2013 Team Coach, and Former Bocuse d’Or USA Candidate, Gavin Kaysen, on What to Expect This Time Around
I haven’t focused very much on the ramp-up to the Bocuse d’Or USA, which takes place at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, this weekend. But having written a book about it two years back, and having just re-launched this website less than two weeks ago, it seemed the responsible thing to dust off that part of my brain that houses knowledge about platter presentations, scoring formulations, and Bocuse d’Or backstory, and pen a preview post. I’ll also be trekking up to the CIA on Sunday to watch the action and talk to a few key leaders and participants.
With all that in mind, I checked in with Café Boulud’s Gavin Kaysen Monday afternoon. Kaysen, who I should mention is a friend of mine, competed for the United States in 2005, was the catalyst for Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud getting involved (along with Jerome Bocuse) in the Bocuse d’Or USA in 2008, and played an unsung coaching role for the 2011 team. In a logical and to most observers’ minds, inevitable development, Kaysen will now be the official coach for the squad that competes for the Stars and Stripes in 2013.
It’s difficult to explain the logistics of the Bocuse d’Or USA without lapsing into an extended exhibition of inside baseball. Suffice it, then, to say that the format of this Sunday’s competition, in which the two-person 2013 American team who will compete in Lyon next January will be selected, will more closely resemble what goes on in France than did the 2010 team trials, in which the 5 1/2 hours of competitive cooking was divided over two days. That said, the notorious platter presentation that largely defines the Bocuse d’Or will only be mandated for one course; the other will be presented on plates. (According to Kaysen, the Bocuse d’Or committee in Lyon has signaled such a change will “probably” take place at the mothership competition in 2013, which would shock me. He says the committee will let the competing countries know in about a month.)
I asked Kaysen if it was intentional that none of this weekend’s four finalists come from Michelin-starred restaurants such as The French Laundry or Eleven Madison Park, from which the last two teams hailed. To my mind, this would have been a smart evolution; sous chefs from those restaurants have the goods to compete, but have been saddled with demanding schedules that have proved a distraction the last two times out. (The French Laundry’s Timothy Hollingsworth placed six out of 24 teams in Lyon in 2009; EMP’s James Kent finished 10th in 2011.)
While that may be so, Kaysen said there was another, less negotiable reason: Nobody from such a restaurant applied. Despite the impressive roster of chefs on the Bocuse d’Or USA’s culinary council, none offered up a candidate this time out. “We still have to gain traction with those types of restaurants in the United States,” said Kaysen. (Many culinary council members did put forth candidates for a “commis” competition on Saturday that’s meant to interest possible future USA contenders in the Bocuse d’Or.)
I should note here that none of this is meant to slight the four finalists, a roster that includes Le Cordon Bleu instructor Bill Bradley; Hartford, CT’s Jeffrey Lizzote, a young veteran of the kitchens of David Bouley and Eric Ripert; and two returning Bocuse d’Or USA candidates: Danny Cerqueda, a seasoned American Culinary Federation competitor, and accomplished Culinary Olympian Richard Rosendale, executive chef of The Greenbrier.
Kaysen also sees it as a potential plus that none of the candidates are based in New York City, which he thinks might help by allowing the selected team to find its own motivation and “be ready when we get there [for tastings and other visits]. When you check up on people over and over, you can start to micromanage a bit; perhaps I did that a little last year.”
As for what will happen after the team is selected this weekend, Kaysen is determined to get the candidate and commis (assistant) on track almost immediately. For all of the focus on the financial support and media attention Keller and Boulud have been able to generate over the past few years, the teams they’ve fielded have ended up racing against the clock down the home stretch. Kaysen is determined to head that problem off at the pass.
“Last time, we let the team concept through the first two months after January,” said Kaysen. “This time, after two weeks, we’re going to drop them right in. We’ll be out at the training facility in Yountville from February 15th to February 25th. It’ll be a bit of a shock: We’ll set a schedule, and get the nerves, the anticipation, the meeting with Thomas—get all that out of the way right away.” Kaysen hopes that front-loading the schedule like this will help the team meet its goals later in the year. “If we can get the platter design down by X month, and know we can have a mock platter by October, so we can practice from then on, that’s very important. It’s crucial.”
Kaysen has also set up a few strata of advisory capacities for the culinary council: Two members, Chicago’s Grant Achatz and The Modern’s Gabriel Kreuther, will comprise a new “coaching board” and along with Kaysen, will be a part of every official tasting.
“There won’t be fifteen people at every tasting like last time,” Kaysen said. The two tasting board members were selected to represent the modernist (Achatz) and traditionalist (Kreuther) points of view. Other council members will participate in about a half dozen tastings over the one-year preparatory time.
Kaysen says the coaching board idea grew out of his interactions with Achatz around the 2011 team. “Last year, we called him to ask for advice and ideas, and he said, ‘I’d like to help you, but it’s so late in the game. What advice do I give? I wish I were part of it from the beginning.’ I went back to him a few weeks ago, asked him to join the coaching board, went over it with him, and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m in.’” To facilitate idea sharing, Kaysen plans to set up an electronic bulletin board on which members of the team and coaching board can post ideas and photos, from anywhere, at any time to keep the dialogue fluid.
That’s it for now. I’ll be filing a report shortly after the 2013 team is selected. I’ll also be live Tweeting from on-site, commenting on the action, and sharing whatever news I can extract from all the chefs who will be on hand. Should be a fun weekend.
And, finally, on a personal note: To all the candidates, who I’m sure have been working tirelessly: Best of luck with your final preparations and may you all put your best foot forward on Sunday.