The Olympics of Cooking: An Interview with Bocuse d'Or USA Team Coach, Chef Gavin Kaysen

In just two days, four finalists will compete for the much-coveted spot to represent the US in the most prestigious culinary competition, The Bocuse d'Or. Now you may be thinking, "The Bocu-what?!" For those who haven't heard of it (not to worry, a lot of Americans haven't heard of it either) the Bocuse d'Or, is in a way the Olympics for the culinary world. Every two years, a team of two chefs from 24 finalist countries gathers in Lyon, France to contend in the most rigorous taste, technical skills, creativity, and presentation battle for the title of the World's Best Chef.

Dominated by the French and Norwegians, the United States have yet place since the Bocuse first took place in 1987. But renowned Executive Chef of Cafe Boulud and past USA competitor Chef Gavin Kaysen hopes to change that. Having competed in the 2007 Bocuse d'Or finals, Chef Kaysen saw firsthand the rigidity of the competition and the United States' place in this world class culinary contest.

Since then, the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation was started by top world chefs and supporters of the Bocuse d'Or, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Jerome Bocuse (son of the famed Paul Bocuse, for whom the competition is named after), in order to raise funds and help train the USA finalist team in preparation for the Bocuse finals in Lyon, with Kaysen as a coach.

With the USA finals occurring this very weekend, we wanted to ask Chef Kaysen more about the Foundation and what the Bocuse d'Or should mean to the US.

Tell me about the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation. 

The Foundation, established in 2009, is devoted to inspiring culinary excellence in young professionals and preserving the traditions and quality of classic cuisine in America. The aim is to build a community of young American chefs that are knowledgeable and confident  in their career pursuits and will be life-long ambassadors  of quality and excellence in the world of gastronomy. The organization is dedicated to making the careers of serious young chefs more meaningful and successful by offering them educational scholarships, internships and access to a Culinary Council of established professionals.

The most promising young professionals will have the opportunity to compete and represent the United States in the Bocuse d'Or. The Foundation funds the competitions and scholarships for the chefs in preparation for the Bocuse finals held in Lyon.

Why do you believe the Bocuse d'Or is so important to the US?

I believe that the Bocuse d'Or is important on so many levels, one of those is the unity of all the great chefs in America.  If you look at our culinary council, it is made up of an esteemed group of chefs who are all willing and able to help, inspire and support the next generation of great chefs.  We are very young in this country when it comes to cooking and the history associated with it, thus making it even more imperative to join forces to create a team of chefs who are willing and able to compete at the highest level.

 How do chefs first enter to compete in the Bocuse d'Or USA?

It is done by an application process that is formulated by the foundation.  Once it is submitted then the board reviews the applications and narrows down the field to the top four candidates in the case of this year.

Describe some of the training regimen for the USA finalists leading to the Bocuse d'Or?

We will have a training schedule that we will follow strictly.  The first order of business will be to head to Yountville, CA where we have our main test kitchen, which has been furnished by Viking through Chef Thomas Keller.  We will spend about 1 month there, on and off over the next few months.

We will also take a trip out to Europe to get the team comfortable with the products that they will be working with while at the Bocuse d'Or.  At that same time, we will head to Daniel Boulud's parents home where I have about 30 cases of equipment saved up since 2007 and that will be at their disposal.  We will need to begin designing our platter ASAP and for the first time ever, we will have a pair of chefs to assist me in the coaching process. They will be with us on most if not all of the trips, every tasting that we do and all of the design aspects of the program.  They are Grant Achatz and Gabriel Kreuther.

As a coach, what do you try to instill in the competitors?

At this point in order for us to pick the right chef, there should not be much more that we need to instill in them....they got there for a reason.  However, we will continue to work on discipline, stamina, growth and taste.

 What are your goals for the Foundation and for the USA team?

Our main goal is to stand on that podium, we have been close, but never there and with the amount of support around us, we should be able to do it....however, we need to make that a reality.  That is my one goal for now.

For more information about the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation, check out their website here. The USA finals are this weekend, Saturday, February 28th and Sunday, February 29th and the event is free and open to the public, but space is limited. The weekend festivities at the CIA will also include public book signings by top toques: Grant Achatz, Daniel Boulud, Chris Hastings, Daniel Humm, Thomas Keller, and Barbara Lynch. A full schedule of the public events can be found here.

Photos: Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation

For more updates on the Bocuse d'Or, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)