Bocuse d'Or UK Academy chairman Andreas Antona is ready for the World Finals. We catch up with him on the road to Lyon
The Bocuse d'Or UK Academy team are gearing up for the 2023 World Finals in Lyon in January, held every two years. Each month we'll hear from a different member of the team as they prepare to perform on the biggest stage in gastronomy.
In the first in our series of Bocuse d'Or diaries, we speak to chairman Andreas Antona about setting up the Bocuse d'Or UK Academy and its impact on the restaurant industry.
My involvement with Bocuse d'Or started when I became the chairman of the Midlands Association of Chefs in the mid-1980s. In 1987 it was the 40th anniversary of the twinning between Birmingham and Lyon ,so we formed an alliance by going over there to do some cooking and in return hosting them, successfully twinning the Midlands Association of Chefs with Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaises.
Shortly after that the inaugural Bocuse d'Or competition launched and they invited Peter Griffiths and I to attend, with Brian Turner as a jury member. I have attended every competition, bar one, ever since, watching trends emerge and the industry evolve.
From 2005 onwards there was a revolution with the Scandinavian countries – they got on the podium, in 2009 won Gold and Silver and in 2011 won all three medals. Everyone's attention went to what the Scandinavian countries were doing. One of the things that impressed me was that they released the candidate for six months and paid him.
In 2011 Brian asked me to put forward a candidate and I chose Adam Bennett. So when Adam won the UK heats, I agreed to pay his wages for six months so he could prepare for the finals in Lyon in 2013. He achieved the best result the UK team has achieved so far and competed again in 2015.
I realised that we needed something more substantial behind the Bocuse d'Or team, so we formed the Bocuse d'Or UK Academy. I set up the Academy in the Houses of Parliament in 2017 with the hope of getting government sponsorship and approval, but by the time we went through the next round of qualifications Covid hit and the academy went into hibernation. The UK team didn't compete in the 2021 finals, given the seriousness of Covid at the time, but we came back this year with a small amount of sponsorship, made it through the qualifying round, and are now at a stage where we're preparing for Lyon in January with a very strong competing team.
So why do we do this? We're here to inspire the next generation of British chefs. It's not about cooking posh food, it's about being at the forefront of technology, innovation, creativity, design and the intellectualism behind it all. It's having a story to tell, which is about our produce and how we cook it. The only time you get better at cooking is by buying better, by looking for better ingredients and using them to the best of your ability, with care, love and craftsmanship and that's the essence of Bocuse.
It's also to show kindness. We are hospitable, it's part of our industry, so to show that to the people that we work with and the people we want to inspire helps so much. Our industry is exciting to work in and we look after our young people. We want to reshape what we do in our industry for all the right reasons: better lifestyle, better wages, better food, better experiences for our customers and that's what encompasses the whole essence of the Bocuse family worldwide.
What we learn on this journey every two years will be on menus tomorrow, the inspiration from this will be seen worldwide.
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