THE BOCUSE EFFECT A pilgrimage to the cradle of gastronomy stor y and photography by: Cinda Chavich IT’S BEEN NEARLY A DECADE since I stood in the mosh pit of international press at the Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, France, jostling to get a clear shot of the culinary royals on the dais. Flanking the aging Paul Bocuse himself were celebrity chefs Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller. I could see Basque master chef Juan Mari Arzak and Anne-Sophie Pic of France among the sea of starched white jackets and tall toques. And behind them were the competitors, the top chefs from 24 countries around the world,
(L-R) Three notable chefs at the 2009 Bocuse d’Or competition – Paul Bocuse, Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller. Frenchborn Boulud, a celebrity chef known for his American restaurants including Daniel in New York, and Keller of The French Laundry in Napa Valley (and Per Se in New York) are behind the US Bocuse d’Or team and it’s Ment’Or program.
all vying for the chance to take home the Bocuse prize amid a sea of screaming fans.
When Bocuse died this year at the age of 91—in the room where he was born above his
It was a special moment for me as a food journalist, “embedded” for a week with the 2009
eponymous three Michelin star restaurant outside Lyon—obituaries in the world’s major
Canadian team of Vancouver chef David Wong, his commis Grace Peneda and coach Robert
newspapers called him “the most celebrated French chef in the post-war era.”
Sulatycky. I documented their journey for more than a year leading up to the biannual
A pioneer of “nouvelle” French cuisine, Bocuse paved the way for the fresh, innovative,
cooking competition, a pressure cooker of perfectionism that ended in a respectable ninth place finish for Canada.
international style of cooking we know today and, with his culinary empire, became a role model for the modern chef/entrepreneur. The Culinary Institute of America—ground zero
It was an exhilarating journey but difficult to watch these talented cooks face unexpected
for training top U.S. chefs—named Bocuse “chef of the century” in 2011.
mishaps along the way to their dream—from delayed flights that damaged some of their care-
Bocuse never lost his three Michelin stars, a testament to his power and influence. At his fu-
fully curated ingredients to blown fuses that cut the power to circulators and fryers several times in their kitchen, a 90-second time penalty costing them a place in the final ranking. Wong and Pineda looked elated but exhausted as they left the row of tiny white competition kitchens that day, and raised their arms in victory as their perfect platters were paraded before their own culinary heroes. Though Team Canada 2009 didn’t bring home any Bocuse hardware—the closest has been Sulatycky’s fourth place finish in 1999—when Pineda was named the top apprentice in the competition, Canada had its moment in the
neral, in the historic Saint Jean Cathedral, more than 1,500 of the world’s top chefs arrived in their whites to pay their respect to Monsieur Paul. He gave young chefs a chance at instant celebrity with the Bocuse d’Or competition he created in 1987, bringing the world to his hometown of Lyon and making the city a pilgrimage for chefs and food lovers alike. When I was there to cover the contest, I met Bocuse briefly backstage at the end of the final
day, after the noisy finale of popping champagne corks and fireworks was over and the fans
And they achieved what only a handful of chefs can even hope to attempt, representing
floors and hauling their equipment into the night—a final endorsement from the patron
their country at the most gruelling cooking contest in the world, and cooking for the Lion of Lyon himself. THE LEGACY OF BOCUSE While Paul Bocuse may not have reached the popular cult status of television stars like Anthony Bourdain or Gordon Ramsay, in the world of the professional chef, he is an icon. Long before the public peered into the competition kitchen with shows like Chopped and Top Chef, there was Bocuse, a businessman and celebrity, but a chef’s chef, too.
had headed home. He stopped to shake hands and greet the teams of cooks still scrubbing saint of culinary competition. BEING THE BEST IN THE WORLD It may be difficult to comprehend why these chefs take two years out of their lives to toil for the chance to reach for that Bocuse brass ring, but part of the reason lies in the profession itself. There’s the daily battle that is the chaos of a busy dinner service, the intensity, teamwork and hierarchy in the classic kitchen, where the chef is the undisputed leader but is also the teacher and mentor of young apprentices. That fraternity runs deep. Though the 2019 Canadian team is based in Ontario, there’s been a dynasty of Bocuse d’Or candidates from British Columbia, and a line that runs through top Vancouver kitchens. It’s a who’s who of top chefs, including Andrew Springett, Chris Mills, Scott Jaeger, Ryan Stone, Michael Noble, Morgan Wilson, Bernard Casavant, Alex Chen, Wong and Sulatucky. “Continuity, that’s the word,” says Wong, who now heads the Culinary Development team for Earls Kitchen. “Vancouver has been so strong for so long—so many contestants with one degree of separation.” Scratch any of these competitive chefs, and you will expose a web of connections leading back to some of the country’s most respected veterans, from Vancouver’s Bruno Marti to
Climb to the top of Fourviere Hill in Lyon for views across the historic city.
Calgary’s Vince Parkinson and Toronto’s John Higgins. It’s like a complex family tree,
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EAT Magazine is a publication celebrating food and drink in British Columbia.