A week from today, chef Richard Rosendale and commis Corey Siegel will finally arrive at the moment they've been preparing for over the past year: the finals of the Bocuse d'Or in Lyon, France. Eater will be there next week, covering the U.S. team's push to reverse what has to-date been a pattern of disappointments in the event, often referred to as the World Cup of cooking competitions. Obligatory nationalism and optimism aside, it sounds like this year the chances of Team USA doing that are better than ever. Here's why:
Apart from running the expansive restaurant and in-room dining program at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, Rosendale is a certified master chef and well-known name in the world of competitive cooking. "Even though he may not be a celebrity chef in the sense we usually understand that term," says Andrew Friedman, author of Knives at Dawn, the authoritative text on the U.S.'s push for gold at Bocuse in 2009, "he's a star in that world." And that makes a difference in a context where endurance, organization, and an understanding of the competition's specific standards trump the conventional preoccupations of a restaurant chef. As Rosendale described it in an interview last year, "You have to bring to the table a representation of the craft, layers of technique, and over the top presentations with the guiding principle that everything has to be delicious." All of that has to be achieved within five hours, in an extremely noisy arena where MCs will narrate over a PA in both French and English, and fans will chant for their teams throughout the day.
Rosendale has been using a private trainer to get in shape, he spearheaded the construction of an exact replica of the kitchen he'll be using in Lyon at the Greenbrier, and he's taken trips to Scandinavia to learn from the guys who usually come out on top at these events. "It's basically like assuming another full-time job," says Rosendale. He's hosted tastings and trials, both at the Greenbrier and in Napa, for coaches Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Gabriel Kreuther, Gavin Kaysen, and Grant Achatz, among others. He also visited Alinea, in Chicago, to consult with Achatz, who's in charge of providing the progressive culinary insights to the U.S. team. This year, the coaches and Rosendale feel you need to go into the competition "with Escoffier in one hand and a circulator in the other."
The tasting of the team's meat platter, back in September. [Photo: Bonjwing Lee/Ulterior Epicure]
For the competion, the teams will have to present a meat platter, as has always been the case. Rosendale and Siegel have that all ready to go. There are, however, two potential wild cards: the fish portion and the market visit. The Bocuse d'Or usually announces the type of fish the teams will use a year in advance, but this time, they changed it up and revealed it with just two months notice. In addition, instead of serving the fish on a platter for fourteen guests, as is traditionally the case, the fish will have to be portioned and served on plates. Says Kaysen, "it changes the way we can think about what we need to cook, how it should taste, and ultimately, how we can alter the experience for the judge." The market visit is also new for 2013: they've asked the teams to visit the market and devise two new recipes for garnishes in ninety minutes.
The U.S. team has already checked into their hotel in Lyon, the jet lag has, for most part, faded, and they've got a strict daily task list and agenda to follow from now until next week. They're not letting on that they have many worries. "There is a difference between being anxious and being eager," says Rosendale. "We have prepared, and we are eager. If they told me we are cooking on Friday, we would be ready." Friedman describes Rosendale as "extremely buttoned-down," with a remarkable sense of organization and discipline. "People may think I am a little intense, but it helps me generate consistency and execute at a high level," says Rosendale when asked about his habits. "If you saw my room at the hotel right now, you would see even my clothes for the event are neatly organized and labeled. I leave nothing to chance."
Though some might look at the Bocuse d'Or as perhaps too niche, a competition meaningful for only the most ardent of enthusiasts, Friedman suggests that the impact, if the U.S. wins, could be big. "It would be something along the lines of the Judgment of Paris in 1976, when California wines beat out the French," he says. "The U.S. is now extremely respected in gastronomy, but a win for the team here could have very serious and very positive implications worldwide."