Team USA Places Second at Prestigious Bocuse d'Or

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Bocuse dor winnersTeam USA featured Phillip Tessier, second from left, and Skylar Stover, right. Thomas Keller, left, is the U.S. organization's president (and the two chefs' employer at the French Laundry). Gavin Kaysen is the team's coach. Photo by Bocuse d'Or

Updated at 11:19 a.m. to include quotes from Jerome Bocuse.

Team USA achieved a first by placing second.

The chefs representing the United States at the culinary competition known as the Bocuse d'Or took the silver medal at the event, which was held earlier this week in Lyon, France. Commonly referred to as the culinary equivalent of the Olympics, the Bocuse d'Or, which takes place every two years, is a fierce competition. The participating chefs train rigorously for over a year. The US delegation has never finished higher than sixth place.

Bocuse dor team usaUSA! USA! USA! Photo by Bocuse d'OrTeam USA was represented by two chefs from the French Laundry in Yountville, California. Phillip Tessier, the restaurant's executive sous chef, served as lead chef at the competition. Skylar Stover, chef de partie at FL, was his commis, or assistant.

The Or (that's gold) went to Norway's Orjan Johannsessen and Jimmy Oien. Only nine points separated first place (1662) and second (1653); Sweden earned the bronze (1610). Twenty four countries participate in the Bocuse d'Or. (France, by the way, came in at seventh place.)

The Bocuse d'Or was founded by Paul Bocuse in 1987 and is always held in Lyon, his hometown. Bocuse, of course, is the owner of Les Chefs de France and Monsieur Paul at Epcot, and he is arguably the most famous chef in the world. His son, Jerome, who lives in Central Florida and runs the operations at Epcot, is the vice president of Ment'Or, which selects and mentors the U.S. candidates. Daniel Boulud is the organization's chair and Thomas Keller is its president.

"If you look at it as if it was a 100-meter race, we lost by only a quarter of an inch," said Jerome Bocuse, who spoke by phone from a city in the French Alps. Bocuse said that having the U.S. team place sends an important message to the world about the quality of culinary talent in this country. "It says, 'OK, look at us -- we're among the best of the best,'" he said.

Bocuse said the silver medal is the culmination of a journey that began eight years ago when his father approached Keller and asked him to become involved. He said the elder Bocuse told Keller that he loved the United States so much and that he thought this country was underrepresented. Keller committed himself to the task as did Boulud. 

The competition takes place over the course of two days, culminating with the teams cooking meat and fish dishes in just over five and a half hours in front of a live audience, who loudly cheer on their favorites.

Tessier and Stover prepared a meat platter of Barrel-Oak Roasted Guinea Hen with sausage of guinea leg confit; white corn mousse, and black winter truffle; "Garden of Sweet Peas" with French Laundry garden blossoms and herbs, sugar snap peas, and black trumpet mushroom panade; "Beehive" with boudin of smoked guinea liver, grapevine honey, pistachio; "Pain des Genes," wild fennel buds, and topaz wine glaze; Black Truffle Consommé with ragout of gizzard and heart "confit," steamed custard, and flowering cress; White Corn "Nest" with buttered corn pudding, crisped corn silk, and "petit" popcorn; and Preserved Chanterelles with salad of frisée and garden blossoms, pickled huckleberry, and "foie gras" jus. The fish plate showcased Brioche-Crusted Brown Trout Pave with American caviar, tartelette of crisped skin, garden dill, celery branch "Farci," celery root puree, compressed apples, brown butter emulsion, and smoked mushroom consommé.

By the way, Paul Bocuse did not attend the competition this year. Now 89 and suffering from Parkinson's Disease and diabetes, he thought that the demands for his attention by the participating chefs and the crowds of food fans would be too much, according to Jerome. He did, however, greet Team USA at his restaurant Paul Bocuse just outside of Lyon, where the plaque will be on display.

"It was a dream for my father," Bocuse said.