Sometimes called the “culinary Olympics,” the Bocuse D’Or is an international cooking competition, held every two years in Lyon and traditionally dominated by the French. In 2009, supported for the first time by a top-notch roster of chefs including Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Jerome Bocuse, the American Bocuse D’Or organization threw itself into a bid for one of the top medals. Andrew Friedman, who is, appropriately enough, both a food writer and a sports writer, follows the American team as they compete for a chance to represent the U.S. in Lyon, spend months agonizing over recipes and presentation, and finally spend an adrenaline-fueled five-and-a-half hours preparing their meat and fish platters for judging.
If The Sorcerer’s Apprentices didn’t tempt my palate, Knives at Dawn did the trick. It wasn’t just reading about the high-end dishes described—not a lot of caviar or foie gras cross my kitchen counter—but the way the chefs discuss their process, how they create and refine and troubleshoot their creations. It inspired me to not just heat something from a box or even follow a recipe in my usual way, but actually pull some proteins and other components together and create a dish (I used to call them “ingredients,” but I’ve had too much exposure to Top Chef.)
Why do I enjoy reading about chefs so much? Again, it’s not just the food, but a fascination with extreme, specialized competence, creativity combined with machinist precision. Competitor Hollingsworth and his assistant Adina Guest (whose wicked knife skills suggest the nickname the Adina-Matic) are veterans of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, where perfectionism is practiced for its own sake and vegetables are perfectly turned even if they are only going to be pureed.
The French also take food quite seriously, and the Bocuse d’Or is like a sports event, an occasion for cheering spectators and announcers whipping the crowd into a cowbell-ringing frenzy. Cooking show junkies will enjoy competition day, when even months of practice can’t account for the little things, the frozen shrimp and the inevitable sliced finger, that can derail a tightly-orchestrated timeline into a last-minute exercise in kitchen improv.
And my pan-seared pork loin chops with apples, onion, and cranberry chutney were fantastic, thanks.
Check the WRL catalog for Knives at Dawn