Friday, January 30, 2009

Golden Delicious

"Foodie Friday" continues here at Fosco Lives!

This past week was the annual Bocuse d'Or competition in Lyon, France--a sort of "culinary Olympics" for the best French-style chefs in the world. The competition is named for legendary French chef Paul Bocuse, who with typical Gallic modesty, also lends his name to the eponymous award. Interestingly, the literal translation of bocuse d'or is "golden narcissist," which seems appropriate when you see the winner's trophy:

Yes, that is the actual figure of Paul Bocuse standing atop the globe. In gold. This guy makes Donald Trump look like Mother Teresa.

But despite Bocuse's Rick Warren-like self-regard, the competition is still a deadly serious event, with many European countries following it as closely as sporting competitions. The competition takes place over two days and is something of an endurance test. Each country that participates is allowed one team, led by one chef. This year, the American chef was Timothy Hollingsworth, the sous-chef at the best restaurant in the US, Thomas Keller's French Laundry in Napa. Hollingsworth won the privilege last September and has worked full-time since then with his team to prepare for the competition. Like I said, this is serious.

The New York Times covered this year's competition quite well (how will we live when they no longer exist?). You can watch this short video explaining the competition and describing its strange football-game atmosphere.

If you prefer your culinary competitions to have a bit of a Top Chef twist, then you will definitely appreciate this report from the competition that describes how the first day's ingredient (Norwegian prawns) were given to the chefs frozen. As the Times notes,

“It was the surprise of the day!” said Christian Têtedoie, a member of the official organizing committee, who once won the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, considered the most prestigious cooking award in France. He offered no other comment except to shrug his shoulders, tap his clipboard and walk away.
Eek! What would Tom and Padma say?

The good news is that, unlike previous years, all of the chefs lived through the ordeal. The bad news (for rabidly patriotic Americans like Fosco) is that the American chef, Mr. Hollingsworth, came in sixth. The winner was Norway. Or Sweden. Or something like that. Luckily, you can read about why Mr. Hollingsworth failed. It turns out there was a minor snafu with plating (I told you this thing is serious):
“It was very difficult to plate the fish,” he added. “This was the first time I was with these servers, it was very difficult. They were working a different way from the way I’m used to working.”

He said he was used to plating all the dishes for one course at one time, but his servers at the competition did it in sets of four.
Nor did things go any better for the home team:
The biggest disappointment was felt by France. Philippe Mille, the 34-year-old Frenchman who is the sous-chef at the three-star Paris restaurant Le Meurice, was a strong candidate, and many expected him to win. But his fish dish came out a minute late, which cost the French team 12 points in the scoring.
Sadly, M. Mille will now be deported to Belgium.

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