By Josh Baldwin
With a stern face that would put the scare on even the meanest drill sergeants, Chef Jens Peters Kolbeck of Denmark stands like an oak in Chef Richard Rosendale’s kitchen. It is only minutes until Rosendale is to launch into a grueling 5 ½ hour cooking competition and The Greenbrier chef is facing questions about some of his appliances.
“I’m sorry chef,” he says while organizing the bevy of All Clad pans, skillets, pots and other assorted cookeries, focused on putting his kitchen together to resemble the exact one he had been practicing on for the last 8 months. “You’ll have to speak directly with my coach about this.”
Head Coach Gavin Kaysen, the fluent French speaking Executive Chef at Café Boulud in New York City, has been playing defense against Kolbeck and a group of other chefs as they question a variety of kitchen appliances from the American team—appliances they have already approved in multiple emails, each of which Kaysen calmly and coolly pulls from his briefcase and demonstrates for the entire Kitchen Jury. Team Norway has brought over 600 fans and they are all seemingly playing trumpets, drums, air horns and chanting Nordic anthems, drowning out any casual conversation Kaysen might expect to have with the jury. As professional as they are all trying to be, there is something definitely amiss.
Kolbeck reunites with Kaysen outside the kitchen and, surrounded by a number of other international chefs, delivers some sort of verdict. As they walk away, Rosendale leans over the counter and asks Kaysen, "is it all good?” “Yes,” the coach replies.
“No,” says the nearby French-speaking blogger, leaning into my ear. “They’re going to let him use it, but no one is happy about it.”
Moments later, another judge comes by and counts down—3…2…1…Begin. And so begins the Bocuse d’Or 2013.
Chef Richard Rosendale grew up middle class in blue collar Uniontown, PA. His dad left the family when he was very young, leaving he and his sister to be raised by his mother, an English teacher at the local high school. On Christmas Eve that same year, the Rosendale house burned to the ground, leaving the family homeless and without any holiday presents. The community pulled together and found a car to lend to the family and gave them places to stay while they got their feet back on the ground.
“Watching my mother go through this ordeal really taught me how to deal with adversity by just persevering,” remembers Rosendale. “And it was also very humbling to have the community and friends reach out to support us in the way they did. I still remember going to my first day of school wearing a hodgepodge of clothes my mom had gathered from friends. All in all, I had a very good childhood despite what it sounds like. My mom really is the one who ensured that was the case. She made a big impression on me early in life and the experiences caused me to grow up a little faster that I would have under other circumstances. “
Rosendale went through school restless and bored, getting involved in fistfights and other hardheaded behavior. In his junior year he was really starting to think about going into the cooking industry, but at that time still thought going into the military was a strong possibility. When it came time for graduation, a last-minute decision sent him to nearby Westmoreland County Community College. He enrolled in the school’s well-regarded culinary program and from there was accepted into the prestigious Greenbrier apprenticeship program, where he sharpened his craft and ventured into the world of competition cooking.
“Cooking competitions attracted me because of the discipline it required and the fact that I was very competitive. I liked the adrenaline rush I got when competing. It really shaped me in regards to the organization I apply to everything in my life. I think it intimidates people how organized I am, but for me it’s the way I control and avoid stress. It calms me. I never imagined my very first competition back in home economics class in high school (a cake decorating event, where I made a pool table cake) would lead me to travel all over the world and garner national and international attention. I have been very fortunate."
In 2009, Rosendale travelled to Orlando, Fla. where he tried out for the one competition that always remained the pinnacle of competitive cooking—The Bocuse d’Or. Although many in attendance felt the young chef was ready to represent the United States right away, the honor instead went to Timothy Hollingsworth, who at the time was the chef de cuisine at The French Laundry, one of Thomas Keller’s world famous Michelin 3-Star restaurants. Hollingsworth went on to place 6th in the competition.
A year earlier, the Bocuse d’Or’s namesake Paul Bocuse had made a phone call to encourage the U.S. to create a formal foundation to raise money to train the U.S. candidates.
“My good friend and colleague Daniel Boulud called me one night and said that Paul Bocuse was going to give me call,” remembers Keller. “He said that he was going to be the chairman, Jerome Bocuse (Paul’s son) would be the vice-president, and I would be the president. The goal was to build a supporting foundation with the goal of putting an American on the podium. About 30 minutes later, Paul Bocuse called and asked me to lead the organization and I said ‘oui chef!’”
In January of 2012, Rosendale, along with his new commis Corey Siegel, traveled to Hyde Park, N.Y., home to the Culinary Institute of America and The Bocuse d’Or USA tryouts. With Siegel a relatively recent graduate of the program and Rosendale’s competition history, the two felt right at home. The team clearly stood out amongst the other chefs.
“Richard’s application really mirrored what he was doing in the kitchen,” says Keller, looking back at Rosendale’s tryout. “The structure, the organization, the commitment, and the dedication was all there. And then you have Corey, who’s just a mirror reflection of Richard.”
Born into a family with a long culinary past, Corey Siegel grew up in Albany N.Y. As a child his daycare was just down the road from his mother’s hospital kitchen, and he often spent time there listening to his mother, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, deliberate over the finer points of cheffing.
“She would talk non-stop about P&L statements, labor costs, you name it,” Siegel says with a wry smile. “During high school I went to a vocational program for culinary arts and that was the point where it became official that I was going to pursue this as my career.”
As soon as Rosendale and Siegel were handed the trophy at Hyde Park, they began developing a battle plan for January 2013, now 11 months away. He returned to The Greenbrier where he went about building an exact replica of the competition kitchen in France—down to the inch. The kitchen was housed in the resort’s famed bunker, a 112,544-square foot complex built in 1958 to house Congress in preparation for a nuclear attack.
Rosendale even studied the amperage of his appliances and correlated them with the outlets in his practice kitchen, that way if he had a chill blaster, microwave and blender plugged into the same outlet, he knew he wouldn’t blow a fuse.
Rosendale and Siegel set about ordering two of every appliance, tool, cookware and accessory. One to practice with and one for France.
“This spatula right here,” said Rosendale, holding up a Le Crueset rubber spatula, “has a twin that will be in France waiting for us.”
As CSX employees at The Greenbrier built the kitchen deep in the bunker, Rosendale set up his War Room in the adjoining office. A long wall featured 8 months of planning—fundraisers, press appearances, monthly goals, full practice runs, board tastings—everything you could think of. A clock above his new iMac counted down the days until the event. Two hundred and ten days.
“Every time we cooked in the kitchen we took lots and lots of notes and talked about it at length,” explains Siegel. “If you think about a ballet rehearsal: the director is saying a little to the left or a foot to the back… it was a lot like that.”
A team of coaches began regular visits to the bunker for multiple days of training and feedback. Gavin Kaysen served as head coach and brought with him the experience of competing in the event in 2007. The executive chef for Café Boulud in NYC meant that he could easily relay information between the board, represented by his boss Chef Boulud, and the candidates, who were still undertaking their full-time duties at The Greenbrier. To help, Kaysen brought in Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea and NEXT in Chicago, known for his whimsical creations and forward thinking modern food. Chef Gabriel Kruether of The Modern in New York also brought a strong foundation of classical French training coupled with modern sensibilities.
“I think as coaches we’re necessarily here to train them,” Achatz would go on to say. “More so guide them. The food needs to come from Richard.”
As the months wore on, Rosendale and Siegel developed a rapport that transcended the ways in which we usually communicate with each other. During full practice runs, the duo would work 5 ½ straight hours and never say five words to each other. The work was well planned, organized, and intense.
In the fall, the board flew in for their first tasting. The fish had yet to be announced, so the team focused their efforts on the beef platter. As Rosendale and Siegel moved into the last hour of cooking, the board and coaches collected quietly in the fringes of the kitchen to watch the Certified Master Chef. The air was fraught with intensity and the onlookers spoke in hushed tones as Rosendale began “putting his food up.” The platter began filling up with garnishes and meats, while the gallery took turns snapping photographs with their phones and iPads.
As the food moved out into the tasting area, the tension built, with a number of the coaches, board and others standing to capture a picture of the beef platter in its entirety, something no one had seen as of then.
Rosendale and Siegel divided the platter onto plated portions. Included were Chef Timmins CMC and Dan Scannell CMC, who served on the Olympic team with Rosendale in 2004 and 2008. As the board progressed through the tasting, Rosendale moved up and down the long, white-skirted table, getting immediate feedback. Already, there seemed to be a problem. The food had gotten quite cold since it was first put on the platter. The team needed to figure out a way to heat the platter for the 11.5 minutes it would be “on display” before the actual judges took their first bite.
Rosendale and Scannell hit the phones with a number of engineers to remedy the situation. In the end, Rosendale configured a platter that was actually heated to 165 degrees on the surface. It was a first for Team USA to have a heated platter, but the purpose was to keep the food hot while it was being paraded around the large arena.
The Paul Bocuse Institute in France sits atop a tranquil knoll within a 17-acre park in the residential neighborhood of Ecully. The 19th-century chateau features exquisite late baroque architecture amid beautifully kept grounds. The institute trains students in every aspect of the culinary arts—executive chefs, pastry arts, maître’d, and other professions within the industry.
Inside, a long, gray industrial hallway with lime green accents and massive, soundproof glass connected nearly a dozen practice kitchens for the institute’s students. At the end of the hallway lay a kitchen shrouded in brown paper to deter any onlookers. In the small, eye-level window of the swinging door was taped a sign that read “Private, USA Bocuse Candidate Training.” Inside, Rosendale and Siegel had set up all of their equipment and commenced defrosting stocks and portioning ingredients.
Scannell worked meticulously on the team’s platter, which was now fully heated and featured beautiful, rich mahogany supports between the multiple layers of polished steel. Bonjwing Lee, the foundation’s photographer, floated about the perimeter, snapping shots of the duo and directly uploading them to the internet via a Macbook Pro in the far corner. Siegel’s fellow CIA-alum Chris Kocsis helped organize the kitchen while a number of other support personnel moved in and out, making sure every last detail was covered.
There was a problem with the food lamp pulling the right amount of watts from the outlet, leaving it a little ”hot.” Chef Jean Francois Suteau, Executive Pastry Chef at The Greenbrier, came through the door with an attenuator. They pulled the plug and rigged the system back up. A number of chefs sat around with their hand under the warmer, musing about what most of us would consider minute temperature variations. But it’s that attention to the minutia that got Rosendale and Team USA where they are today. The slightest variation from what they practiced could leave the team with uncertain results. Happy with the solution, the team broke for the evening where they collected for a long dinner at one of Paul Bocuse’s other restaurants.
The next day spat gray rain throughout the town. The temperature dropped into the 40s and a London fog pushed down on the city. The team’s mood shifted to a more serious tone as they continued to thaw stocks and consommés and develop long checklists on yellow post-its, which Rosendale kept close to his master file and constantly consulted. The practice Kitchen was buzzing with a new intensity and purpose.
Forty kilometers away, just down the A3 highway from the southeast corner of Lyon, the Sirha began. Sirha is the largest culinary exposition in the world and attracts vendors that range from menu designers to sausage makers. The event used every inch of the expo center and from the exit off the freeway it took nearly two hours to park, walk in and secure your pass.
Inside, culinary professionals from all over the world browsed the endless exhibitions. Hipsters crammed into the Nespresso exhibit and waited forever for a sample from the company’s gorgeous, modern espresso machines. Throngs of curious onlookers surrounded open, demonstration kitchens where chefs showed off appliances and ingredients. A wine expo, Place de Vins, welcomed VIP and press members into a free tasting of some of the finest wines France had to offer. Vineyards from Provence, Rhone and Burgundy pitched their grapes to the lucky patrons. You got the feeling this is where a company could really make a name for themselves in the industry.
At the far end of Hall 6, behind a wall of glass that housed magnificent, highly detailed ice sculptures, lay the Paul Bocuse Hall. It was in this hall that Rosendale would compete in just 48 hours. Security was tight everywhere and a VIP/Press entrance led to yet another 40,000-square feet of expo space, which cornered off into a small entrance into the actual competition arena.
Ten kitchens, five sets of mirroring duets, stretched from end-to-end of the arena. Upon inspection, the kitchen was indeed an exact match to the practice kitchen Rosendale had built in The Greenbrier’s bunker. Above each kitchen was a wooden sign with that particular country’s candidates. Long, white-skirted tables awaited judges from each of the participating countries. Even empty, the hall held a palpable tension. And, somewhere across Lyon, so did a hidden practice kitchen in the corner of the Paul Bocuse Institute where Team USA was assembling their final list of equipment for the completion. Every single piece of equipment, right down to the length of a piece for cheese cloth or butcher twine was accounted for. There was no turning back or recovery from any mistakes at this point.
Peter Timmins CMC, the former executive chef at The Greenbrier and Rosendale’s long time mentor, was philosophizing on America’s relationship to fine dining in an Irish brogue tempered by decades in America. He, Rosendale, Siegel, Kocsis, Scannell and Kaysen were at a Speed Burger. Speed Burger is Lyon’s equivalent of fast food, except here you can get Foie Gras on your burger for an extra couple Euros. Yes, some of America’s most accomplished chefs ate fast food burgers the evening before the most prestigious culinary competition in the world.
“It was kind of ironic that the night before the event we were eating something as common as hamburgers,” laughs Rosendale. “But with all the stuff on our minds, the burgers were quick and hit the spot. And considering the lengthy meals we typically attended, burgers hit the spot without consuming much of the few remaining hours that remained.
Back in the hotel, Rosendale and Kaysen reviewed their printed menus, part of a classy printed program the team would present the judges and public at the competition.
“Please make sure there aren’t any typos. My mom will kill me,” says Rosendale, referencing his mother’s English teaching profession. Later in the evening, as he ironed his chef’s jacket, he told a story of how embarrassed he would get as a child when his mother ironed creases into his sleeves. “I would say, ‘Mom! You’re making me one dimensional!’ I think that’s probably when some of my obsessive compulsive behaviors took root.”
One floor up, Siegel was still dehydrating lobster and truffles via a small appliance in his hotel room. The rich scent of truffles filled the room, to the point of having to open a window overlooking the Saône River. Kocsis worked a little station in the kitchenette, preparing a syringe with a Champagne that Siegel would inject into the turbot before presenting the fish to the judges. Siegel sat on a smart orange sofa making a couple calls on his global phone.
“She’s really cute,” he told a friend. “Her name’s Julie.” Julie Jenssen was the commis for Orjan Johanssen. Orjan was the favorite and an old friend of Rosendale’s from a visit to Stavanger Norway 2 year’s ago.
A minute later Siegel was talking to his mom. She and his father and sister wanted to come up and see him the night before the competition. “Do NOT tell my mom about my tattoo,” he told everyone in the room. “Why would she ask us about that?” someone said. “She will say, ‘Hi, I’m Corey’s mom, does he have any tattoos?” Luckily the question wasn’t asked and no one had to reveal the 22-year-old’s aquatic half sleeve to his mother. “Don’t you guys ever go to the beach together?” someone joked.
Lights across the hotel went out at midnight, a long night before an early 5 a.m. departure for the expo center, where the team would have one hour to set up their kitchen. Cooking started at 9:20 sharp for Rosendale and Siegel.
Morning fog hung across the city as the sun achingly pulled itself out of the eastern sky. By 7 a.m. traffic jams began to form at the entrance to the Sirha. Family, foodies and chefs from around the world began lining up to get their seat in the gallery. General admission meant once the seats were full you had to wait at the entrance until someone left. The line quickly grew to a 2-3 hour wait. Horns blared while colorful flags waved wildly throughout the stands.
“The mood in the morning was calm, focused, and organized,” says Kaysen. “We felt that we had done everything we had to do in order to make sure that we were ready to go. We had a game plan and were ready to go into the battle.”
At about 8.30 a.m., Rosendale and Siegel unceremoniously entered the kitchen through a curtain hanging over a doorway. Neither of them looked out into the crowd but set about re-establishing their kitchen and setting their mise en place.
It wasn’t much longer before Kolbeck and the kitchen Jury arrived to assess the appliances Team USA would be using.
“I think that had Corey and I not been so well prepared, we could have not even recovered from this relentless scrutinizing we went through the morning of the competition. It really was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. We remained calm and accepted the verdicts, despite their impact. But I can tell you we were still setting up an hour into the competition, given that a significant amount of our one-hour of cooking was consumed with explaining the equipment we were using.”
The timing chef set the team in motion with a countdown and the Americans burst into action. Rosendale immediately began breaking down the beef and Oxtail before moving into the lobster and turbot. Siegel methodically set to chopping carrots for the team’s signature garnish.
For the first hour the excitement was high throughout the competition arena, as all of the teams dug into their program and the commentators made their rounds checking in on each kitchen. Moving into the second hour the chefs began to settle into their program and the tension began to relax a bit. Team USA worked methodically throughout.
“Despite being incredibly focused, I couldn’t help but hear “Born in the USA” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangle Banner” playing over a mega phone,” Rosendale laughs in retrospect.
“The music from the UK is what kept me the calmest,” laughs Siegel. “I was able to focus all of the noise and energy of a stadium full of fans into those trumpets.”
Team USA’s fishplate came out first.
“The idea behind the fish dish was inspired by the Appalachian Mountains and the landscapes we are surrounded with living here in the Greenbrier Valley,” explains Rosendale.
The design of the dish evoked the mountains surrounding The Greenbrier and Rosendale’s home. “We tried to use delicious flavors such as Tennessee Truffles, Virginia ham, mushrooms, leeks and potatoes, presenting them in a very clean and modern presentation. One of our garnishes had to be created using an ingredient indigenous to America. We chose to utilize butternut squash cooked in apple cider, and mulling spices. Then a lobster mousse shaped like a lobster tail sat on the butternut squash.”
The fish plate went out twenty minutes before the beef presentation, so as soon as the dishes left the “window” Siegel and Rosendale unveiled the platter and begin plating the food with an enormous degree of precision.
Just as the Bocuse representatives approached USA’s beef platter, Rosendale placed the last garnish on the massive display and off it went, carried around the arena for display for nearly 15 minutes before a team of servers began plating the food for the judges.
“The beef platter evoked food from my childhood,” explains Rosendale. “For example, my mom used to make pot roast, potatoes and carrots, so I did an Oxtail Yankee pot roast with layers of black truffle, and a carrot that was wrapped in carrot gel and stuffed with carrot puree. I also did a potato dumpling that was stuffed with bone marrow, and coated with mustard butter, and then tableside we poured a hot broth of Greenbrier Farm Vegetable infused beef broth over the dumpling, delivering these amazing earthy aromas right in front of the judges.”
The main beef component was grilled over hickory and crusted with mushrooms, and had a very light herb mousse running through the center of it. And off to the side was a fried hollandaise sphere and asparagus horseradish mousse. Once the beef platter was plated out onto the competition’s white flatware and served to the beef jury, all Rosendale could do was clean up the kitchen and wait.
While thousands of screaming, trumpet-playing fans cranked some decibels in the main hall, Rosendale, Siegel, Keller and Kaysen waited backstage behind a thin curtain waiting for “Team U.S.A.” to be announced.
“Chef Keller looked at me and said, ‘I think Corey should carry the flag out,’” Siegel recalls. “I can not compare the moment of carrying the flag in front of all of those people to anything else I have ever experienced.”
The moment the four men stepped out from behind the curtain, the American fans erupted in with a roar of gratitude for the way the team had represented their country. On Facebook pages across the world, people posted relentlessly about how proud they were of the American team. The air was fraught with an intensity unmatched in the world of culinary competitions.
The team watched as third place Japan was announced, followed by Denmark in second place. Paul Bocuse himself was brought up to announce the winner and the room fell silent as the 86-year-old carefully opened the envelope, smiled and with pride in his voice announced, “Le France!”
Two Weeks Later
“Well, I have been to enough of these over the years to know that you just can’t tell how it is going to turn out until you hear the announcement,” says Rosendale. “But I think it’s important when cooking at this level that one should not step into the arena unless you’re prepared to face the notion you may be beaten. Though we didn’t place where we had hoped, we felt that we have achieved an amazing feat by competing and showing up and cooking as a contender at the Bocuse d’Or. I believe that when looking and talking with Thomas at the end, he was very proud and thought we had a chance, we were a contender and that is something to be proud of.”
“The Bocuse d’Or is and will remain one of the most difficult cooking competitions in the world for reasons not always seen by the general public,” explains Kaysen, back home in New York. “It is years of training, planning and cooking that gets these chefs to where they are today. They have 5 hours and 35 minutes to prove to the world they are the best, but the amount of time and people it took to get them there, is an incredible sight to see.”
“I feel this year, with all of the rule changes, it still remains a difficult competition, and to be honest, I do not think it will be any easier moving forward. I think that team Japan showed how you can manipulate the experience with their very creative approach of serving the judges like they would at home....those types of developments are huge and ones we should all take note of.”
Upon his return, Rosendale spoke at a variety of events and continues to live up to his motto of “Push Yourself.” He is currently training for a half marathon while still holding down his dual duties at The Greenbrier resort as Executive Chef and Director of Food & Beverage. Looking back on the experience, he notes that if one kid out there somewhere got inspired to be better at whatever they do, then he feels the whole experience was worth the tremendous effort.
“In these kind of events, the real treasure is not the award, it’s the growth one experiences beneath the surface. Corey and I both have grown in this process and we were proud to represent the Country, and I felt honored to be an ambassador of the Greenbrier and West Virginia.”
And we, in turn, were honored to have these men represent us.