VINTAGE TOQUELAND: Bocuse d’Or USA Winner Announced!

James Kent of 11 Madison Park to Represent United States at Bocuse d’Or 2011

[The Bocuse d’Or USA selects its 2013 team at the end of January; here’s a look back at some highlights of our coverage of the 2010 team trials.]

Lyon Bound: Eleven Madison Park’s James Kent

Hi, all,

I’m just back from the long drive home to Brooklyn from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park where I attended the competition to select the next American team for the Bocuse d’Or.  I’ll have much, much more to say about the day’s events, but congratulations to James Kent, a sous chef at 11 Madison Park in New York City, for winning gold at the Bocuse d’Or USA today.  He and his commis, Tom Allan (who just returned to EMP as a sous chef himself) will compete for the United States in Lyon next January.

Congratulations also to Luke Bergman of The Modern in New York City, who nabbed the silver (second place) and to Christopher Parsons of Catch Restaurant in Winchester, Massachusetts, who took the bronze.  The full text of the Bocuse d’Or USA press release follows.  I’ll follow up with a more detailed post shortly.  G’night.

- Andrew

The Official Press Release from the Bocuse d’Or USA:

THE BOCUSE D’OR USA FOUNDATION SELECTS TEAM USA 2011

Chef James Kent Will Represent The United States at The Bocuse d’Or International Culinary Competition

New York, NY (February 6, 2010) — The Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to inspiring culinary excellence, announced this evening that Chef James Kent will represent the United States at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or International Culinary Competition, to be held in Lyon, France on January 25-26, 2011. His commis (assistant) in the competition will be Tom Allan. Established in 1987 by Chef Paul Bocuse, the Bocuse d’Or is the preeminent international culinary competition in which teams of one chef and one commis from 24 countries compete for top honors and international acclaim.  Currently, Chef Kent serves as Sous Chef at Eleven Madison Park in New York City and his commis is a Sous Chef at Eleven Madison Park as well.

On Saturday, February 6, 2010, twelve finalist teams (one chef plus one commis) competed in the U.S. Finals Competition which was held at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Each team created two elaborate culinary presentations before a live audience and a prestigious panel of chef judges chosen from The Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation’s esteemed Culinary Council. Judges for the competition included The Foundation’s Board of Directors – Chef Daniel Boulud, Chef Thomas Keller and Jerome Bocuse – as well as Chefs Grant Achatz, Paul Bartolotta, Timothy Hollingsworth, Traci Des Jardins, Paul Liebrandt, Walter Manzke, Daniel Patterson, Georges Perrier, Alain Sailhac, André Soltner, Susan Spicer, Laurent Tourondel, Alan Wong and Eric Ziebold. The winning team was announced at an Awards Dinner at The Culinary Institute of America on Saturday, February 6, 2010.

Daniel Boulud, The Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation Chairman noted, “Thomas, Jerome and I and the entire Culinary Council are so happy to have selected Chef Kent to represent the United States at the international competition. We truly believe this talented candidate is committed to culinary excellence and exemplifies American gastronomy as we saw today during the competition. Chef Kent shows a great deal of courage, passion and command of his craft, and we look forward to training him throughout the coming year in preparation for Lyon in 2011.”

Each of the 12 finalist teams were required to prepare two individually plated protein platters in just five-and-a-half hours. One presentation featured Scottish Salmon and the other featured American Lamb, and each was accompanied by three elaborate garnishes. Scores were based on a 60-point system. 40 points were dedicated to taste and 20 points accounted for presentation.

Chef Kent’s Scottish “Label Rouge” Salmon Pavé with Leeks, Osetra Cavier and Sauce Fumet Blanc was elegantly garnished with the following: Roulade with Alaskan King Crab, Relish of Cucumber and Meyer Lemon; Chilled Mousse with Tartare and Roe; Pickled Heirloom Beets with Crème Fraiche, Dill and Black Pepper. The fish was provided by Scottish Quality Salmon.

For his lamb platter, Chef Kent presented Elysian Fields Farm Spring Lamb: Bacon Wrapped Saddle with Piquillo Peppers and Provençale Herbes; Vol-Au-Vent of Braised Gigot with Sweetbreads and Preserved Lemon; Zucchini with Lynnhaven Chèvre Frais and Mint; Tart of Tomato Confit with Basil, Niçoise Olives and Fromage Blanc. The lamb was provided by The American Lamb Board.

“Competing in the finals has been a great experience and we feel incredibly lucky to be involved,” said Chef James Kent, winner of The Bocuse d’Or USA competition. “This is just the first step toward Lyon. We know we have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we are ready for this challenge with the support of The Foundation behind us.”

In addition to earning the honor of representing the United States at the Bocuse d’Or International Culinary Competition in 2011, Chef Kent was also awarded a $5,000 cash prize. In second place, Chef Luke Bergman, Sous Chef at The Modern in New York City, was awarded a trophy and a $4,000 cash prize. In third place, Chef Christopher Parsons, Executive Chef/Owner of Catch in Winchester, MA, was awarded a trophy and a $3,000 cash prize. The following awards were also presented at the Awards Dinner:

ο    BEST COMMIS presented by Rougié Foie Gras: Marcella Ogrodnik (Student, The Culinary Institute of America)
ο    BEST FISH presented by All-Clad Metalcrafters: Jennifer Petrusky (Sous Chef, Charlie Trotter’s, Chicago, IL)
ο    BEST MEAT presented by All-Clad Metalcrafters: Percy Whatley (Executive Chef, The Ahwahnee, Yosemite, CA)

The Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation will work with Chef Kent and his commis Tom Allan to customize a yearlong training program crafted, executed and supervised by The Foundation’s esteemed Board of Directors and Culinary Council. In addition, all direct expenses associated with participation in the international competition are provided by The Foundation. This includes round trip air travel to Lyon, meals and accommodations for 15 days in France, registration fees, on-site acclimation training, competition ingredients and presentation platters. The Foundation is also dedicated to making the careers of serious young chefs more meaningful and successful by offering them educational scholarships, grants, internships and access to a Culinary Council of established professionals.

To have been eligible to compete, Chef Applicants must be American citizens and 23 years of age or older at the time of the final competition in Lyon on January 25, 2011. They must also have had at least three years of experience in a fine dining establishment.

The Commis Applicants must be American citizens and 22 years of age or younger at the time of the final competition in Lyon.

In addition, hopefuls were required to complete an extensive application process which included an essay detailing their desire to represent the United States in the prestigious international competition, two letters of recommendation from chefs and/or restaurateurs, a letter of intent from a culinary sponsor and a current dinner menu from the restaurant at which the Chef Applicant is currently employed. These 12 finalists were selected for their outstanding motivation, commitment to the culinary arts, demonstrated organization and high-profile references supporting their candidacy.

The full list of competitors at The Bocuse d’Or USA Finals Competition 2010 included:

Luke Bergman, The Modern, Sous Chef (New York, NY)
Commis: Joseph Piccione, The Culinary Institute of America, Student

Jim Burke, James, Executive Chef/Owner (Philadelphia, PA)
Commis: Simon Solis-Cohen, The Culinary Institute of America, Student

Danny Cerqueda, Carolina Country Club, Executive Sous Chef (Raleigh, NC)
Commis: Wayne Goode, Caroline Country Club, Prep Cook

Michael Clauss, The Daily Planet, Executive Chef (Burlington, VT)
Commis: Marcella Ogrodnik, The Culinary Institute of America, Student

James Kent, Eleven Madison Park, Sous Chef (New York, NY)
Commis: Tom Allan, Eleven Madison Park, Sous Chef

Mark Liberman, Consulting Chef (San Francisco, CA)
Commis: Leland Cummings, The Culinary Institute of America, Student

Christopher Parsons, Catch, Executive Chef/Owner (Winchester, MA)
Commis: Nathaniel French, Catch, Garde Manger

Jennifer Petrusky, Charlie Trotter’s, Sous Chef (Chicago, IL)
Commis: James Caputo, Charlie Trotter’s, Cook

John Rellah, NY Yacht Club, Executive Chef (New York, NY)
Commis: Alexander Flynn, The French Culinary Institute, Student

Jeremie Tomczak, French Culinary Institute, Executive Chef – Event Operations (New York, NY)
Commis: Cameron Slaugh, Park Avenue Seasonal, Sous Chef

Andrew Weiss, The Lakes Club at Lake Las Vegas, Executive Chef (Las Vegas, NV)
Commis: Fernando Salazar, The Lobby Bar and Café at Encore, Cook

Percy Whatley, The Ahwahnee, Executive Chef (Yosemite, CA)
Commis: Melissa Marshall, The Culinary Institute of America, Extern

Sponsors of The Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation include American Express, All-Clad Metalcrafters, Manitowoc, Tiffany & Co., Continental Airlines, Rougié Foie Gras, The American Lamb Board and Scottish Quality Lamb.  For more information on becoming a sponsor or for additional details regarding upcoming fundraising events throughout the country, please visit www.bocusedorusa.org.

# # #

VINTAGE TOQUELAND: Groundhog Day Edition

[The Bocuse d’Or USA selects its 2013 team at the end of January; here’s a look back at some highlights of our coverage of the 2010 team trials.]

Thomas Keller speaks to candidates at the Bocuse d'Or USA, February 5, 2010.

Day 1 Musings from the Culinary Institute of America

I arrived in Hyde Park, New York, shortly before 10am today, to check out all the activities scheudled for the Bocuse d’Or USA “prep day” (more on that in a moment) at the Culinary Institute of America.

It was quite a scene: thoughout the late morning and early afternoon, a steady stream of chefs arrived to participate in the weekend’s panels and judging.  It was a formidable group:  Daniel Humm, Paul Liebrandt, Laurent Tourondel, David Chang, Grant Achatz, Traci des Jardin, Timothy Hollingsworth, Gavin Kaysen, Paul Bartolotta, Charlie Trotter, Susan Spicer, Alan Wong, Alain Sailhac, Andre Soltner, Georges Perrier, and – of course – the Bocuse d’Or USA triumverate of Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Jerome Bocuse.

The sudents here are beyond excited, bouncing up and down the halls and saying things like, “This is the best weekend ever.” And who can blame them?  Their heroes are walking among them, only too happy to sign their toques and chef coats, and to pose for pictures.  A highlight of the afternoon was a panel on the topic of Crafting Your Culinary Career featuring many of the above-named chefs and moderated by Culinary Institute of America president, Tim Ryan.  These kinds of panels can quickly devolve into a lot of hot air and platitudes, but today’s was chock full of bona fide wisdom.  (My favorite line:  On the topic of firing employees, Paul Liberandt said, “I’ve never fired anybody.  They fire themselves.”  So true.)

Although the setting was considerably more frigid than it was at the last Bocuse d’Or USA, held in September 2008 in Orlando, Florida, there was a sense of deja vu for those of us who were there last time.  So many of the same players, the same emotions in the air, the coming competition and gala awards dinner Saturday night.  I discussed this at length with a few returning candidates. Was it really a full year and a half ago that we all saw each other in Epcot?  To us, it felt like only yesterday.

When I got back to the house where I’m staying and turned on the television, I was treated to a moment of cosmic pefection: the ultimate deja vu movie (and one of my personal faves), Groundhog Day, was playing on Bravo. As I type this, I’m watching Bill Murray better himself in pursuit of Andie MacDowell.

There will be plenty of deja vu to go around tomorrow as well: the competitors will be cooking for the second day in a row, because the organizers have made a change to the competition structure this year.  Rather than cooking for 5 1/2 hours straight, as the American team will have to do in Lyon next January, they did about four hours of cooking today, with no audience in attendance, then stashed their food until tomorrow, when they will execute the final hours of their routine and present their platters.

I spoke to a number of people about the potential pros and cons of this adjustment today. (Best line:  A returning candidate told me the dip in pressure compared to last time was so great that “I felt like I was cheating.”)  But I’ll save up the observations until after Saturday plays out so I can put them in proper context.

I’ll be back Sunday or Monday with a wrap up of the entire weekend.  Until then, if you’d like to keep up with the action, I’ll be tweeting all day Saturday squeezing in as much description as I can.

Signing off for now.  Appropriately enough, Bravo has Groundhog Day on an endless loop.  It just started playing from the beginning at midnight. And I have to get up early in the morning and drive to Hyde Park, same as I did today.  It’s deja vu, all over again.

- Andrew

 

VINTAGE TOQUELAND: “I Like Being Under the Fire”

Michael Clauss Has Followed His Own Star… Right to Hyde Park

[The Bocuse d’Or USA selects its 2013 team at the end of January; here’s a look back at some highlights of our coverage of the 2010 team trials.]

[With this article, Toqueland has completed its goal of profiling all 12 finalists who will be competing in the Bocuse d’Or USA at Hyde Park this weekend.  Best of luck to all the candidates!]

Michael Clauss, in the Lounge at Restaurant Daniel (photo courtesy Michael Clauss)

One of the more intriguing aspects of the Bocuse d’Or is the tension between what a chef candidate wants to cook and what he or she has to cook.  Most seasoned observers of the competition will tell you that if you don’t cook from the heart, the final dishes will be diminished; the insincerity will register in the eyes and on the taste buds of the judges.  This creates a unique tension for non-European candidates because food etched in a classic French/European style tends to win at the Bocuse d’Or.

After interviewing Michael Clauss, chef of The Daily Planet in Burlington, Vermont, recently, I was struck by how naturally he seemed to fit into this matrix–the chef has a deep background in French cuisine, and has followed his instintcts (and as you are about to learn, his heart) to his current places or residency and employment. I’ll be interested to see how that all adds up on his platters this Saturday.

Clauss was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey, but his family moved to Vermont when he was three.  They lived on a converted dairy farm where they engaged in all kinds of enviable culinary activities, such as cooking freshly killed deer over a woodburning stove or making fresh pasta (his mother was the daughter of Sicilians) every Sunday.

Clauss himself began cooking in high school, then attended the Culinary Institute of America, graduating in 1995.  He externed at the Equinox Hotel in Manchester, Vermont, which led to working in Chantecleer, a small restaurant in East Dorset, Vermont, owned by a Swiss chef of French descent, where he got a crash course in classic, often rustic, cooking:  chateaubriand, frog’s legs, Dover sole, and so on.  There were only about eight entrees on the menu, supplemented by six or seven specials a day, which Clauss says was satisfying from a creative standpoint. He ended up staying there for 9 years. 

From there, Clauss moved around a bit:  a stint as sous chef and banquet chef at Tribeca Grill; two years as an instructor at the New England Culinary Institute in Northern Vermont; and then an extended stay in post-Katrina New Orleans, cooking for volunteers.  

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Bocuse d’Or USA 2010: The Hard Way

Mark Liberman On Going it Alone

[Between now and the Bocuse d’Or USA finals this Saturday, February 6, Toqueland will profile as many of the finalists as possible.]

Mark Liberman


Last fall, Mark Liberman was convinced to apply for the Bocuse d’Or USA by Roland Passot of San Francisco’s La Folie, a member of the Bocuse d’Or USA Culinary Council and former Liberman employer, who called him on a weekly basis to sell him on the value of entering this contest.

“At first I wasn’t that interested,” recalls Liberman.  “I’d never competed before.”  But as Passot wore him down, Liberman began to think that the competition would be “a good opportunity, a good challenge.”

Liberman is a San Francisco native who was raised in Marin and Sonoma counties.  He started his professional kitchen life at 15, as a dishwasher and prep cook, then attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, moving on to stages at Daniel and Aureole after graduation.

From there, he went on to apprentice with Passot at La Folie.  After paying off his college debts, Passot set him up with a stage in Paris—at the Michelin two-star Le Carre des Feuillants —and from there gigs in Burgundy, Nice, and Lyon.  It was great experience, but came at a price—he wasn’t compensated for his labor (the things young cooks do in their quest for knowledge) and ran out of money, so came home.

Liberman worked for a time at Charles Knob Hill, then rejoined the Dinex Group (Daniel Boulud’s company), as saucier at DB Brasserie in the Wynn Hotel, which in turn led to an 18-month job as chef de partie at Robouchon at the MGM Grand. Craving a non-French change of pace, he then worked at Valentino, also in Vegas.

Then Liberman made his move: an opportunity came up to be the executive chef of a new restaurant in Palm Beach.  He’d never seen himself in Palm Beach, but it was an opportunity to work with his brother, a beverage/wine director and mixologist.  He became the opening chef of Forte, and the early reviews were positive.  But when the economy tanked and the restaurant shifted gears, he pushed off.

Liberman’s road to the Bocuse d’Or has been strewn with landmines, but he seems to have survived them all, beginning with his application getting lost in the mail, requiring him to fill out all the paperwork a second time, which was no small task.

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Bocuse d’Or USA 2010: Stepping Up

Jennifer Petrusky, a Commis at the 2008 Bocuse d’Or USA, Returns as a Chef Candidate

[Between now and the Bocuse d’Or USA finals this Saturday, February 6, Toqueland will profile as many of the finalists as possible.]

Jennifer Petrusky(photo courtesy Charlie Trotter's)


Jennifer Petrusky will be making a return to Bocuse d’Or action this weekend.  Petrusky, who was commis to chef candidate Michael Rotondo, of Restaurant Charlie in Las Vegas, at the 2008 Bocuse d’Or USA, will be competing this year as a candidate, with James Caputo, a cook from Charlie Trotter’s, in the role of commis.

Rotondo and Petrusky placed third in the 2008 event, nabbing the bronze medal, and Rotondo was also awarded a sort-of “most likely to succeed” prize, identifying him as a potential future Bocuse d’Or USA candidate.  At the time, I was working on my book Knives at Dawn, and was able to watch the teams from a judge’s-eye perspective—standing right in the competition kitchen windows.  Petrusky was a rock solid commis, an impression that I know many judges shared, so it will be interesting to see how she fares in the hot seat.

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Bocuse d’Or USA 2010: A Symphony of Movement

Danny Cerqueda on Life Beyond Mystery Baskets

[Between now and the Bocuse d’Or USA finals this Saturday, February 6, Toqueland will profile as many of the finalists as possible.]

Danny Cerqueda (photo courtesy Catherine Kelly)

The first time Danny Cerqueda, executive sous chef of Carolina Country Club in Raleigh, North Carolina, competed in a culinary contest was in 2003, in the La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’ young commis competition—a regional showdown in which the candidates are presented a mystery basket (unannounced selection of ingredients from which they have to cook) and have to fashion a three-course meal, with four portions for each course.

“I did horribly,” Cerqueda recalls.  “I thought I knew what I was doing and I think I came in last place.”

Cerqueda picked himself up off the canvas and jumped right back in the next year, training for and winning the regional event, then placing fourth at the national contest. He went back again in 2006, posting the same results.

The experience lit a competitive fire under Cerqueda, who participates in one or two culinary competitions per year, mostly in events organized by the ACF (American Culinary Federation).  In many ways, the 29-year-old Atlanta native is the quintessential American competition cook:  He hails from a country club (historically, most of our Bocuse d’Or and International Culinary Olympics competitors have come from private clubs or culinary schools), and finds great value beyond the competition itself.

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Bocuse d’Or USA 2010: “I Wouldn’t Mind Going First”

Philadelphia’s Jim Burke Embraces the Pressure

[Between now and the Bocuse d’Or USA finals this Saturday, February 6, Toqueland will profile as many of the finalists as possible.]

Jim Burke, with his back against the wall.

Jim Burke, of Philadelphia’s James restaurant, was so busy with the holiday crush at work, that he didn’t even notice when the finalists for the Bocuse d’Or USA were announced in early December, and his name wasn’t on the list.  He found out he hadn’t made the cut when he got a call from a member of the organizing staff, shortly before Christmas, asking him if the Bocuse d’Or USA Committee could re-review his application because somebody had dropped out and they needed to fill the slot.

Burke said “yes,” and got right back to work.  He didn’t discover until mid-January that it was Kevin Gillespie, of Top Chef fame, who had withdrawn.  But it didn’t really matter, because Burke was already making up for lost time, preparing for battle himself.

So just who is this mystery man who was handed a belated shot at Bocuse d’Or glory?

Burke is the chef-owner of James in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who began his career at The Marker at the Adams Mark Hotel and spent two years at Vetri, considered by many to be one of the two or three best Italian restaurants in the country.  Taken with Italian cuisine, he traveled to the small town of Alme, outside Bergamo, where he worked for Paolo Frosio at the Michelin-starred Ristorante Frosio, then spent more than a year working in restaurants and vineyards to further his intuitive feel for Italian food.  Back in the States, he became executive chef of Vivo Enoteca in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and then of Angelina, a Stephen Starr restaurant in downtown Philadelphia.  Today, Burke is executive chef of his James restaurant in Philly, where he serves what he describes as “modern American cuisine with Northern Italian influences.”  He owns and operates the restaurant with his wife, general manager Kristina Burke.  The restaurant has been well received locally, and in 2008, Burke received one of the best feathers a young chef can have tucked in his toque when he was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef.

Burke has never participated in a culinary competition before, but was a jock in high school, playing basketball, baseball, and football.  He had always been vaguely interested in the Bocuse d’Or, having seen “random TV shows” about it and being drawn to the “hoopla” that surrounds it.  Like many of those who have applied since 2008, Burke was inspired to actually apply by the new Bocuse d’Or USA guard of Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Jerome Bocuse.  “The caliber of chef involved was irresistible,” he says.  “Thomas Keller.  Daniel Boulud.  When they get behind something it changes the attitude of a lot of cooks.”

Although Burke got a late start in his preparation, he also got lucky in finding a commis. When approached about being re-considered, Burke mentioned to Alison Buckley, director of competition and events for the Bocuse d’Or USA, that his only concern was finding an assistant in time.  Before he knew it, Buckley had reached out to the CIA, who sent a student his way:  Simon Solis-Cohen, who is from Philadelphia and had eaten at James.  The two met the next day and Solis-Cohen was in, arranging for a three week leave from school.  (By the time we spoke in mid January, Burke said that Solis-Cohen was back in Philly full time and that they would be practicing every day until they left for Hyde Park.)

Burke seems remarkably unfazed by the short time frame he’s on.  “I know it’s incredibly rigorous and intense and I want to challenge myself,” he says. “You don’t know what you’re capable of until you put yourself against the wall.”  The only intimating element for him is the people who will be watching him perform under pressure:

“I’ve done plenty of cooking demos and little talks, but mostly they were in front of housewives…not Thomas Keller.  Not Daniel Boulud.  Not potentially Paul Bocuse.”

To prepare himself, Burke spent time on the Bocuse d’Or USA website, and also on the French mothership’s site, “trying to see the style of the platters and get a feel for what the competition will be like.”  But he acknowledges that visualization will only take him so far.  “Anything I find out now will be nothing like when it’s in my face.”

Despite the short notice, Burke has prepared what he calls an “ambitious” menu.  Unsurprisingly, he and Solis-Cohen hadn’t done any timed trials by the time we spoke in mid-January.  But he was optimistic that would change before the competition in Hyde Park and that they’d get a few full run-throughs in.

Although he was the last chef to start prepping, he’d happily be the first one to present.  “The Saturday teams starts at 6 a.m.,” he says.  “Much as I hate getting up early, I wouldn’t mind going first, getting done, letting everyone else worry about it.”

– Andrew

Bocuse d’Or USA 2010: Private School

Jeremie Tomczak Is Learning Plenty Every Day
[Between now and the Bocuse d’Or USA finals this Saturday, February 6, Toqueland will profile as many of the finalists as possible.]

There Is No Finish Line: Jeremie Tomczak (photo courtesy Jeremie Tomczak)


Jeremie Tomczak, Executive Chef, Event Operations, at the French Culinary Institute, first began thinking about applying for the Bocuse d’Or USA in the summer of 2008, when he witnessed his colleague, FCI instructor Rogers Powell, training for the US team selection event held at Epcot Center in Orlando that year.

“It was pretty cool that he was so dedicated to it, and putting in this time,” recalls Tomczak. “You can see the contestants learning.  When you put that level of commitment in, you probably get more out of it in one day that you normally would in a week.  That’s why I got into this field.  Because you never stop learning.  You never get bored.”

Tomczak, 33, grew up in Wisconsin and has always been around the restaurant business in some way or another.  He didn’t know he’d make it his career, or move to New York City, until he attended cooking school in Madison.  One of his instructors was from New York and had worked at Picholine.  The teacher arranged a trip for 15 students to Manhattan and it was a revelatory jaunt for young Tomczak.

“We just went to a whole bunch of restaurants—Picholine, Windows on the World,” he remembers today.  Of the dear, departed Windows, he says:  “I’ll never forget it, just being in up in that space, seeing the whole city.  It had a big impact on me as to where I had to go next.  Automatically, I said, ‘I’m moving to New York City.’”

After he finished school, Tomczak externed for Laurent Tourondel at his since shuttered jewel box, Cello, on the Upper East Side.  Tourondel offered him a job, but Tomczak couldn’t afford to stay in Manhattan just yet.  He returned home to Wisconsin and an old part-time job with UPS, while also working at Nadia’s restaurant in Madison.  Eventually, he socked away enough dough to move back to New York City in 2002, but didn’t have a game plan.  He showed up with a backpack and checked into a hostel, but couldn’t land a job.  As the last of his dollars was draining from his back account, he scored an interview with Aquavit’s Marcus Samuelsson.

“If I don’t get this job, I’m going to move back to Wisconsin,” he told the chef.

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Bocuse d’Or USA 2010: The Long Road Back

John Rellah, Jr. Will Be Following His Own Vision This Weekend

[Between now and the Bocuse d’Or USA finals this Saturday, February 6, Toqueland will profile as many of the finalists as possible.]

Going Back to Basics: John Rellah, Jr.

In September 2008, John Rellah, Jr. drove himself and his cooking equipment all the way down from the Tri-State area to Orlando, Florida, to compete in the Bocuse d’Or USA team selection event at Epcot.

The drive down was fine—Rellah had cooked for some of the best chefs in the country, like Gray Kunz at Lespinasse, and had been an executive chef in his own right for years, and was full of optimism.  But after failing to win, place, or show, or even to nab one of the booby prizes like best meat or best fish in Orlando, his drive home was a long, solemn affair, and his thoughts were consumed with what had gone wrong.

The thing that nagged at him the most was the feeling he’d been given bad direction by some of the Bocuse d’Or USA advisors, who urged the finalists to “cook American.”  Personally, Rellah didn’t believe that was a solid foundation for success in Lyon, at least not based on his own research, and that it was a bad way to go in Orlando. “I don’t think [chef and Bocuse d’Or judge] Philippe Rochat wants to taste maple syrup,” he said at the time.  But he went with the suggested plan of attack, preparing an American themed menu, and as he autopsied his loss, he thought that had a lot to do with what went wrong.

On that same drive, he decided he wanted to try again, and that he would stick to his own instincts the next time and present what he thought would do well in Europe.  By the time he pulled up in the driveway of his home, where he lives with his wife and two young children, he already had ideas for what he wanted to cook in 2010, if he made the cut and was selected as a finalist again.

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Bocuse d’Or USA 2010: Timing Is Everything

Twelve Years After His First Bocuse d’Or USA, Christopher Parsons is Back

 

[Between now and the Bocuse d’Or USA finals this Saturday, February 6, Toqueland will profile as many of the finalists as possible.]

 

Christopher Parsons in the Kitchen at Catch (photo by Roger Galburt)

For a sense of how much the Bocuse d’Or USA has changed over the years, look no further than the case of Christopher Parsons, executive chef of Catch restaurant in Winchester, Massachusetts, who will be competing this weekend at the Bocuse d’Or USA finals at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.

Parsons competed in the Bocuse d’Or USA once before, at the regional semifinals at the CIA in St. Helena, California, in 1998, when Parsons was in his late 20s.  Back then, the Bocuse d’Or USA was much less well-funded than it is today, and candidates had to finance their own travel to the contest.  Parsons, then working at Arizona 206 in midtown Manhattan, was short on funds, so his dad pitched in, buying the young cook a plane ticket with his frequent flyer miles.  His father also made a much larger contribution to the effort: although commis (assistants) must be no older than 22 in the international competition in Lyon, there was no age limitation for the USA event at the time.  So Parsons bought Dad a chef’s coat and deputized him.

“He’s a [surgeon],” remembers Parsons.  “So I had him do all the butchering.”

This time around, the choice of commis was anything but a last-second decision.  Parsons had always wanted to go back to the Bocuse d’Or USA, but his schedule didn’t align well with the biennial team trials.  Now that he has his own restaurant—with all the support that provides—and is still, by his self-evaluation, young enough (39) to cook fast, he thought perhaps the time was right.  The only impediment was identifying a wingman.

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