If you like Top Chef but wish it were more like the Super Bowl, then the Bocuse d’Or is for you. Haven’t heard of it? You’re not alone. While its winners are lauded as celebrities and heroes in their home countries, the U.S. largely ignores the biennial cooking competition, which takes place every other January in Lyon, France. The rules are fairly simple: Each team is made up of one lead chef and one assistant chef who must be under 22 years old. In 5 hours and 35 minutes, each team must prepare two elaborate platters—one meat, one fish. The meat selection is revealed to the teams in September, the fish in December. The teams are judged on technique, sophistication, creativity and appearance. Last year, organizers introduced a new rule: The night before the event, the teams have 30 minutes to shop in a special market for fruits and vegetables, which must be used to make two out of the three garnishes required in the competition. The winner receives a gold trophy and €20,000. The event takes place in a stadium packed with a thousand spectators and it's live-streamed on the Bocuse d’Or YouTube page.
Now that you’re caught up with the rules of the competition, it’s time to get to know Team USA (coached by chefs Gavin Kaysen and Grant Achatz), who will compete in January of 2015.
Head Chef: Philip Tessier, executive sous chef at The French Laundry.
Commis: Skylar Stover, chef de partie The French Laundry.
background: Tessier is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. He has worked at Per Se, Bouchon, the Williamsburg Inn, Le Bernardin and L’Essential and Le Moulin de Mougins in France. Before The French Laundry, Stover (/sites/default/files/ho is just 21) worked at The Book Bindery in Seattle.
Influences: Jacques Pépin, Escoffier, Paul Bocuse, Jonathan Benno, Corey Lee and Thomas Keller. Plus, Tessier’s mom and Stover’s grandmother who started them down the culinary path.
Strategy: The two chefs work together in the Yountville training facility a few days out of the week to perfect basic skills, techniques and garnishes. The coaches visit periodically to taste and examine the chefs’ work. While they won’t know the protein or fish they will be preparing for months, they have already started speculating (they probably won’t be faced with beef or turbot since those were used in the last competition) and coming up with adaptable preparations. “We want to have a program that we can use to just plug in whatever we get,” Tessier says.
Biggest Obstacles: First, the noise. “There are marching bands going around and around in circles, people banging things, yelling, screaming, there’s the announcers, there’s music—it’s like a sporting event,” Tessier says. “We’re mentally gearing ourselves up for that. You think back to the Super Bowl when the Denver Broncos didn’t train with noise—I think that really hurt them.” Second, the intense competition. Tessier and Stover are maintaining their jobs at The French Laundry while training, but some chefs are sponsored by the government and spend the entire year just prepping.
Team Edge: Tessier attended the event in 2013 so he knows how to prepare. He believes that this year's team is as scrappy and hungry as a Jamaican bobsled team.