If you thought Super Bowl 49 was exciting, you should check out Team USA’s silver-medal win at this year’s Bocuse d’Or. At the international competition in Lyon, France, aka the culinary Olympics, the United States came in just nine points behind first-place Norway—the equivalent of being a millisecond behind in the downhill skiing event. In front of a crowd of thousands and 24 judges from around the world, America picked up their heavy silver statue and waved the flag, beating the teams from 22 other countries. To underscore what a big deal this is, know that the US had never before placed higher than sixth; Norway has been to the podium five times already. “I knew we would win this year,” said the legendary chef Thomas Keller, who heads the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation. “But I say that every year. You can’t walk up to the pitcher’s mound and say, this year, we’re gonna lose.”
Here are five things to know about the USA’s epic win.
1. The chefs trained like crazy for more than a year.
Katy Perry gave up six months of her life to plan for the Super Bowl—but Philip Tessier and Skyler Stover headed up Team USA. Tessier, executive sous chef at the French Laundry in Napa, and Stover spent more than a year hunkered down full-time in a custom kitchen built in Keller's father's old house in Napa. They made sure that all the dimensions matched the ones for the Bocuse d’Or, from the size and height of their work tables to the burners. The UK team brings an ear-splitting marching band to Bocuse d’Or; Tessier and Stover blasted techno music in their kitchen to prepare.
2. Their menu was all about hometown pride.
With help from supporters Keller and Daniel Boulud (F&W Best New Chefs), Tessier and Stover chose Napa Valley as their theme. They practiced all-purpose garnishes for an array of meats and fish (contestants aren’t told the major ingredients they must work with until a few months before the Bocuse d’Or). The winning dishes included Barrel-Oak Roasted Guinea Hen with a White Corn Nest, comprised of Buttered Corn Pudding on a Mound of Crisped Corn Silk (every single component they created is stunning).
3. The coaches are badass.
Coaches for Team USA include renowned chefs like Grant Achatz and Gavin Kaysen (more F&W Best New Chefs!), but the person Tessier and Stover worked with most closely was Martin Kastner from the design firm Crucial Detail. He created special platters and even worked with the duo on plating tips. Among his ingenious innovations: threading sugar snap peas on a wire, so they could be easily dipped in glaze and used as a garnish for Garden of Sweet Peas. “You can’t imagine how much easier this is than tweezers,” says Kaysen.
4. Before their score came in, they could tell they'd nailed it.
The US team knew they’d done exceedingly well as soon as they were done. “At Bocuse d’Or, sometimes you see a platter that stops time,” says Kaysen. “Everyone was congratulating us like we’d won as soon as the dishes were served.” The US presented their dishes toward the end of Day 1 and had to wait until the end of Day 2 to confirm their win. “It’s like skiing fastest down the mountain; then you have to wait for everyone else’s times,” Kaysen notes.
5. Bocuse himself might have been rooting for America.
Paul Bocuse, the legendary French chef and founder of this completion, is a Team USA fan. “When he was in the Second World War, he wound up in a US Army hospital and a blood transfusion saved his life,” Keller says. To this day, Bocuse has an American flag flying outside his restaurant. “And he says he has American blood in his veins,” Keller adds.