How the 2019 Bocuse Team Will Overcome the Latest Hurdles
In January 2017, the American team at the Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon, France, made history when head chef Matt Peters and commis Harrison Turone took the coveted gold for the first time in history. Plate was there for the grueling five-hour competition—a culmination of more than two years of intense training and rule-restricted recipe development. This year, Team USA head chef Matthew Kirkley and commis Mimi Chen will endure what’s been called the Olympics of the culinary world to try and bring home another gold statue. As a follow-up to our award-winning long-form feature on the Bocuse d'Or, we are proud to host this blog series, "Behind Team USA at the Bocuse d’Or,” which will explore before-and-after insights pre- and post-competition. We’ll capture the personal, behind-the-scenes perspectives of past and present chefs, captains, coaches, program directors, and others as the team prepares to head back to Lyon in January.
“We’ll be back.” Those were the words I texted Chef Keller as we left the Bocuse d’Or arena on a cold January night in 2013, watching other countries celebrate as our American contingent quietly exited the auditorium. It would prove to be the beginning of my Bocuse d’Or journey and the birth of a determination to do whatever I could to bring the United States the level of respect I knew its chefs and cuisine deserved.
We did come back, bringing the United States the first taste of what the respect and recognition of the world felt like. With the dust of the silver win settling behind us, the quest to finish what we started soon found us building the new team and filling the positions of two key assistant coaches.
Matt Kirkley, a hopeful future candidate, and Robert Sulatycky, a key advisor in 2015, soon became two pillars of our 2017 quest for gold, providing invaluable advice, inspiration, and guidance through the toughest times. My hope was that the future of Bocuse d’Or USA was already a part of the team and the foundation we had built would be in capable hands.
It has been deeply gratifying to watch Matt and Robert grab those reins and run with them, knowing that we wouldn’t just be maintaining status quo but continuing to reach new levels at the Bocuse d’Or. Matt is a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen, not just because of his sheer talent and creativity—he has an unrivaled level of organization, attention to detail and ability to lead a team that few chefs possess.
While I’ve taken a step back in this campaign to focus on a new restaurant, I’m privileged to be close to the team’s training center and have the opportunity to continue working alongside Matt and Robert every month. Few people understand what a candidate goes through when they enter the “trenches” those last few months before the competition—new protein releases from the committee, tool development, platter design, training runs, interpreting rules, logistics, new rules and the ongoing need to be creative at the highest level possible. Despite having a team around you, as the chef, you can feel incredibly alone and uncertain of your food, decisions, direction, and chances of success during these times.
This year has been especially hard with new rules stipulating how the rack of veal can be cooked (on the bone, no sous vide) and a challenging, seafood stew-filled chartreuse as the plated course. There have been some dark days and weeks where the progress hasn’t happened and it’s in those moments when I can reassure Matt that this is normal, we’ve been there numerous times before, and we will get to the other side of it. It is hard to see the forest through the trees at times, but the progress and vision continue to grow and it is exciting to see it all come together once again.
We’ve achieved the previously unattainable—winning gold at the Bocuse d’Or. Now we have the challenge of maintaining our success and as any chef knows, the hardest thing to deliver is consistency at the highest level. I’m glad to report that we are on a good path and the United States has never had a more capable all-around team than we do for 2019! Go USA!
Phil Tessier took the silver medal as head chef of Team USA for the Bocuse d’Or 2015. He was the first American to ever place on the podium at the competition. In 2017, he served as head coach of Team USA, helping Head Chef Matthew Peters take the gold medal. He’s currently serving in two philanthropic partnerships as an ambassador promoting professional mentorship and culinary experience for Ment’or Foundation and an ambassador with No Kid Hungry, a non-profit dedicated to ending child hunger.