Chefs roll up sleeves for cooking contest
Published : Mar 21, 2012 - 19:10
Updated : Mar 21, 2012 - 19:10
BRUSSELS (AFP) ― Twenty up-and-coming chefs faced off in Brussels on Tuesday in a two-day cookout for the European leg of the Bocuse d’Or contest, dubbed the Olympic Games of the food world.

Working side by side in a row of purpose-built kitchens, huge white toques on their heads, the first 10 took up the challenge on Tuesday, egged on like prize-fighters by their coaches and a cheering crowd.

Jury members will Wednesday name the winners of the European contest as well as the 12 chefs who will go on to compete in the worldwide Bocuse d’Or in the central-eastern French city of Lyon next January.

Each chef has five hours and 35 minutes to rustle up two dishes ― a sole with shrimps, and a poultry dish ― with three garnishes each, to serve 14 diners.

With the word COACH writ large on his jacket, British chef Nick Vadis talked his protg Adam Bennett, head chef at “Simpsons,” a Michelin-starred restaurant in the English city of Birmingham, through each twist and turn.

“I’m ‘Mr. Fix It,’ I know his dishes inside out,” Vadis told AFP. “My job is to talk to the chef, encourage him, check the timings.”

Working in a busy restaurant, Bennett had to fit in practice sessions during his days off or after closing time ― unlike some rivals, from the Nordic countries especially, who take months off to prepare with the help of sponsors.

“We would like to train for weeks but in the real world ...” Vadis said.

Orjan Johannessen, for instance, took six months away from his family inn on the Norwegian coast to work his recipes time and time again, timing himself down to the minute, adjusting seasonings and textures.

Likewise, France’s Thibault Ruggeri has been practicing for four months, seven days a week after work and at weekends ― to concoct a sole stuffed with wild celery, with truffles and grey shrimp, and a poultry tart with foie gras and truffle.

Named after the French chef Paul Bocuse, one of its founders, the contest is a chance for young chefs, many of whom are unknown to the public, to launch their careers.

Past winners include Yannick Alleno, the 1999 Bocuse d’Or laureate, now the three-star chef of the Hotel Meurice in Paris.