped ahead," grinned Mr. Kent. Though the steps are out of order, by tomorrow, one hopes Mr. Kent's Five Year Plan will be straightened out and America will have her first Bocuse victory.

[Disclosure: Um, Eater obviously doesn't have the money to send me here so I'm here as a guest of All-Clad, which makes pots and stuff. These posts and more will appear on their Facebook page too.]

· All Bocuse d'Or Coverage on Eater [-E-]