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Richard Rosendale on the Bocuse d'Or and What's Next

Richard Rosendale picking mushrooms after leaving the Greenbrier.
Richard Rosendale picking mushrooms after leaving the Greenbrier.
Photo: Richard Rosendale

Earlier this summer — about four months after competing at the Bocuse d'Or — chef Richard Rosendale quietly resigned his position at West Virginia's Greenbrier Resort. In his TEDx talk that went online last week, Rosendale explains that he left the prestigious position upon realizing that he was "running out of runway." Last week, between various trips he had planned, Rosendale talked to Eater by telephone about what he's been up to since departing the Greenbrier and his inspiration for the TED talk. In this interview, Rosendale explains his desire to spend more time with his family and develop his own brand through all the new opportunities that are coming his way. He also reflects on the aftermath of the Bocuse d'Or, its ripple effects, and whether he might consider competing again sometime.

So what are you up to?
Well, lately I've been doing a lot of presentations and I recently did a TED talk. That was my first time doing that and that was a blast. I have been trying to spend a lot of time catching up with my kids because I've been going full-tilt for so many years with all the cooking competitions and coming back to the Greenbrier [in 2009].

I saw the TED talk. How did you get hooked up with that?
Well, they just reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in doing it. I said absolutely. I came up with the topic earlier in the year before I actually made the decision to leave the Greenbrier. So it was really timely. I like to really say what I believe. For me, it was a pretty passionate topic because it's something I definitely believe in.

In the talk, you said you left the Greenbrier because you were running out of runway on things that were meaningful to you?
The talk wasn't really necessarily aligned with leaving the Greenbrier. Honestly, it was geared more toward a broader audience. When I talk about running out of runway, it's not necessarily achieving all the goals in your life. It's just kind of like if somebody decides they want to do the Bocuse d'Or or plant a garden [or] have kids, whatever, you really only have a threshold of time to work within. I've applied that philosophy my entire career and, as a result, I've been very fortunate to achieve a lot of goals in my career. But it wasn't necessarily like I decided to leave the Greenbrier because I felt this tremendous pressure from a timing standpoint.

That being said, I had been there for four years, and in that four years I initiated the Greenbrier Farm, which is a 44-acre farm. I don't know of another hotel in the world that's doing a farm-to-table program at that scale. We supplied about 75 percent of all the produce for the entire 750-room hotel. Plus we opened up five new restaurants, did three PGA tours, and I designed all the restaurants for the 100,000 square foot casino. I probably wouldn't have gone back [to the hotel] if it was going to be the same old Greenbrier, but I really wanted to be part of re-imagining that place. Now that it's off and running, I said to myself, hey am I going to be here for the next 10 years or the next five years? Realistically, there's just other things in my life and my career that I could pursue.

What are you looking to get into now?
I'm going to be out in Los Angeles filming Recipe Rehab for CBS. We'll be doing the entire season — it's like 11 or 13 episodes — all in basically a week. I've spent a lot of time over the years in front of the camera, but I have not been on a sustained network television show. So I thought that would be a lot of fun. We'll see how that goes. I definitely would consider sticking with it and doing some more projects like that.

And some of the other stuff I have coming up, I'm going to be presenting at StarChefs International Chef Congress coming up at the end of September, doing a sous vide workshop out there. Next month, I'm going to be heading out to the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival and doing two events there. The one I'm really looking forward to is talking to students about my experience in doing the Bocuse d'Or and trying to help Thomas [Keller] and Daniel [Boulud] and Jerome [Bocuse] with trying to get more awareness for the Bocuse d'Or. I still don't think that enough people in the United States know about the competition. We made tremendous progress last time, but there's a lot of opportunity to further the awareness.

Yeah, I was going to ask you about how or whether you were going to continue to be involved with the US team.
I actually spoke with Thomas earlier in the year and just emailed him yesterday because I'm lining up my obligations for next year. I reached out to him and said that I'm happy to be involved in whatever capacity. Honestly, there was a point there when I had strongly considered coming back and competing again. If I would have done it this time, I would have to do it full-time. I wouldn't be able to have a busy job.

But then you look at it and it is a huge commitment. I'm certainly not somebody to shy away from commitment — whether I would ever do it again is something that I haven't really decided yet — but I do think that what I can do is stay involved and possibly play another role. Because I do think that it's not really just having the right candidate. It's not having the right coaches. It's putting a recipe together for a soup. If you're missing the cream or you're missing the vegetables or you're missing the stock, those are all critical ingredients. In the future, I definitely would be happy to be part of the team and will let Thomas and the board decide what they want that template to look like. But I feel obligated to some extent to make a contribution in some way.

[Photo: Bonjwing Lee]

You haven't ruled out competing again?
I am not going to do it this next time. Right now, I just have too many things going on. The Bocuse d'Or, you can't do that and all the other things that you've got going on in your life. When I left the Greenbrier, my email and Facebook and all that practically overheated. It was crazy. I haven't ruled out a lot of opportunities that did and did not exist prior to leaving the hotel. What's been exciting has been the fact that your life can change over the course of an email, or an opportunity may surface when you do not expect it.

So what I've been doing in the last couple of months is a lot of things that have been fun. Number one, I've been spending a ton of time with my two little boys. I've talked with so many chefs over the years that point back to their life and say, oh man, I wish I would have spent time with my kids. I'll never have that time back. If anything had a parallel to the TED talk, it was definitely making sure that I didn't miss this opportunity. I have a five-year-old and a one-year-old. Those kids have been just a blast, spending every single day with them.

It's almost like every couple of years, just like a football team stops and gets in a huddle, you've got to stop and reboot. Stop, walk away, reboot, and what are the next set of plays? What are the other things you want to still achieve? I've been very fortunate over the years to achieve a heck of a lot of stuff in my career. It hasn't been just moseying along at the mercy of fate. I've made very purposeful decisions. I know that people look at me as a relentlessly organized, super disciplined straight arrow, but also I have always had kind of a degree of unpredictability. Like a lot of guys, I probably have a little bit of rebel in me or whatever. But I've always carefully planned my career and family time as well. I've been with my wife since the seventh grade. I don't want to look back ten years from now and say I didn't spend any time with my kids. But it's been super exciting since I left the Greenbrier.

So what led to your decision to leave? When did you realize you were going to do that?
I've always kind of had my own brand. I think over the next 10 years people's resumes are going to change. Your online presence or your website and your brand is going to be your resume, whether you're going to work for a hotel or you're going to go open your own restaurant. I have always had my own brand out there. I'm at the point now where I'd like to further develop that brand. It's difficult to do that being under the umbrella of the Greenbrier. I've enjoyed all of my years at the Greenbrier and they've been great people to work with. But, you know, you kind of get to a point where you stop and you take a snapshot of where you're at in your life and you say, okay, here's what I still want to do.

I point back to the TED talk: Here's the runway, here's how much time you have to do this set of goals. And you either decide you're going to take off and do it or you change the flight plan. So I knew when I went to the Greenbrier that I didn't imagine myself retiring there. But, at the time, the Greenbrier was emerging from bankruptcy and I was excited about going back there. To some degree, I almost felt a duty of trying to help bring it back from the abyss. It was super exciting: I rolled a birthday cake out on stage to Jessica Simpson, opened up restaurants at breakneck speed, did the Bocuse d'Or, took the certified master chef exam, started the farm. Most people would take a look at the last four years and would think that was a lifetime. I loved being involved in those things. Now I'm at the point where I'm like, okay, what's next?

I've been kind of careful to not paint myself into a corner. There's been neat opportunities that have surfaced. I'm the kind of person that likes to turn rocks over in life. I don't want to not hear what those opportunities are. If somebody comes to me and wants to partner on a restaurant somewhere or a television show, there's been a lot of fun things like that. When [the CBS show] popped up, I said yeah that'd be awesome. I'd love to do that. I've never done that before. I'm in. Next thing you know, I'm on a plane out to Los Angeles filming all these four shows a day and flying back. It's exciting. I've just really enjoyed my life and I want to keep enjoying it.

You mentioned a partnership on restaurants, do you have offers on that?
I can't really go into detail about that, but I will say that I'm keeping my options open at this point. I still have the discipline of fine dining, but I've kind of evolved into being intrigued by lots of other cuisines as well. And also more from a casual aspect. So I wouldn't want to rule anything out as far as opportunities. I'm certainly not at the point where I'm ready to announce any specific plans. But I'm totally open at this point for any kind of opportunities as they surface.

[Photo: Bonjwing Lee, courtesy of Bocuse d'Or USA]

Cool. And you talked about the Bocuse d'Or about how you didn't quite achieve the end result you wanted, but you really did get a lot more attention for the competition here in the States. Can you talk a little bit more about what the aftermath was like for you?
That's a big part of some of the material in the TED talk because I was so amped up and excited about doing the competition. I knew that if [Bocuse d'Or commis] Corey Siegel and I went there and we did the best that we could and we didn't make any major mistakes like overcooking the beef or not getting done in time or dropping the fish on the floor — if we executed everything that we could to the best of our ability — then you can only be proud of that kind of an effort. And I knew from years of doing cooking competitions that, at that level, it's really in the judges' hands. And you're also cooking for an international jury. I've cooked in over 50 international cooking competitions, so I've been surprised both ways. I've been surprised by doing really well and I've been surprised by not doing so well.

So I knew that we did a really good job, but I had no idea how the dice were going to fall. We felt really good about what we did. And the growth that both he and I experienced during the entire process was remarkable. I really think that, even though they might be stepping outside their comfort zone, chefs should totally consider getting involved in this competition. There are things you learn from that competition, like how to persevere, making commitments, the culinary growth, the organizational skills, the networking. You think you're just signing up to do this cooking competition, but it is overwhelming the amount of growth that one goes through. I would compare it to like four years in the industry, doing one year of Bocuse d'Or. It is unbelievable.

Coming back, [Corey] was like, "Man, I wish we would have placed higher." I don't know if you've seen the movie Moneyball, but at the end Brad Pitt and his assistant coach were talking about the 240-pound catcher [who] hits a ball deep to left field. As he's circling the bases, he trips at first and falls. When he gets up, he couldn't figure out why everybody's laughing. He hears the first baseman tell him that he hit the ball over the fence. So this guy hit a home run and he didn't even know it. My point is that sometimes you can change the game, but you don't even realize it. So I told Corey, "You have left a lasting impression on the Bocuse d'Or for the United States. We've laid the groundwork to help chefs for the next go-round. We may not have won the World Series, but what we got as a result of participating and what we have done for the whole initiative is something that is really hard to measure when you're so close to the process."

That's a great way of thinking about it.
And I'll tell you, he gets it. Corey is a future Bocuse d'Or competitor. I'm the guy that likes to do everything, but you can't do everything. So I say to myself, hey, maybe my role isn't actually competing again — maybe it is, I don't know — but maybe it's trying to put somebody like Corey on the podium.

Corey came up to me a couple years ago at the Culinary Institute of America and said, "Chef I want to come work with you at the Greenbrier and learn." So the guy comes down and works with me. He wasn't even old enough to drink a beer. Then I invite him to compete with me in the Bocuse d'Or after he graduates from the program. This guy goes through this amazing experience and he's rubbing shoulders with Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, all these star chefs. Traveling all over the world. We probably ate at like 30 Michelin stars in one year. And now he's in the final phase of the tryouts for the U.S. Culinary Olympic team. If he advances onto the team, he'll be the youngest member of the Culinary Olympic team since the team's inception.

So that's what I talk about changing the trajectory of other people's lives simply by getting involved. You can't worry about the destination or the outcome. The journey and the ripple effect of simply getting involved is where the real treasures are. It's the ripple effect of simply throwing the stone into the water. If you don't do it, nothing moves along. You've got to be satisfied with being part of the process.

It doesn't represent the end of your career. When I was in seventh grade, I had a completely different idea of what my goals and ambitions were. And they all change as you go through your life. So the whole point is for people to get involved, make something happen in your career. Leaving your job, something that is perceived as being a very prestigious position, from the outside looking in that might look like a big move. But sometimes you've got to do that kind of stuff. We all put our goals off because we're so caught up in worrying about not being the right time or I might fail. Who cares? Just go out there and do it.

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