Richard Rosendale, captain of the Bocuse d'Or USA, has spent the greater part of the last eight months preparing for the international competition that will take place in January of 2013. It's a process that has included building an exact replica of the kitchen they'll use in Lyon, France, having tastings and training sessions at the French Laundry and the Greenbrier, and meticulously working to get flavors, textures, and visuals just right so that the U.S. finally comes out on top. In the following interview, Rosendale gives an update on the process so far, talks about the challenges that lie ahead, and explains how to process advice that might good but not right.
Can you briefly summarize what's been going on in the past eight months?
As soon as we got back to the Greenbrier, we laid the foundation for all of the training. The big first step was building an exact replica of the kitchen that we'll be using in Lyon. We made all sorts of modifications and demolished the floor to make it happen. We've been training with the same equipment.
Corey [Siegel, his commis] and I have continued to do a lot of research and development, because we didn't know what the proteins were going to be for a good chunk of time. We worked on general concepts, and then about two months ago they announced it would be beef. We still don't know what the fish is going to be.
It's been a frenzy of activity for the last few months. To be doing all these dinners and then tastings and meetings with Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Grant Achatz is something else. It's surreal, to be honest with you.
Explain what goes on during the tastings, when you and Corey Siegel go to the French Laundry or host the board at the Greenbrier.
The one that we did when they came out to the Greenbrier was the first time Jerome, Thomas, and Daniel had a chance to taste the food. Prior to that, we only had six weeks to work on the beef, since it wasn't announced long before. I think they were impressed. We had an audio recording of the crowd in Lyon, France playing in the kitchen, so you could feel the pounding and the noise. We set tables up exactly as it is in France and presented the food to them.
We had a carving station off to the side, just like in France, so that we could gauge how hot the food would be after we presented it and plated it. That was very useful, because I'm really thinking about how to introduce heat into the platter. People will be taking pictures of the food, it'll be presented to the panel, and a good amount of time passes until it's plated.
The most recent tasting, which took place at the French Laundry. From left to right: Corey Siegel (saucing), Pamela Taylor, Gabriel Kreuther, Gavin Kaysen, Thomas Keller, Monica Bhambhani, Timothy Hollingsworth, Devin Knell, and Richard Rosendale (saucing) [Photo: Bonjwing Lee]
At this point, what are the greatest challenges?
I've done so many cooking competitions that I'm not fazed by the process that much. What I see as a challenge is taking all of these points of view, all of this opinions, and filtering them correctly. You have all of these amazing chefs consulting us, and they all have the same principals in many ways, but there are different styles of food there. I can't go train at The French Laundry and suddenly totally go in that direction, for example. I have to make sure that I have a point of view and don't get off track. You have to listen to this extremely valuable feedback, but you have to maintain the integrity of your point of view.
And in general, you have to be quick and effective. You no longer have a few months. That garnish has to be tweaked today or tomorrow, and you can't spend too much time deliberating on things that might set you back.
One of the big challenges, coming from the U.S., is that shipping stuff over is going to be harder than for a team in Europe, for example. We're going to spending at least one week just packing. So, overall, the big goal is to manage our time correctly.
This might be very difficult to answer, but what have been some crucial contributions from the advisors and board members? Any episodes that are particularly memorable?
These people have been great resources. One good example is when we went to Alinea and were working on getting the texture right on a meat garnish. We liked the presentation of it, but the texture wasn't where we wanted it to be. We wanted the gelée wrapped around the beef to be more supple and creamy. So, we spent a day with the team there getting the ratio of additives just right, and we ended up nailing it. The purpose is not to go there, take one of their dishes, and say you're going to put that on your platter.
One of the benefits of going to The French Laundry was seeing all of that produce and saying, "Why don't we grow all of the things we expect to use in Lyon?" It's wonderful to have all of these things available to you. But you have to be able to think for yourself, like I said.
You seem to be as confident as you were when we first spoke.
No question that I'm equally confident right now. That being said, I'm not diluting the fact that I understand how difficult this will be. You can't go in there too confident, but you do have to be committed and excited. We're going to be really into the food that we are cooking, and that will overwhelm any other feelings, negative or positive, that I have about the competition. That for me is going to be the fuel. We are enthusiastic.
At any point do you think about what other teams might be doing, or do you try to be somewhat insular?
You have to be careful not to worry about what everyone else is doing. To win this, you can't do what others have or are doing. You can't mimic their food. It has to be your own. This is way more than five-hour competition, and I hope people realize that: it's balancing work, personal life, not getting caught up in the media distractions. I don't if I would have been ready for this ten years ago. I slept for an hour last Saturday!
Another reason that this isn't just a five-hour competition: I want to do my best at this because I hope that people can see this as an opportunity to change their careers for the better. I really want to help the foundation. I'm shipping all of this equipment one-way.
Finally, do you think — and this comes from a completely ignorant perspective — that there might be a bias? That no matter how good what you present is, it might not cut it.
I never worry about that stuff. Like I said, it's just about being excited about the food you're making. You can't worry about anything else. Maybe, possibly, if you look back, it was the case that we didn't have the right combination of ingredients and that's why we weren't on the podium. Maybe it wasn't our time and we didn't have it right. But soon we will.