Our First in a Series of Interviews with Bocuse d’Or USA Team Members as They Prepare for the International Culinary Competition
[Ed. Note: Periodically throughout 2016, we’ll check in with key figures from the Bocuse d’Or USA team that will compete in Lyon in January 2017. The team operates under the auspices and support of Ment’or BKB, the foundation founded and led by Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Jérôme Bocuse. – A.F.]
In December, four teams competed at The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the opportunity to represent the United States at the Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, France, in 2017, with a duo from Per Se–candidate Mathew Peters and commis Harrison Turone–emerging triumphant. It’s a year of unprecedented expectations of the United States in the international competition because chef-candidate Philip Tessier and commis Skylar Stover brought home a silver medal for the Stars and Stripes in 2015, the first time the US made it to the coveted podium. This year, 2015 coach (and onetime competitor) Gavin Kaysen will, as Team USA Vice President, assume an advisory role while Philip Tessier will coach the team.
Having written a book about the Bocuse d’Or, I have a special interest in this competition, and I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be checking in with core Bocuse d’Or USA participants periodically over the next year and sharing those interviews here on Toqueland. The first is a conversation with Philip Tessier and Gavin Kaysen, recorded shortly after the team was selected in late December:
[Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
FRIEDMAN: Let’s get right to the emotion of the coming year: There’s one spot above silver and 22 spots below it. Professional athletes who reach #1 in the world speak about the feeling of having a target on their back and the new pressures it creates. Now that you have a team selected, how daunting is the prospect of getting ready for battle following on the silver medal in 2015?
TESSIER: We’ve always had the same kind of pressure on ourselves. Even when we competed last year, we felt like we had to get on the podium. We had to win. There are too many things out of your control when you get there that can turn things one way or the other, so there’s a mind game you don’t want to play. Having won silver and coming back for gold, it’s the same mentality: We’re going to do the best we can and compete against ourselves. The most important thing for Gavin and me is to remove the pressure from the candidate. There are going to be cameras and things we have to deal with … so part of our role is to protect the team from external forces that might be there.
KAYSEN: I don’t believe that the pressure is more now than then, but the number of eyes on us will be bigger. When Timmy [Hollingsworth, who competed for the USA in 2009] went, Daniel and Thomas had just jumped on and we got sixth place and everybody let out a gasp. In many respects, every year after that we diminished the attention because we weren’t placing higher. Now there’s attention, but we we’re more ready for it. We’ve been on the podium, with coaches who have been on board for more than three cycles.
FRIEDMAN: That’s a great point for people who know how this competition works: Historically, one of the deficiencies of the US squad is that we’ve never had a bench of advisors who themselves had made it to the podium in Lyon. Now we have that person in Phil. How do you think that will influence the process? Specifically, how will you two go about weaving your knowledge into Matt’s personal vision for what he wants to cook and present in the competition?…