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Bocuse d'Or 2013: France Rises Again, the U.S. Falls Short

Thibault Ruggeri
Thibault Ruggeri

[Photos by Bonjwing Lee, courtesy of Bocuse d'Or USA]

It's been a day since Richard Rosendale and commis Corey Siegel spent five hours and thirty-five minutes cooking with unflappable focus and drive at the Bocuse d'Or in Lyon, France. The result of that effort, the culmination of an intensive year of preparation, is surely not the one the team, its advisors, or its supporters had hoped and worked for: seventh place, seven points behind sixth-place Sweden. This year, France won the gold, while Denmark and Japan took silver and bronze, respectively. The U.S. improved on last year's performance, when James Kent and Thomas Allan placed tenth, but were unable to make the podium or surpass sixth place, the best the team has ever done (in 2003 and 2009).

Though by no means devastating, the result is made all the more disappointing by the fact that this was the year most thought things would be different. There were reasons for that. First, American gastronomy and American chefs continue to gain respect and spread their influence throughout the world; the question of Eurocentrism or bias becomes less and less valid with every passing year. Second, the infrastructure bolstering the effort seemed more involved than ever: Grant Achatz and Gabriel Kreuther were brought on to advise the candidates on how to negotiate the classic and the modern, while noted chefs Thomas Keller and the Lyonnaise Daniel Boulud continued to invest their time and effort into the process as heads of the Bocuse d'Or USA foundation. There were trials and tastings in Napa and at the Greenbrier Resort, where Rosendale works, and it was clear that this team wanted Americans to know what was going on and wanted them to get behind Rosendale and Siegel.

Most importantly, it was the year we were getting a candidate made for this sort of thing. Rosendale, a certified master chef, is well-versed in competitive cooking, runs the food and beverage program at one of the country's largest resorts, and is the type of guy who works with a private trainer, is meticulous in his organization, and says he leaves nothing to chance.

Rosendale exhibited all of those qualities yesterday in a hall where fans from Japan, the UK, Norway, the U.S., and other countries provided incessant clamor from morning until evening, with shouts and through brass bands and air horns. It is jarring, to say the least, to come upon a stage of ten or so kitchens, with people basically just cooking in them, that can provoke so much fervor. It somehow belittles the atmosphere yesterday to say "it was just like a soccer game," but that's what it was. Add to that two inane MCs speaking over the din in French and English, as well as intermittent bursts of techno and other electronic music, and it's about as charged as a cooking environment can get.

Throughout the whole affair, Rosendale looked like he was still cooking in the bunker of the Greenbrier, where for the past several months he's been able to use an exact replica of the kitchen he worked in yesterday. His mise en place was meticulously labeled (with correct spelling and even punctuation, for the most part), his knives were perfectly arranged, and he worked quietly without engaging or acknowledging the many people who passed by and lingered, often right in his face. He had an enviable economy of movement, where there was no hesitation, no wiggling, no shaking. To see him pipe layers of cream onto a Silpat, holding his elbow in position as he applied the fluid from side-to-side, would make a robot run for cover.

His commis Corey Siegel worked in much the same way, despite being younger and less experienced. The only thing that perhaps let on his age was the relentless blush on his face.

By my count, Rosendale had more timers and a cleaner station than any other candidate there. He was on top of his game, like most thought he would be. Occasionally, coach Gavin Kaysen, a former Bocuse d'Or competitor and one of Boulud's star chefs, would remind Rosendale of the schedule and make sure things were going smoothly. Kaysen deftly handled press, visiting judges, and questions from Keller and Boulud, making sure that Rosendale had only one thing to focus on.

The meat platter Siegel and Rosendale devised was a brilliant and elegant array of hickory grilled beef filet with asparagus and horseradish, fried hollandaise, a take on the Yankee pot roast using oxtail, potato dumplings, a resplendent coil of carrot, bone marrow, and more. It took its cues from Frank Lloyd Wright's work at Fallingwater and the Guggenheim and managed to be impressive and measured at the same time. The fish dish was also remarkable given the circumstances. Rules changed this year, and contestants had to come up with something more similar to a restaurant dish than a platter. The type of fish, turbot, was only announced a few months ago, and the dish had to incorporate ingredients from a market visit the chefs could only make after arriving in Lyon. Rosendale used the fish plate to reference his background, even though he maintained the more traditional, Gallic aesthetic standards of Bocuse. It was slowly cooked and enhanced by ham, black truffles, cider-cooked butternut squash, a potato and leek cigar, and a wine emulsion. These were "the flavors of West Virginia," Rosendale told the judges.

As we already know, that wasn't enough. France's Thibault Ruggeri, a messier, much less restrained force in the kitchen by comparison to Rosendale, put out a platter that hinted at his country's gastronomic traditions in a way that seemed self-consciously over-the-top. It was hilarious and delightful because of that. The main component of the impressive presentation was a play on the beef rossini. The two men that carried the platter were trailed by another cook hoisting a massive bowl of truffle soup that had a puff pastry dome covering it that made the thing look like a basketball arena. It was an obvious nod to Paul Bocuse, the beloved chef who came up with this competition and whose Lyon restaurant has held three Michelin stars since 1965.

Seeing the 86-year-old chef — who can't stand up for long periods of time and couldn't even be at the competition the whole way through — open the envelope and exclaim "La France!" was something even Rosendale could probably appreciate.

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

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