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FOR THE FIRST time in its 15th biennial existence, the Bocuse d’Or, the Olympics of international chefdom, has been won by an American team. Head Chef Mathew Peters and his crew beat 23 other teams in the 2017 competition held in Lyon, France, this city recognized by many as the world’s center for refined cuisine.
The award is named for Paul Bocuse, the 90-year-old patron of Nouvelle Cuisine. Fernand Point, 1897–1955, was one of the first to devise this culinary style, celebrating simplicity and goodness of ingredients. Both Bocuse and Alain Chapel, 1937–1990, were students of Point, each with a restaurant in the Lyon region.
The Bocuse d’Or competition, dating from 1987, has evolved into a culinary happening with raucous crowds of more than thousand. It’s part of the tradition for a team to bring its own musical support. Mariachi groups have taken part. One year, the British team brought an extra-loud marching band. To counter this, the U.S. chefs responded with ear-splitting techno as they practiced their specialities.
Each team has a Head Chef and Commis (assistant) who may spend more than a year preparing full-time for the competition. According to The New York Times, unlike some teams, the Americans were supported only by commercial sponsors and contributions, with no government funding.
For this year’s event, Mathew Peters, 33, from Meadville, Pennsylvania, and his Commis Harrison Turone, 21, from Omaha, practiced their skills in a custom-designed kitchen that replicated the Bocuse d’Or’s work stations, burner heat and other characteristics. They would have eight assistants later in Lyon.
Most recently, Peters was executive sous chef at New York City’s Per Se restaurant; Turone also worked there.
A few months in advance, teams are told the major ingredients to be assigned for the competition. This year, the theme was Poulet de Bresse aux Écrevisses, a Lyonnaise classic of Bresse chicken and crayfish. Also, new for the competition, was a required vegan dish. Twenty-four judges from around the world selected the winner.
The Americans’ winning meat dish was chicken with morel mushroom sausage, braised wings, a wine glaze and sauce Américaine. Typically served with lobster, this sauce’s original name was perhaps derived from Amorica, the ancient name for France’s Brittany region.
Accompanying the Poulet de Bresse aux Écrevisses were a chicken liver quenelle with foie gras, corn custard, black-eyed peas (go, America!) and toasted pistachios, as well as lobster tail with Meyer lemon mouse. Garnishes included preparations using Vidalia onions, black truffles, carrots, peas and potatoes.
The vegan dish was California asparagus with cremini mushrooms, potatoes, a custard made of green almonds, Meyer lemon confit, a Bordelaise sauce and a crumble of almond and vegetable yeast prepared to resemble Parmesan cheese.
All this had to be prepared by the team in 5 hours and 35 minutes.
The second-place silver went to the Norwegian team; third-place bronze to the team from Iceland. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017