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!”… 

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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…. 

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VINTAGE TOQUELAND: Get Yer Knives Out

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…. 

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Bocuse d’Or USA 2010: “The Stress is a Wonderful Experience”

Luke Bergman Just Wants to Put a Smile on the Judges’ Faces

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

 

Luke Bergman ... doing what he loves most.(photo courtesy Luke Bergman)

There’s no shortage of chefs who began cooking in their family’s home, but there aren’t many who started for reasons as downright noble as those that first pulled The Modern’s Luke Bergman into the kitchen.  The Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, native has two younger brothers, one of whom was born with Down’s Syndrome.  To help his single, working mother pick up the slack around the house, he learned how to cook for the family.  “The day I turned sixteen,” Bergman recounts today, “I had my car, had a credit card to go to grocery store, and right away I was shopping for whole family.”

Though it was pragmatism that motivated him initially, Bergman wasn’t lacking for kitchen mentors.  His mother was a good cook, and as a young boy he studied her moves around the stovetop.  His grandmother was a culinary Francophile who would go Gallic when she visited from Washington, DC, and he fondly remembers thir housekeeper, Dorris Williams, a Jamaican who schooled him in the flavors and techniques of her homeland, such as how to make jerked meats.

Bergman wasn’t terribly interested in college.  After winning a contest sponsored by the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, he matriculated there.  He attended for four months, while working at La Veranda restaurant in Pompano Beach full time.  His home schooling had served him well–he liked his work more than his classes, but didn’t immediately think to become a chef.  (He remembers watching Food Network personalities like Emeril Lagasse, but “nobody knew it was going to be as big as it is now.”)

During a family vacation in Colorado, Bergman’s mother picked up an air of malaise about her son.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Mom, I love cooking,” he told her.  “I didn’t know I was going to like it so much.”  He felt he was learning more at La Veranda than he was in school.

“I want to go to the best cooking school in America,” he told her, referring to the Culinary Institute of America.  (Telling the story today, he says that he “had a vision that I needed to go there.”)  She was fully supportive and when they got back to Florida, he withdrew from the Art Institute.  His mother brought him up to New York City and then up to Hyde Park.  A month later, he was enrolled.  “Then it was on,” he says.

 

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Bocuse d’Or USA 2010: A Rite of Passage

Eleven Madison Park’s James Kent On the Value of Preparing for the Bocuse d’Or

[Between now and the Bocuse d’Or USA team-selection finals on February 6, Toqueland will profile as many of the twelve candidates as possible.]

  

A Process of Self-Discovery: James Kent in the Kitchen (photo courtesy James Kent)

I don’t have hard numbers to back this up, but I feel confident stating, based on the research for my book Knives at Dawn, that most of the candidates who compete in the Bocuse d’Or are sous chefs. There are good reasons for this: prep and line cooks don’t have the experience or sense of culinary self to head up a team (they are appropriately chosen as the commis, or assistant), while full-fledged chefs and executive chefs, generally speaking, can’t be spared for the time it takes to prepare and train for the Big Event in Lyon.  (This isn’t always the case; there are a few bona fide exec chefs in the mix for Hyde Park, such as John Rellah, Andrew WeissPercy Whatley, and Michael Clauss, executive chef of The Daily Planet in Vermont, whom I just interviewed the other day for an upcoming profile.)

Sous chefs occupy a curious position in the professional pecking order.  Many of them have the managerial and expediting chops to be chefs–they do, after all, run kitchens during service–but their own style isn’t necessarily formed to the point that they are ready to essay their own menus.  Generally speaking, that’s because the food they put out–often for years at a time–is somebody else’s.  Even the specials they might devise have to hew to the style of the guy or gal they work for, or else the menu won’t fully gel.

James Kent, a sous chef at Eleven Madison Park, is learning what many past Bocuse d’Or candidates have learned–that the Bocuse d’Or offers a valuable exercise in determining where their chef ends and they begin.  For whatever the reason, observers of the Bocuse d’Or will tell you that if you don’t cook from the heart in the competition, then your food will suffer.  Accordingly, chef-candidates aren’t generally sent into battle with instructions to simply execute food conceived by, say, Daniel Humm, who happens to be a Bocuse d’Or USA advisory board member and Kent’s chef at EMP.

And so, on New Year’s Day, when Kent cooked the working draft of his Bocuse d’Or USA menu for Humm (for whom he’s worked for three years) for the first time, it was a Big Moment.  “This is Chef’s restaurant, and this is Chef’s food,” says Kent of the dynamic most days at EMP.  “All of us have our say, but ultimately he’s the one who likes it, or changes it.”

Not so on January 1st. 

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