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Holy Crap: The U.S. Team Actually Won the Bocuse d'Or

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Three reasons why we still don’t care

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[Team USA]
[Getty/JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK]

Don’t worry, fellow Americans: The very fabric of our republic may be unraveling, but a small group of our own white men just won a zero-stakes international cooking contest. Team USA just took home the gold at the Bocuse d’Or, a long-running culinary competition in France that Americans have never really cared about, even though it’s a pretty big deal among European gourmands. The event is held every two years in Lyon, the home base for sainted French chef Paul Bocuse, who created the competition three decades ago and still serves as its honorary president. This afternoon, the American team composed of Mathew Peters and Harrison Turone (both veterans of Per Se) crushed all the culinary competitors from around the world. Smell the victory, friends:

This is the first time that the USA has landed in the top slot.

Over the last decade, megawatt celebrity chefs Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud have helped train and assemble the American teams and promote the event. Noted cookbook author Andrew Friedman wrote a compelling and well-received book about the event, Knives at Dawn, back in 2010. And, after years and years of impossibly low rankings, America even took home second place in the last competition in 2015, suggesting that the USA actually had a reason to be at this event.

But despite these efforts and our recent victories, why is it still so hard to care about the Bocuse d’Or? Here are a few theories:

The Food Doesn’t Look Delicious: Each country’s team is judged on several factors including presentation, and the prevailing trend year after year has been to create elaborate diorama-like spreads that don’t look, well, edible. Here’s a peek at America’s meat plate this year:

Is your mouth watering yet?

The Event Itself Is Hard to Follow: All the best cooking shows (and awards shows) live and die by the stories of the participants — you watch them for the narratives. On Top Chef or Chopped, as a viewer you immediately learn who the chefs are and how high (or low) the stakes are for them in the competition. Teams of editors spend weeks cutting single episodes of these shows, to maximize the drama and tease out as many stories as possible.

The live event in Lyon is balls-to-the-walls crazy — there are tons of horns blasting and people shouting, and the action is scattered across several stations on a massive stage. Like watching six soccer matches happening at once in the same room, it’s hard to know where to look and where the real action is happening.

Even Iron Chef, the competition show which the Bocuse d’Or most closely resembles, benefits from lively narration and expert editing. It also doesn’t help that the Bocuse d’Or judging is super confusing, and the rankings often seem arbitrary, even if you are closely following the match itself.

Bocuse d’Or Looks Like an Elite Boys Club: The greatest American evangelists of the event — Boulud and Keller — are high-minded, middle-aged white male chefs. The American teams are often comprised of people who work for Boulud or Keller (or other members of their culinary wolfpack). These have been, almost without exception, white male chefs from high-end kitchens. This does not look like an inclusive group. America’s involvement with the event seems like an extension of the chef-bro boys club that so many people in the industry have been railing against lately.

Of course, it also doesn’t help that a lot of the coverage of the event is in French, and for many, many years America had a weak showing.

Recent TV hits like The Great British Bake-Off and a Chef’s Table prove that American audiences are interested in culinary stories and competitions from other countries — so long as the food looks delicious, and the stories are compelling. Maybe with that in mind, the Bocuse crew could make some changes to the programming that would make the event more accessible to the people from this year’s victorious food country: America.

All Coverage of the Bocuse d’Or [E]


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