Photo by Keith Ferris/CIA
This post is the first of a two-part series on the author's quest for victory at the Bocuse d'Or USA.
In the summer of 1998, when I was the sous chef at Arizona 206 in New York City, I read about the upcoming Bocuse d'Or USA competition at the Culinary Institute of America's Graystone campus in St. Helena, California. The winner would represent the USA at the international Bocuse d'Or in Lyon, France, one of the world's most prestigious cooking competitions. The simple prospect of representing America in any international contest sounded intriguing, so I went to task preparing recipes and took the necessary photographs of my completed platters. I dropped my application in the mail, and a month later I got the surprising invitation to the competition.
With little money and no support from my employer, I felt the need to decline. But my father, in typical form, insisted that I go and cashed in frequent flyer miles so we could make the trip to Napa for a weekend of winery tours and culinary competition. I had not mentioned that I was in need of a commis and was packing chef's whites his size. He reluctantly agreed and proceeded to help me cook for the likes of Paul Bocuse, Georges Perrier, Gary Danko, Roland Passot, and Jean Banchet. The gala dinner continues to be one of my most cherished memories. We placed fifth; the top four went to Chicago to compete for Lyon and culinary glory. I was frustrated but realized Chicago would have been a financial burden, and my cuisine was far from the Bocuse d'Or style the top finishers had possessed. I returned to New York with a hunger to return one day as a stronger competitor.