Burning Questions

Author Andrew Friedman interviews the Chairman of the Bocuse d’Or USA, Daniel Boulud.

Nov 16, 2009

Top Chef Season Three winner Hung Hyunh made it to the American finals in Orlando last year (and won Best Fish there) and here you are on a Bocuse d'Or themed episode of Top Chef—do you think Top Chef and Bocuse d'Or reward similar traits in a chef?
No, no, no. In Bocuse d’Or, we give you the proteins. It might take three months [to devise your concept]. On Top Chef, they give you three minutes. The Bocuse d’Or is like an Olympic competition where you know your opponent is going to be ten times better than you based on their track record so you never know how to gauge yourself [during training]. The unknown is huge....

Then there’s the fact that the Bocuse d’Or is a public and live competition ... in a way, it’s a form of entertainment, they look like gladiators, and there’s a little of that gladiator thing to it, the noise the pressure, the tension, the frustration, the isolation...

What is the preparation like for the candidates who go to the Bocuse d'Or in Lyon?
For the American [team selection event], the most important is to have a good plan of attack.  Good technique, good sense of the dish in terms of flavor and presentation. If it’s well-organized on paper, that person can win. You don’t have to do the dish fifty times.  But to do it in Lyon, you have to be able to do it blindfolded. Maybe do it 50 times in order to be completely ready.

Many people compare the Bocuse d'Or to a sporting event; what's the atmosphere like?

I think it’s like the Davis Cup [an international tennis competition], when you are in a small stadium, and there are two countries competing together, and it’s amazing the ambience, the compact ambience. A tournament like the U.S. Open is one thing, but when two countries compete together it’s a whole other thing. The Bocuse d’Or is basically a twelve-ring act, instead of a two-ring act. It’s really fans who are there to pump up their team and are very, very proud of their chef and their culinary heritage.  or example, Japan is far from Lyon and yet there were one hundred people from Japan there making noise like 500. The United States will be making a lot of noise in 2011.

The Bocuse d'Or USA is gearing up for its 2011 effort.  Pretend I'm a young American chef; convince me to apply.
Every day at work young chefs are asked to be consistent, precise. They are learning to be very disciplined. They are working very hard. They can handle the pressure, and they have talent. They make people happy with their food, with their cooking. There is a resonance of excellence in their work. But no one will know his limits unless he tries the Bocuse d’Or. No restaurant can challenge you to your limit like the Bocuse d’Or. You will never know, unless you try. 

If you’re a chef, and think you have the right stuff, the application for the American team-selection is available here. The deadline is November 30.

If you’re a viewer and want to know more—well, then you know where to be Wednesday night at 10 p.m.

Andrew Friedman is the author of the soon-to-be-released Knives at Dawn: America’s Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d’Or Competition, which details the story of the 2009 American team.

Other Photo Credit: Photo of Andrew Friedman© 2009 by Luca Pioltelli