Your personal experience with the Bocuse d’Or is a long story. How would you describe your special relationship to the contest?
It started in 2013, during my first visit to Lyon, I was working with Thomas Keller at the time. I had seen some of the teams that came to practice in the United States from time to time, but when I arrived in Lyon, it was quite a choc to see the stage, the quality and commitment shown by each of the teams… I think you might say I was hooked! It became a passion, we came very close to winning gold and I decided to become a coach, this was something very serious for me. Later on, I decided to write a book about the experience, the backstage of the Bocuse d’Or and to share our adventure that led us to the silver medal. I have always enjoyed seeing all these chefs gathered together, working as one to achieve the same goal. I find it most interesting to witness the different know-hows and different philosophies. It takes us beyond the walls of our kitchens. It is also important to develop and open the contest even further in order to keep on discovering new talents, thanks to the multitude of nations.
You have accepted to be the president of the Jury for the Bocuse d’Or Europe. What are your expectations and how will you approach this role?
The European qualifying event is one of the most interesting, it brings together the more traditional nations, it’s exciting to see which chefs will be back, maybe to win gold… I’m looking forward to seeing the evolutions, innovations… For me, it is most gratifying to be part of the event, to meet up with people I appreciate and to develop relationships. I remember how intimidated I was for my first participation! Competing against highly trained and motivated participants can be quite stressful. But our team at the time focused less on who we were up against and more on why we were competing and what our goal was. I consider it a responsibility to contribute to the promotion, the impact and develop of the Bocuse d’Or contests. It is an immense honour for me.
You end up at the 2nd place when you participate to the 2015 edition of the Bocuse d’Or. A word of advice for the participants?
You need to be very confident when you enter the contest. This comes with preparation and much practice, you must ignore the pressure and how people might perceive you. I wouldn’t look back and say: ’I could have done better’. Each time is like D-day, you must give it everything you can. I remember telling my commis who were exhausted that this is an experience you will carry for the rest of your life. You must remain committed and on D-day, be confident, stay concentrated, ignore the audience and the cameras, and absolutely remain focused.
Gastronomy and chefs are always facing new challenges. Times are changing, restaurants must be more eco-responsible, sustainable. As a chef, what is your take on these issues?
Of course, these issues must be tackled. If you do not address them you become cut off from what is really happening in the world. It’s a challenge for sure, it’s obviously much easier and cheaper to not be responsible and it can be difficult to find the right balance between cost, productivity and sustainability for your restaurant. But, if you manage to prioritise, the task becomes less daunting. I think that our industry must improve its practices, how we buy, how we grow our food. I see some very inspiring chefs who are working on these issues and this helps us get on board. The next ten years will be interesting for our trade but also simply in terms of what we eat.