The Bocuse d’Or is an auspicious event, held every other year in Lyon, France. It was created in 1987 by Paul Bocuse, a legendary chef whose influence will be felt for as long as man and woman create food with their hands and minds. The competition was designed to replicate a sporting event, highlighting chefs and their cooking, and if you have never attended one, or seen one on television or the internet, the spectacle is amazing. Culinary efficiency, creativity, and skill are all on display, and the nationalistic fervor can indeed rival that of the World Cup, with spectators cheering the teams on with abandon. (The U.S. team is on a high, having finished in 2nd place in the competition this year.)
I recently had the pleasure of meeting a few young cooks and chefs who just might represent the United States in Lyon in the future; they were in Houston taking part in the Ment’or Young Chef Competition, a program that seeks to identify and promote young talent in the U.S. (Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City also hosted competitions this year, perhaps an indication of Houston’s rise in culinary prominence.) The evening before the event I shared a table with some of the contestants at Table on Post Oak, and during a meal that included lobster bisque, roast chicken, and île flottante we discussed everything from working in a kitchen to their planned competition menus to wine. (By coincidence, I was seated next to the eventual Houston winner; more about him later.)
Ment’or BKB is the organization behind the Young Chef Competition – which was held in Houston at The Pass & Provisions. BKB stands for Bocuse/Keller/Boulud (Jérôme Bocuse, son of Paul; Thomas Keller; and Daniel Boulud), and in 2008 the men founded a foundation to provide more support to the U.S. Bocuse d’Or team. In 2014, “ment’or” became the new name for the U.S. Bocuse d’Or Foundation.
The competition in Houston was fierce, and after all of the prep and cooking was over, Lee Foden-Clarke and his commis, Camden Hershberger, both of Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills, won top honors with a dish of rolled loin of lamb with potato cylinder, braised lamb osso buco, sunchoke purée, chestnut purée, and braised celeriac. It impressed a panel of judges who included Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama, and Ming Tsai, who owns Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Massachusetts. For his efforts, Foden-Clarke won a $10,000 cash prize and opportunity to stagier at the restaurant of his choice anywhere in the world.
Foden-Clarke is a thoughtful young man, something I discovered after a few minutes of conversation with him during the dinner at Table. He told me a great story about how he sold his BMW to fund his relocation to the U.S, and his admiration and respect for Thomas Keller, who owns Bouchon Bistro (along with, of course, Per Se and The French Laundry), was evident and genuine. I hope to one day spend an evening in a restaurant where the Cornwall, England, native is cooking.
(Houston was represented at the competition by Mara Serna, a sous chef for the Treadsack Group and the sole female competitor at the event. She was assisted by Logan Jung of C.H. Guenther & Son in San Antonio.)
I plan to follow ment’or BKB’s events and initiatives – including the upcoming competition in Las Vegas that will select the team to represent the U.S. at Bocuse d’Or in 2017 – because its mission is something I believe in.