Bocuse d'Or: Olympic eating
The Bocuse d'or is turning 30 and, for the first time ever, "Monsieur Paul" is absent. His son Jérôme Bocuse is to take the reins of an event considered by those in the know as the Olympic Games of gastronomy. Report from Lyon.
The Bocuse d'Or is held at Sirha, an enormous gastronomy trade fair. It boasts 3,000 exhibitors, 19,700 chefs, and 189,000 professionals. Stands offer everything you could ever find in a kitchen: from olive oil to caviar, meat, machinery, dishes and fantastic innovations worthy of the Lépine competition, an annual contest in France for inventors. After crossing three halls which are as big as football pitches, you’re about thirty metres from the end of Hall 6 where the final of the Bocuse d’Or is due to take place. You wouldn’t know it. The Bocuse d'Or deserves its reputation as the “Olympic Games of Gastronomy”.
Once your visitor’s pass has been checked, you arrive at what looks like an Olympic village: small stands have given way to VIP areas, filled with well-known brands, and general onlookers seem to have been replaced by a cooler crowd.
A famous chef seems to wander past every five seconds! Pierre Boulud, Jérôme Bocuse, Ari Vatanen, Alain Ducasse. But one image catches my eye: at the Villeroy & Boch stand, visitors can paint an earthenware statuette of Paul Bocuse. Among those taking part is a chef with the
prestigious title of “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (MOF - a prestigious award in France for various trades, ed.), concentrating like a child with his brush. I take a step closer to see that he’s painting the statuette of his idol - another “MOF” - with a collar in the colours of the French flag. Welcome to the enthusiasts’ Olympic Games!
The shouts of the huge crowd echo a little further. Everyone has to present their visitor’s pass to reach the "stadium": a huge room where 2,500 overexcited supporters watch the contest. In front of them are 2 huge tables, at each of which are sat 12 famous chefs, separated by a small table where Joël Robuchon and Orjan Johannessen - winner of the last Bocuse d’Or in 2015 - religiously taste everything which is presented to them. Behind them, each candi-date has a small, 18m2 kitchen and 5 hours 35 minutes. Twenty-four countries take turns over two days. At the appointed time, dishes are presented to the crowd, the journalists and the chefs who photograph, taste and rate the dish, based on precise criteria. Even wasting food is punished! The standard is so high that many chefs train for years before attempting to
achieve this holy grail.
The atmosphere is both friendly and meticulous. A bit like the New York marathon where 40,000 conscientiously disciplined runners are all on the same wavelength. Everyone can see Léa Linster in her element and hear the praise which other chefs have for her: to date, she’s the only woman to have obtained the title!
Soaking it up!
The more time you spend time in this atmosphere, the more you end up absorbing it. You feel like cooking to please your guests and sitting down with them to enjoy delicious food and good wine while forgetting everything else! It all makes you want to share an experience, tell stories, remember, laugh and ask questions. This isn’t just about food - it’s about living! The chefs and their guests seem to operate in an authentic, simple fashion, centred on their enthusiasm, their desire to share their skills, their dedicated efforts and the hard-won respect which they’ve earned after decades of hard work. Their world is made up of a multitude of rules which ensures that this microcosm runs smoothly - just like in a kitchen. Starred chefs, ‘MOFs' and the Bocuse d'Or are all incredibly accessible in Lyon. They embody the guardians of the temple - the roof of which was built by Paul Bocuse. By going beyond petty local rivalries, they’ve dramatically developed their business. The chefs have freed themselves by leaving their kitchens and have managed to take control of their destiny. Finding an investor, doing consulting work, earning a Michelin star, delivering to homes, opening a restaurant in Las Vegas: the gastronomic world is full of original business opportunities and business models. It’s even possible to lose money on a daily basis in a starred restaurant by offsetting the loss through product sales and consulting work.
When we asked Milton Glaser, the creator of the “I love NY” logo about branding for Luxembourg, he emphasised the importance of highlighting the country's products - its recipes, its wines, its beers - to convey the main message: that of the Grand Duchy’s sociable way of life. So certainly, let’s invest in fintech, but let’s also keep some money aside to train a team for the final of the Bocuse d’Or. And if that's too complicated, let's find Léa Linster to see if we can find a way to collaborate with her. Like it or not, she has reached the top of a profession which doesn’t denigrate its stars but, on the contrary, draws collars around their necks! A “Luxembourg Mon Amour” logo on Lea's arm would have a global impact in Lyon.
Facts & figures