Chef Picked To Represent U.S. In France's Bocuse d'Or
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
For many chefs, winning the prize we'll talk about next is like winning the Super Bowl. But in the international contest's 26 year history, no American has ever won the Bocuse d'Or. That's D-apostrophe-O-R. The first step in deciding who represents the United States is a nation competition, which was recently held at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Karen Michel was there.
KAREN MICHEL, BYLINE: The competition was held, fittingly, in the Culinary Institute's gym. The bleachers held cheering fans, the PA system blared, huge overhead screens showed close-ups of the action, and the competitors - intense, focused - brought their coaches.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Do it right now. Put it back up there. Make sure the warmer's on.
MICHEL: There should have been a warning at the door of the Bocuse d'Or: Don't try this at home - unless, along with the Wondra flour used by one chef, you also have powders of squash and hibiscus, truffles both black and white, and fennel pollen - yes, pollen - in your kitchen pantry.
Each of the four chefs was charged with making two dishes of their own invention: one entree of cod and one of chicken.
DANIEL BOULOUD: The most difficult thing in cooking is to cook an egg. So if the egg is the most difficult thing, imagine the chicken.
MICHEL: Chef Daniel Bouloud - whose New York City restaurant Daniel has been named one of the 10 best restaurants in the world - was one of the judges. We watched as Jeffrey Lizotte, his hands slightly shaking, prepared his chicken dish.
BOULOUD: He has a chicken ballotine with foie gras and black truffles, carrot royale with pistachios, celery root mille feuille and a sauce perigourdine. He has a lot of work to do.
MICHEL: No mistake: It was work. Each of the four kitchens buzzed with chopping, stirring, arranging and tension. This is competition cooking, and the chefs train as intensely as any athlete.
DANNY CERQUEDA: Because it's a five-and-a-half hour marathon of food.
MICHEL: Danny Cerqueda has a close-trimmed beard and a big smile. It was his second time competing in the Bocuse d'Or USA. Born in Georgia, now he cooks in Raleigh, North Carolina.
CERQUEDA: Wrapped the chicken in bacon and sausage. And I love bacon, and I love wrapping anything in bacon, because bacon makes everything taste better.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
MICHEL: Eight hundred or so enthusiastic spectators watched the chefs as closely as any football fan waiting for a slick move, some fans of cooking shows on TV, and others like Peter Haynes, hoping to someday be one of the contestants.
PETER HAYNES: I love sports, so competing is natural to me. I think it kind of goes hand in hand with cooking a little bit.
MICHEL: Haynes hopes to be hired by one of the competitors, fresh-faced Richard Rosendale, an executive chef in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. He seemed positively calm.
RICHARD ROSENDALE: Well, I tried to use some ingredients that are indigenous to the style of cooking in West Virginia. We used some country ham, cornbread, some West Virginia maple syrup.
MICHEL: In 2008, Richard Rosendale came in second in the U.S. final for the Bocuse d'Or competition. This time, he was considered a favorite to win.
At a pre-determined time, as each chef finished his dish, it was brought out to the 12 seated judges - themselves distinguished chefs - first the cod, then the chicken. The judges picked at the food, assessing the taste and texture, the look, the relative deliciousness of the meal, filling out a detailed score sheet between bites and sips of champagne.
BOULOUD: It's a leek, a whole stuffed leek. Beautiful.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, it's nice.
MICHEL: There was pressure to pick a winner who could not only represent the United States at the competition a year from now in Lyon, but finally win. No U.S. chef has come closer than a sixth-place finish. In the end, the winner was the chef with the most fans in the stands and the biggest buzz among the epicures.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: OK. Without further ado, I'm really proud to announce the winner and the next team for the United States of America: Richard Rosendale.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
MICHEL: For NPR News, I'm Karen Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.