Bocuse d’Or Team Canada 2013Posted by Brenda Lowe on Monday, January 28th, 2013
Tags for this Article: Alex Chen, Bocuse d'Or, competition, Dan Olson, France, Jack Beers, Moxie's, Railway Cafe
“The simpler the food, the harder it is to prepare it well. You want to truly taste what it is you’re eating. So that goes back to the trend of fine ingredients” – Joel Robuchon
“Only you can judge your life. You have to live up to your own expectations.” – Wolfgang Puck
“I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me has always been an adventure.” – Anthony Bourdain
“Perfection is the goal, excellence is the standard”
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” – James Beard
These are some of the inspirational quotes on the walls of the Bocuse d’Or Canadian team’s training kitchen. Located in the Railway Cafe in Gastown and built in 2012 to the same size specifications as the actual Bocuse competition kitchens, it is Bocuse Canada’s first permanent training space and was where Chef Alex Chen and Commis Jack Beers were intensely practicing for the past year until a week before the main Bocuse d’Or competition happens on January 29 and 30. As in previous years, the Bocuse d’Or takes place in Lyon, France and is one of the highlight events of SIRHA, an enormous trade exhibition for international hotel, food and hospitality industry.
Named for the internationally renowned French chef Paul Bocuse, the Bocuse d’Or has been held every two years since 1987. The competition format has remained fairly constant and predictable for many years but a number of significant changes were introduced for the 2013 event. In previous years, the candidates were given the primary fish and primary meat themes six months before the competition and this gave the teams from 24 countries a significant amount of time to design and practice for the creation of two platters (one per theme), plus three garnishes per platter. For this latest competition, the meat theme (beef tenderloin and oxtail) was still announced six months ahead, in July 2012, but the seafood (European turbot and French blue lobster) was not announced until just under two months before on November 30, 2012.
There were also rule changes for the garnishes: on the day before the competition, the chefs will be presented with a number of seasonal market produce ingredients that they will have 30 minutes to choose from and that must be featured in two of the three garnishes for the fish theme and the same for the meat theme. The third garnish for each theme should be representative of the candidate’s home country. Once the market ingredients have been chosen, each of the teams (consisting of a Chef, a Commis who must be 22 years of age or younger at the time of the competition, and a Coach) will only have one hour to design and write the menu. (This is a huge difference from having six months to create, refine and practice!) Also for the first time, the fish theme will not be presented on a platter. Instead, the teams will need to execute 14 identical plates: 2 for official presentations and 12 plated portions for judging. The presentation of the meat theme remains unchanged: 2 composed plates while the remaining 12 portions are presented on a large platter. All of these changes are designed to more closely resemble a restaurant environment where chefs must consistently execute dishes under constantly changing conditions. Of course this is still a Bocuse competition so the usual time restrictions and judging rules applies:
• The teams have 5 hours and 35 minutes to prep, cook and plate.
• A few things can be brought into the competition kitchen (custom tools, equipment, already-peeled vegetables, stocks, etc.) but everything else must be prepared from scratch.
• The fish theme must be presented at the 5 hour mark.
• The meat meat theme must be presented at the 5 hour 35 minute mark.
• There are penalties if the food is not presented on time.
• During the competition, each team will be provided with an additional member who is usually a culinary student or apprentice from one of the cooking schools in France. It is up to each team to decide how to best utilize the additional person. (Note that there could be a language barrier if the new person does not speak the team’s language but fortunately Commis Jack is fluent in French.)
• The coach is not allowed in the cooking area but can stand just outside and communicate with the team.
• The judging panel consists of 24 chefs (one from each competing country).
• 12 teams will compete on the first day and the remaining 12 teams compete on the second day. For both days, 12 judges score the seafood plates and the other 12 judges score the meat platter.
• Team scores are based on visual presentation, technical skill, cooking ability, creativity, and taste. (It’s interesting to note that while so much emphasis is placed on beautiful presentation, two thirds of the marks are based on the food’s quality and that includes taste.) In the event of a tie, factors such as organization, efficiency, and cleanliness come into play.
• The top three teams are awarded bronze, silver and gold medals plus cash prizes. There are also awards for best meat platter, best seafood, best apprentice/commis, best culinary identity and best poster.
To date, the highest that Canada has placed is 4th back in 1999 with Chef Allen Sulatycky and Commis Dan Olson (now the current Coach for team Canada!) The community of chefs is a small close knit one and competition chefs even smaller. After Dan Olson competed as apprentice, he spent a number of years working at various Four Seasons hotels across Canada (including Toronto), and the last seven years were in Beverly Hills as the Executive Chef of the Hotel Bel Air. The current Bocuse Canada Chef, Alex Chen, was also previously working in Beverly Hills (as Executive Chef of the Beverly Hills Hotel in Hollywood) but he had always wanted to represent Canada at the Bocuse d’Or. After winning the candidacy position, Chef Alex moved back to Vancouver to train and was hired as the Culinary Architect for Moxie’s Grill & Bar. (Moxie’s has been supporting and sponsoring the Canadian Bocuse teams for the past 7 years.) Commis Jack Beers was working in Toronto under executive chef Jonathan Gushue at Langdon Hall in 2010 and competed for the apprentice spot. Chef Jonathan and Chef Alex had previously worked together at the Four Seasons Toronto years ago.
On January 21, a group of local media and food bloggers were invited to the Bocuse Canada training kitchen to meet Chef Alex and Commis Jack and taste some of the ingredients and components that the team will be preparing in France. Due to the extremely competitive and strategic nature of the Bocuse d’Or, we were only exposed to certain things and asked not to share others. Another reason that we couldn’t see everything was that over $15,000 worth of equipment and supplies had already been packed up and sent to France back in mid-January!
You can follow Team Canada on Twitter as they finish preparations for and compete in the Bocuse d’Or:
• Chef Alex Chen – @ChefAlexChen
• Commis Jack Beers – @ChefJackBeers
• Twitter hashtag – #GoAlexGo
• Bocuse d’Or Canada – @BocusedOrCanada
• Official Bocuse d’Or – @BocusedOr
Night owls will be able to watch the competition live on the official Bocuse website starting at 1:00AM PST on January 29th and 30th (10:00AM Central European Time – Lyon, France is 9 hours ahead of Vancouver, Canada). Twelve of twenty four countries (including Canada) will compete on the 29th and the remaining twelve competes on the 30th:
The pictures that follow show chefs Dan Olson, Alex Chen, Jack Beers in action and the sample plates that we tasted. (Photos by fellow Foodist Cliff Hammerschmidt.)
The Bocuse d’Or is actually only one of many cooking competitions being held at SIRHA. The mind reels at the amount of sheer cooking talent present in one location within a few short days. In addition to the Bocuse d’Or competition for savoury cooking, there is also the French Bakery Cup for bread, four pastry competitions including the World Pastry Cup, and several coffee competitions amongst others.
A great book for Bocuse d’Or enthusiasts is Knives at Dawn by Andrew Friedman, a fascinating and detailed account of Team USA’s journey up to and during the 2009 Bocuse D’Or competition. I found the post-competition chapters to be particularly insightful. Almost all of the press is devoted to the lead up, the competition itself and the results but there’s not much published information about ‘what happens after’.
Bocuse d’Or 2013 Results Update>
Congratulations to Chef Alex Chen and Commis Jack Beers on their 9th place finish! The final placement and scores of the 24 countries was:
1: France (1687 points)
2: Denmark (1616 points)
3: Japan (1604 points)
4: UK (1598 points)
5: Norway (1541 points)
6: Sweden (1502 points)
7: USA (1495 points)
8: Iceland (1471 points)
9: Canada (1387 points)
10: Hungary (1355 points)
11: Belgium (1348 points)
12: Finland (1328 points)
13: Switzerland (1326 points)
14: Estonia (1302 points)
15: Australia (1300 points)
16: Netherlands (1282 points)
17: Singapore (1249 points)
18: Guatemala (1223 points)
19: China (1203 points)
20: Italy (1103 points)
21: Sri Lanka (1093 points)
22: Brazil (1058 points)
23: Morocco (997 points)
24: Mexico (990 points)
Due to the early hours, I was only able to watch a few parts of the live Bocuse d’Or webcast but I did manage to catch some of Team Canada’s cooking. It was very exciting to be able to see them working on the final versions of what I had tasted at the media event, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for the team’s long preparation.
The following images are courtesy of Chef Alex Chen.