Bocuse d’Or USA: The Rest of the Story

Possible Lyon Format Change, Mr. Potato Head’s Supporting Role, and Some Love for the Runners Up as Toqueland Wraps Up Its Bocuse d’Or USA Coverage

Richard Rosendale's gold-winning meat platter. (photo courtesy Bocuse d'Or USA)

January 30, 2012 — Toqueland dragged itself off the mat this morning after Sunday’s round-trip excursion to the CIA in Hyde Park, followed by a late night of optimistic summation, and trudged up to a press conference at the Sofitel in Midtown Manhattan.

A few urgent matters await us elsewhere, so with apologies for the bullets, here, in no particular order, are some leftovers from yesterday’s competition and news from this morning’s presser:

Toqueland Exclusives and Other Breaking Stuff:
  • You Heard it Here First: POSSIBLE SWITCH TO PARTIALLY SPONTANEOUS FORMAT IN LYON: Last week, Gavin Kaysen told us about a possible new format in Lyon, involving plates rather than platters for one “course.” Florent Suplisson, Executive Director of the international event in Lyon, hinted at the possible change in this morning’s press conference, opting not to reveal it there. But Toqueland can report the change that’s being pondered: The Bocuse d’Or is considering replacing one of the platters with plated dishes made from ingredients and techniques that are revealed over time: the proteins several months out, the ingredients to be used in the garnishes closer to the event, and the techniques that must be employed the day before the competition (these would possibly change from Day 1 to Day 2). None of this is decided yet; the organization will continue to discuss, and enlist some chefs to conduct some dry runs to see how it actually plays out, then will likely make its decision sometime over the next month. This would be a dramatic change for a competition in which knowing all the parameters in advance has always been a defining trait.
  • YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST: Don’t Make Fun of My Spud, Bud! Bocuse d’Or USA 2012 Champ Richard Rosendale really did use a Mr. Potato Head! As he was plating his meat platter yesterday, an observer (not sure if it was the emcee or not) joked that Rosendale’s chicken looked like it was being presented in the shape of a Mr. Potato Head.  Well, guess what:  IT WAS! Here it is right from Rosendale himself: “Somebody was joking around that we used a Mr. Potato Head mold; we actually did. That was inspired by my son, Lawrence. He’s three and a half years old… it was pretty quick, I didn’t have time to make a mold and I playing with my son one Sunday and I looked over and I was, like, ‘That Mr. Potato Head is almost exactly like a chicken if you turn it upside down.’ So that’s what I used. I cut it in half and I cleaned it out with a dremel, and I just used it, it didn’t come in contact with the food. It was just to shape it. And then I cooked it all sous vide and then I flash fried it.”

Bocuse d’Or USA: Reasons to Believe

Why This Time Might be Different (no, really) for the Stars and Stripes in Lyon

Dream Team? Coach Gavin Kaysen (left) and 2013 Bocuse d’Or USA candidate Richard Rosendale (right)

January 29–The Bocuse d’Or USA created something of a monster for itself in 2008, when Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud, in partnership with Jerome Bocuse, took over the leadership of the organization. With their culinary savvy, fundraising ability, and deep bench of human resources, most people figured the mere involvement of the two most respected fine-dining moguls in the United States would be all it took to field a winning team and reverse two decades of US disappointment in the world’s preeminent culinary competition.

But most people are casual observers. They don’t know the first thing about the Bocuse d’Or; don’t realize just how exacting the standards are over there, in Lyon, France, where the global competition is held; don’t appreciate how hard the other teams train or how most of the judges’ palates tilt toward Europe. Even Keller and Boulud didn’t fully understand the dragon they were attempting to slay their first time out, not having ever attended the event themselves; they learned the hard way that it’s a big dragon, as tall as the Eiffel Tower, and that it breathes fire hot enough to melt the hopes and dreams of 21 (out of 24) teams every year. All of which created a delicate scenario when the organization’s pr team whipped up a frenzy of great expectations heading into the 2009 competiton.

And so, when The French Laundry’s Timothy Hollingsworth placed 6th out of 24 teams in Lyon that year, journalists and foodies recoiled, spewing snark and sarcasm. Then, in 2011, when Eleven Madison Park’s James Kent finished 10th, the wheels really came off–all the old complaints came flooding back: “Why can’t we win this thing?” “Why do we bother trying?” “What’s wrong?!?” The moment seemed to have passed the new guard by, as evidenced by the relatively scant media coverage leading up to this weekend’s finals. When I emailed a recent Bocuse d’Or USA finalist late Saturday night to ask if I’d see him at Hyde Park Sunday, he wrote back that he didn’t even know the event was this weekend.

But life is full of surprises, and today, Sunday, January 29, might just go down as the day that the Bocuse d’Or USA, under its current leadership, finally showed signs of reaching its full potential and having a shot of really, truly, finally–yes, I’m going to say it out loud–landing a candidate on the podium in Lyon…. 

Read More »

Bocuse d’Or USA 2012: Portrait of a Candidate

Images of Bocuse d’Or USA finalist Richard Rosendale from my book Knives at Dawn

Knives at Dawn, about the 2009 Bocuse d'Or USA team

Apologies for sneaking this in during the dwindling minutes of the week, but I just had a fun idea: With the Bocuse d’Or USA on tap for this Sunday, I thought it might be cool to have a look at one of the finalists, Richard Rosendale, who appeared in my book, Knives at Dawn, about the 2009 US squad. Rosendale didn’t win the team selection event, held at Orlando’s Epcot Center in 2008, that time out, but he came in second and was, by far, the candidate with the most competition experience. (I was also able to profile another of this year’s finalists, Danny Cerqueda, when he competed in the Bocuse d’Or USA in 2010; the organizers’ profiles of all four 2012 finalists here.  My recent interview with 2013 team coach Gavin Kaysen here.)

OK, here you go, some quick-cut images of Rosendale, via excerpts from Knives:

Here he is discussing the value of culinary competition:

Richard Rosendale, then chef-owner of Rosendales (also in Columbus) and a member of two International Culinary Olympics teams, sees even more value in the competition experience. “In my opinion, one year on the Olympic team is the equivalent of five years in the industry,” he said. “In doing the team you have obligations to push yourself and research more and do more and learn more than what you normally would . . . I’ve competed in Germany three times, Luxembourg twice, Basel, Switzerland, twice, and all over the United States. Seeing these other countries and the food they’re putting up really makes you open up your mind and see food a little differently. There’s no boundaries.”

Some background on Rosendale, and his relationship with 2009 Team USA coach Roland Henin:

Henin also encouraged Richard Rosendale, chef-owner of Rosendales restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, to apply. Rosendale, who has a large, flat nose and dark black hair combed back into a near-pompadour, had more culinary competition experience, exponentially more, than the rest of the field combined: a member of two United States Culinary Olympic teams, Rosendale had participated in two three-year apprenticeship programs in his young career, including one at The Greenbrier, the fabled hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. [Toqueland note: Since the book’s publication, Rosendale has returned to The Greenbrier as executive chef.] As part of his education there, he was expected to do competition-like exercises after work such as mystery baskets (cooking spontaneously from an unannounced selection of ingredients) or putting up buffet platters. These sessions lasted until about two in the morning, and included a critique by his supervisors, who offered no leniency. “The expectation was perfection all the time,” said Rosendale.

Though the next installment of the Olympics was set to start on October 19, just a few weeks after the event in Orlando, Rosendale was attracted to the opportunity presented by the new Bocuse d’Or USA. “I really want to see an American win,” he said. “We have way too many talented chefs not to have placed any higher than we have.”

Rosendale could have been channeling Kaysen when he said that the reason the United States hadn’t done better in the past wasn’t the candidates, but the resources. “People underestimate how much it takes, not just the commitment from the candidate but financial resources. When you’re trying to figure out what one of your garnishes is going to be and trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for that via a fundraiser, [it’s] a very difficult thing to do. Plus your day-to-day job.”

How Rosendale prepared for Orlando in 2008, as contrasted with the preparation of Top Chef champ Hung Hyunh, who was a fellow competitor that year:

Asked what he had done to prepare a week before the competition in Orlando, Hyunh—who was working in the kosher restaurant Solo in midtown Manhattan while its owners got a new project together for him—cackled gleefully. “I’m not!” he said. “This is a kosher kitchen . . . I’m competing against Thomas Keller’s guy, Charlie Trotter’s guy. They have all the resources in the world. Here I am, I have two vinegars—red wine and rice wine vinegar—and some vegetable stock.” He shrugged. “It’s very hard.”

“I know what I’m going to do,” he explained. “But I haven’t had time to perfect it. I’m just going to bring ingredients down there . . . and I’m gonna go . . . I’m gonna cook, with proper techniques, and I’m going to hope it tastes good. I don’t know if it’ll be the most perfected dish of my career— definitely not I would say—but given the circumstances I’m in now and given what I can do and get out of it, I think it’s going to be excellent.”

“I cook best under pressure,” he said, snapping his fingers. “And at the moment. Shit’s gonna go down. Things are gonna burn. Things are gonna break. I’m gonna go with the flow, and do what I do best. Cook!”… 

Read More »

Third Time’s the Charm?: Current Bocuse d’Or USA Guard to Select Next Candidate

2013 Team Coach, and Former Bocuse d’Or USA Candidate, Gavin Kaysen, on What to Expect This Time Around

Gavin Kaysen has one more go at the gold, this time as coach (photo by Gary Payne, courtesy Cafe Boulud)

I haven’t focused very much on the ramp-up to the Bocuse d’Or USA, which takes place at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, this weekend. But having written a book about it two years back, and having just re-launched this website less than two weeks ago, it seemed the responsible thing to dust off that part of my brain that houses knowledge about platter presentations, scoring formulations, and Bocuse d’Or backstory, and pen a preview post. I’ll also be trekking up to the CIA on Sunday to watch the action and talk to a few key leaders and participants.

With all that in mind, I checked in with Café Boulud’s Gavin Kaysen Monday afternoon. Kaysen, who I should mention is a friend of mine, competed for the United States in 2005, was the catalyst for Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud getting involved (along with Jerome Bocuse) in the Bocuse d’Or USA in 2008, and played an unsung coaching role for the 2011 team. In a logical and to most observers’ minds, inevitable development, Kaysen will now be the official coach for the squad that competes for the Stars and Stripes in 2013.

It’s difficult to explain the logistics of the Bocuse d’Or USA without lapsing into an extended exhibition of inside baseball. Suffice it, then, to say that the format of this Sunday’s competition, in which the two-person 2013 American team who will compete in Lyon next January will be selected, will more closely resemble what goes on in France than did the 2010 team trials, in which the 5 1/2 hours of competitive cooking was divided over two days. That said, the notorious platter presentation that largely defines the Bocuse d’Or will only be mandated for one course; the other will be presented on plates. (According to Kaysen, the Bocuse d’Or committee in Lyon has signaled such a change will “probably” take place at the mothership competition in 2013, which would shock me. He says the committee will let the competing countries know in about a month.)… 

Read More »

VINTAGE TOQUELAND: The Journey to Lyon Starts Now

What We Saw, and Learned, in Hyde Park This Weekend

[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; this piece was originally published on February 8, 2010.]

A platter is paraded before the judges at the CIA on February 6, 2010. (photo copyright Andrew Friedman)

It was a successful weekend for the Bocuse d’Or USA at the Culinary Institute of America.  Team USA was selected; chef demos, panel discussions and book signings were packed; and great food was served.  Herewith, a few observations and reflections on the happenings:

The Bocuse d’Or USA Has Cause for Optimism.  Journalists don’t get to taste the food at the Bocuse d’Or (see below for more on this), but the thing that stands out to me above all else this weekend is how very Bocuse d’Or-appropriate Eleven Madison Park’s James Kent’s food (his meat dish is pictured to the right) looked.  With a year to revise, tweak, hone, and practice for the Main Event in Lyon, I truly believe the US has a shot at the podium with Kent and his commis Tom Allan at the rudder.  Moreover, these guys are personally psyched to make a go of it, and the value of that cannot be overstated.


Team EMP at the Bocuse d'Or USA:Commis Tom Allan, EMP General Manager Will Guidara, Bocuse d'Or USA champ James Kent, and EMP Exec Chef Daniel Humm (photo credit: Andrew Friedman)

Similarly, I was impressed that, on the whole, the candidates food looked much more Bocuse-appropriate than did most of the food dished out by candidates at the 2008 Bocuse d’Or USA at Epcot.  Generally speaking, there was more “work” on the individual garnishes and they were scaled down and executed with more finesse.  (Flip side: a number of judges told me that some of the dishes didn’t taste as good as they looked.) There’s also clearly a growing pool of talent interested in investing the time and energy it takes to pursue this culinary holy grail: with chef-candidates on hand who work or have worked at 11 Madison Park, The Modern, Charlie Trotter’s, and Daniel, plus a number of candidates who had competed in either the Bocuse d’Or USA or American Culinary Federation events in the past, it was a good showing.  It was also nice to see past competitors such as Hung Hyung and Kevin Sbraga in the house to lend their support…. 

Read More »


A New Blog, A New Book, and a Taste of Things to Come 

[Note:  This was the post that kicked off the original Toqueland when it first launched in December 2009.]

Welcome, fellow observers of chefs and kitchen culture, to the first post of a new, chef-focused blog, Toqueland.

Launching a blog feels more momentous than it actually is–how much impact will a blog ultimately have on the world, really?   (Well, Drudge Report almost brought down a president, but that’s another story.)

Nonetheless, putting together a blog feels like a big deal. Slapping this thing together, I kept thinking of that iconic moment when MTV went, as they like to say, “on the air for the last time…”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those of you who don’t recognize my name, I’ve spent the better part of the last decade collaborating on cookbooks and other projects with some of our finest chefs (Alfred Portale, Laurent Tourondel, Michelle Bernstein, and David Waltuck, among many others).  This week, my first solo, reported book makes its debut: It’s called Knives at Dawn, and it’s the exclusive, behind-the-scenes story of the team that competed for the United States at the 2009 Bocuse d’Or, commonly referred to as The Olympics of Food, and also the subject of a recent Top Chef episode…. 

Read More »

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:


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

# # #

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.  


Read More »

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.


Read More »