It’s just over two weeks until the Bocuse D’Or competition in Lyon, France (January 29-30), the bi-annual throwdown of élite chefs representing their countries, the so-called culinary Olympics. The man repping the United States, Richard Rosendale of The Greebrier resort in West Virginia, is ready to roll. He and commis Corey Siegel have logged tens of thousands of miles across the U.S. and in Europe, testing out their fish and beef dishes — these are the two proteins that the chefs from all 24 countries will have to prepare — and consulting with an A-list team of coaches. We’re talking Keller. Boulud. Achatz. Here, Rosendale tells us how it’s been taking input from three such heralded yet different chefs. The head coach is Gavin Kaysen, who runs the kitchen at Café Boulud, and who once represented an American team that, like all the others, failed to make it to the podium at the Bocuse.
Typically, the Europeans dominate; the Scandinavians and French practically own the competition. This year, the U.S. is seriously intent on changing this. Rosendale is the man to do it, a pitbull of a chef who’s living out his fantasy and traveling to Lyon to win or go home. So for Fantasy Travel Week, we spoke to him about how he’s packing for such an intense journey — his last FedEx bill will be pricey; he shipped literally a ton of material across the Atlantic. And while we had him on the phone, we asked him about his training routine and whether or not he’s gonna bring home the gold.
Walk us through the process of preparing to get everything from the U.S. to Lyon.
I put up a board in February, which outlined the goals we needed to hit each month. We also indicated which days we would do practice runs, days to exercise, days we had important appointments or travel. There was also a deadline established each week — everything from things that needed to get shipped to promotional books that needed to be printed and go through all kinds of approvals.
What about shipping all your equipment over?
There is so much involved in getting ready for this competition and one of the most critical things is the stage we are in right now, which is packing and shipping. We already tested shipping product from here in West Virginia out to France in October and saw how long it would take to get products all the way out there. When I say ship stuff out there, I’m not talking about a small box of peaches. The last batch we shipped out there was well over a ton of equipment. We set up a war room, if you will, in France that acts as a storage facility and we have a lot of equipment and storage containers there.
One of the ways you are going to be most comfortable trying to pull that same program in France is if you have the same equipment over there. We basically shipped a duplicate of everything there — small offset spatulas, kitchen timers, pepper mills.
What’s the kitchen set-up going to be like?
At this stage, we pretty much know what our program is going to be in terms of the beef and the fish. We have established right down to the vegetable peeler every single tool and little detail that we need to pull that program off. We went ahead and put down where we need the stations in the kitchen, so that we can get faster and faster every time we do a practice run, since we are using muscle memory. One of the ways you are going to be most comfortable trying to pull that same program in France is if you have the same equipment over there. We basically shipped a duplicate of everything there — small offset spatulas, kitchen timers, pepper mills. When we get there, we will uncrate the boxes and set the truck up exactly the way we want to take it to the competition the day of.
How much traveling have you done over the past year since you were selected?
It has been like taking on another full-time job and much of that is due in part to the traveling. People think that being in the Bocuse d’Or think is just a five-hour cooking competition. It’s so much more than that. Corey and I have been to France, Belgium, New York many times, California, Houston. We’ve been all over the place and juggling that along with working full time at The Greenbrier and being a husband and father… I remember one of the most hectic periods for me was going out to [a Bocuse USA test kitchen in] Yountville, packing for France for the following week and then coming back. My son was getting picked up at a bus stop on a Tuesday on the first day of school and I had an engagement up in New York. I remember driving out to Roanoke early in the morning, taking a long flight to New York, doing the event and demo, jumping right back into a taxi, flying and then driving home to see my son off for his first day. The traveling has been relentless.
You must have become good at packing!
So that I don’t get stressed out, I use the same philosophies in the kitchen that I do in personal aspects of my life. My packing at home looks similar to my packing in the kitchen. You would probably think I’m crazy but I label everything and have little tags and pick out what I’m wearing each day when I’m traveling so that I don’t take unnecessary things with me. I put my trip itinerary on the wall and begin to tag weeks in advance of the competition. You can’t be over there and still be looking for something you need — it needs to get there a couple weeks before you do.
How far in advance will you be in Lyon and where will you be staying?
We’re staying at a nice hotel that is close to where the competition will be taking place, as well as the school we will be working at. It’s also close to the storage facility. I leave here on the 19th [of January] and fly to New York — we are flying out internationally to France on the 20th. We’ll be there basically a week before the competition. Then, we’ll go through the program and line up all the equipment and get ready for the big competition the following week.
How physically stressful will the competition be?
We just did back-to-back practice run days — we’re talking about six hours full throttle. It’s five hours of cooking, getting your platter out and then a couple hours of cleanup. Yesterday, I even started wearing compression sleeves on my calves to help with the blood flow and help it get to my upper body. Corey and I were both commenting when we came in today that it felt like we had played a football game yesterday. We were really sore.
Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud have the same standards, but have different opinions about cuisines and different styles. As the candidate, your style has to stay as the guide.
Are you guys actually working out and running to stay in shape for this?
I saw Corey yesterday morning at the gym as I was going to meet my trainer. On Fridays I box and I do some weight training and cardio on Tuesdays. I do a lot of things that help with hand-eye coordination and dexterity is really important. One of the drills I was doing is that my trainer will run next to me and I’ll have to keep throwing and catching this ball as many times as I can while I’m running. I’ll do it 18 times, then 20 times, then 23 times. It’s hard to let go and grab continuously while you’re running. Then she’ll throw it in all these random directions and I’ll have to catch it. Another one is I will go up to a rack of barbells that have been randomly assorted and put them in the order that I am told to do it. It causes me to keep bending down and thinking at the same time. Why is that important? Well, yesterday my peppermill was facing an unusual direction and bumped another one when I went to set it down. I was able to snatch it right out of the air before it fell and put it right back. That’s how intense you get when you’re doing it.
Is there talk about how other teams are preparing or doing?
You have no doubt that some of the top teams will be strong again this year. I see it as we are competing against ourselves…. We are looking at micro things right now that have big impacts — we will probably spend an entire day just working on the fish sauce and stocks, just trying to get the right viscosity, texture and flavor. You might taste a fish sauce and say, “Well this tastes great! Why do you need to make another one?” Well, it needs a little more gelatin in it, so I’m going to go back and add in white veal stock just so that I can get a bit more gelatin in there. Why that is important is because I have to reduce it down so far to thicken it up; it’s going to compromise the taste. I want to have more gelatin in it so that I have the viscosity I am looking for before I have to reduce it down that far. Those are the little details that we are working on right now.
Has working with Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Grant Achatz and Gavin Kaysen over the last year had a large impact on you?
I think that it is a collaborative effort and that my role is kind of being that filter. You can’t be as flaky and unsure about who you are as a chef as to incorporate every idea that everyone has about dishes. Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud have the same standards, but have different opinions about cuisines and different styles. As the candidate, your style has to stay as the guide. You get to listen to all this feedback from everyone around you. Sometimes the feedback I get will be from one of the sous-chefs here at The Greenbrier. The other day, we had a broth that I had somebody come up and taste, and I said, “Taste this. Now taste this. Now this. Which one do you like?” I try to audit as much input as I can from people and solicit as much feedback as I can before running it through a strainer to see what is going to help make that plate better.
Do you feel like you are going into this with an attitude that you have a real fighting chance of bringing home the prize?
I am a big believer of “What you see in your mind is what is going to manifest in front of you.” I think about what kind of car I want to drive and then I go out and buy that car. I think about where I want to work and then I go and get that job. I think about where I want to finish in Lyon and then I’m going to go after that. I can tell you that I am not envisioning going over there and just saying, “Yeah, I did the Bocuse d’Or and I’m out.”
So the next time I am talking to you it’s to interview you about winning the Bocuse d’Or?
I feel like we have done everything we had hoped to do at this point and we feel pretty good. The proof is in the pudding and now we have to go there and make it happen.