This past weekend I had the pleasure and honor of acting as both judge and host at the Bocuse d’Or USA finals held at the Culinary Institute of America where I am the Senior Director of Continuing Education.
This was the second time that the finals were held at the CIA, with kitchens similar to the ones that will be in Lyon and bleachers were filled with students and culinary fans who wielded cowbells to simulate the din that competitors will have to deal with in Lyon.
On Saturday an informal commis competition was held, to encourage younger chefs to get accustomed to the strict format of the competition. I served as one of the judges to this competition which featured some very strong contenders — Sonny Acosta, a cook at Alan Wong’s in Honolulu, Tristan Aitchinson, sous chef at Providence in Los Angeles, Sam Benson, sous chef at Café Boulud, and Rose Weiss who is a culinary extern at Gramercy Tavern. Even as we started we realized that we probably shouldn’t have called it a commis competition. Commis traditionally refers to a junior or trainee chef who is charged mostly with chopping and assisting. But in these competitors we saw a really impressive level of understanding and skills. Rose Weiss, who won the competition ran a kitchen that was a really tight kitchen.
Sunday was the main competition and one of the things that struck me was again the transformation of the commis. Each of the chefs and their assistants were a true team: Gold winner Richard Rosendale,CMC executive chef of The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., was assisted by Corey Siegel, a junior apprentice at the Greenbrier. Jeffrey Lizotte, chef de cuisine of ON20 in Hartford, Conn., who took home the Silver was assisted by Cornell Hotel School student Kevin Curley. Bronze winner William Bradley, a chef–instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Southboro, Mass had the assistance of Cordon Bleu graduate James Haibach; and Danny Cerqueda, executive sous chef of Carolina Country Club in Raleigh, N.C., assisted by Johnson & Wales student Marianne Elyse Warrick.
These competitors were impressive. The Bocuse d’Or is important, first, because it brings together the globe in Lyon. And while it started out as very traditionally French, over recent years it has been evolving into an epicenter of culinary techniques and advancements, particularly with the Nordic chefs. It’s importance to the U.S. is that it is an example of the high artisanship of what we do and is all done n the name of being a true professional.
These competitors were all shining examples of all that Bocuse exemplifies about our profession. But Rich was technically incredible. When you look at the number of components, the flexibility, he exemplified the organizational skills of a true professional. I’ve watched thousands of programs executed and it’s pretty compelling when someone as jaded as I am is as impressed as I was with his program. His chicken construction was one example of his innovation and creativity — he built it in a modified Mr. Potato Head. He layered the forcemeat and chicken breast and cooked the mold sous vide. He then took it out of the mold and dropped it into the deep fryer to crisp the skin and then served the perfectly striped halves on a spiked holder.
Now that the finals are complete Rich will go to Lyon to represent the U.S. He will be mentored by the Bocuse d’Or USA Board of Directors including Chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Jerome Bocuse and Team USA coaches Gavin Kaysen, Grant Achatz and Gabriel Kreuther. Everyone is now patiently waiting for the ingredients to be announced.