The countdown for the next Bocuse d'Or has started, so Caterer is getting behind the Academy of Culinary Arts and calling on our readers to support Simon Hulstone's bid to put the UK among the top-ranking countries in this prestigious competition.
What is the Bocuse d'Or?
The Bocuse d'Or is a biennial world chef championship that is considered by many to be the culinary equivalent of the Olympics. Named after legendary French chef Paul Bocuse, who founded it in 1987, the event takes place over two days in January at the SIRHA International Hotel, Catering and Food Trade Exhibition in Lyon.
Initially the Bocuse d'Or comprised just the final in Lyon, but after its 20th anniversary, the format was expanded, with the first Bocuse d'Or Asia and European finals taking place in 2008.
Now, 24 countries compete in the world finals: the top 12 finalists of the Bocuse d'Or Europe; the top four finalists of the Bocuse d'Or Asia; and the top three finalists of the Copa Azteca in Latin America. There are also three entrants chosen from national application and two wild card selections. The British competitor is selected by the Academy of Culinary Arts.
How does the competition work?
Each team consists of two chefs - one lead chef, and a commis/assistant chef who must be under the age of 22 at the time of the competition. The teams have five hours and 35 minutes to prepare two elaborate presentations - a meat dish and a fish dish that must serve 14 people. No ingredients may be pre-cut, although teams are allowed to pre-peel garlic, portion oil, salt, flour and other ingredients, and bring stocks made in advance.
Taking place in an open theatre, 12 fully equipped kitchens are lined up side by side, facing an area for the jury, with spectators limited to around 1,000. Since 2009, a designated coach located outside the kitchen area is permitted to communicate with the team.
Who judges the Bocuse d'Or?
The jury comprises 24 renowned chefs who make their evaluations based on the level of perfection in the presentation, technical skill, cooking sophistication, creativity and overall look of the dishes. The jury is divided into two groups of 12, with each half judging either the fish or the meat dish. Past judges have included the likes of Heston Blumenthal, Albert Roux, Ferran Adrià and Joël Robuchon.
Out of a total of 60 points, the quality of the dishes determines 40 points, and presentation accounts for 20 points. If there is a tie, an additional 20 points is awarded based on factors including organisation, teamwork, cleanliness and lack of waste.
What's the atmosphere like?
The audience atmosphere of the Bocuse d'Or resembles that of a football stadium - think foghorns, cowbells, cheering and yelling from the stands - with hordes of fans from across the world descending on Lyon to avidly support their countries' competing chefs. Sadly the UK fan base is usually limited to a select few enthusiasts.
Who are the winners?
Of the 12 competitions that have taken place, France, the home team, has won gold on six occasions, while Belgium, Norway and Sweden have consistently finished in one of the top three placements. The incumbent holder of the Bocuse d'Or trophy is Norwegian chef Geir Skeie.
In 1989 Léa Linster of Luxembourg became the first (and only) woman to win the Bocuse d'Or, and in 2005 and 2007, Rasmus Kofoed of Denmark became the first multiple medallist, with bronze and silver respectively. The UK's highest-placed chef is Eyck Zimmer, who came eighth in 2003.
Why has the UK never won the Bocuse d'Or?
A major reason why the UK has yet to finish in the top five of the competition is funding. While teams from countries including Norway and the USA have hundreds of thousands of pounds available, the UK's budget has so far been limited to £15,000.
While other countries are able to allow their chefs to focus purely on the Bocuse d'Or, British competitors tend to have the pressure of balancing both their work for the competition and running the kitchen of their respective restaurants.
How can Caterer readers support Simon Hulstone?
Brian Turner, president, and John Williams, chairman of the Academy of Culinary Arts, have outlined three ways in which Caterer readers can provide support:
"Help Simon to crystallise his thoughts and translate his menu ideas on to the plate by giving him a team of experts. Chefs and food designers can provide him with the necessary assistance to bring his dishes alive.
"We want people to help Simon in terms of sponsorship by providing him with produce he can use to practise his dishes and get them to a point of perfection on the day of cooking at the Bocuse d'Or.
"Support Simon by giving him a vociferous fan presence at the competition. If people want to be there and support him they must start thinking about this now. The whole city of Lyon gets booked up months in advance of the Bocuse d'Or."
CATERER CATCHES UP WITH SIMON HULSTONE
Caterer It's 12 months until the next Bocuse d'Or - how are you feeling?
Simon Hulstone I feel a lot more confident than last time, having already done it once. Last time it was a real rush as I only stepped into the role quite late and didn't have the full time to prepare. This time round there's a lot more time and I know a lot more about the competition - about its pitfalls, the politics and where we stand. I want to put the UK back on the map. This competition isn't just about me; it's about the bigger picture and really showing the rest of the world what we're capable of. I'd like to give the next competitor a good starting position.
Caterer What's the focus on right now?
SH All I want right now is to qualify so the focus is on the first hurdle, the Bocuse d'Or Europe, which takes place in Geneva, Switzerland, in June. Out of 24 countries competing in this, 12 will qualify for the Bocuse d'Or in Lyon next January so I have a one in two chance.
I have been lucky enough to have been selected to compete on the second rather than the first day, which traditionally is a much better day as judges are more settled - no winner has ever been chosen on the first day. I'm competing alongside some of the biggest countries including Norway, Denmark and France, which is fantastic.
Caterer What will you be required to cook in Geneva?
SH We have five-and-a-half hours to prepare two silver platters for 14 people each - the same as at the Bocuse d'Or. The first platter has to incorporate white halibut from Norway, while the second platter has to feature Swiss veal ribs with calf's head, calves' feet or veal sweetbreads. There's been a slight change to the rules this year in the sense that all dishes will be presented on plates chosen by the organisers.
Caterer Where are you at in terms of preparation?
SH I'm just about to meet my potential new commis chef, Oliver Lloyd, who is an apprentice chef at Claridge's in London, and will be the British representative at the next WorldSkills event, which will be held in London in 2011. In terms of the menu for Geneva, I have a lot of ideas, but I'm struggling to translate them into something edible, which is really annoying.
Caterer How can Caterer readers help you?
SH The main thing I'm looking for is expertise. We have some amazing chefs and food designers in this country and I need them to help me develop my dishes. I need someone to help me break down what's in my head and turn it into something I can serve on a plate. I've been travelling around Scandinavia and Paris to get some ideas of what's in fashion there at the moment. But I would love to work with some of our top chefs - it would be great to spend a day with Heston Blumenthal in his development kitchens at the Fat Duck.
Simon Hulstone is the chef-proprietor of the Michelin-starred Elephant in Torquay, Devon