The Bocuse D’Or USA finals yesterday in Hyde Park resembled Iron Chef. The twelve-chef tournament is a kitchen-versus-kitchen competition in front of a live audience, judged by culinary luminaries, with a limited set of central ingredients (salmon, lamb) and a stressfully restrictive time limit (3.5 hours). But the converted gymnasium at the Culinary Institute of America was no Kitchen Stadium: Instead of engaging with the audience and performing for the cameras, competitors worked in stoic isolation, separated from the audience and one another in Plexiglas kitchen cubicles, while in-house video crews caught every move for the large projection screens hanging overhead.
The four chefs cooking in the first heat of the finals began their day at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m., so when we strolled on to the CIA campus just past 10, competition was already well underway. The real action came later, during the tastings at the end of each heat, when the fifteen chef-judges took their seats (arranged alphabetically, Achatz to Ziebold), whipping the crowd into a cheering, live-tweeting, camera-brandishing frenzy. White-gloved porters marched platters of proteins down the line and Café Boulud executive chef and former Bocuse competitor (2007) Gavin Kaysen provided a Miss America–style voice-over on each dish’s composition and the competitor’s professional background. Only eleven chefs served their food — Philadelphia’s Jim Burke, of James, was disqualified after he didn’t finish his platters in time. James Kent, the sous-chef at New York’s Eleven Madison Park, won the opportunity to represent his country in France next year.
Watch our slideshow to see the real draw of the day for starstruck CIA students: the staggering amount of culinary wattage.