The chefs, who serve as primary advisors to Team USA, agreed that a pilgrimage to the farm and the Culinary Vegetable Institute was long overdue.
“Farmer Lee has been a part of our extended family for over 30 years, and the support that we give one another is very, very important,” said Chef Keller, the chef behind iconic restaurants Per Se and The French Laundry.
“For me, it’s finally a dream come true,” added Chef Boulud, affectionately referring to Farmer Lee Jones, he was a supporter of our competition from day one. To be here with Thomas, with Bocuse d’Or, I think is a great opportunity to start a tradition.”
In an emotional welcome, Farmer Lee Jones expressed his joy and gratitude for the presence of his two longtime friends and colleagues.
“It is so important to me to have them come while my dad is still here,” said Farmer Lee, through tears. “We’ve gotten to do something pretty special together as a family, and two of the people that I think the most of in this industry were able to come here today and see our life’s work. It’s the most special day of my life.”
Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen?
While Farmer Lee, Keller and Boulud mingled with the guests, six chefs shared the CVI kitchen preparing their individual contributions to the exquisite multi-course meal. Each chef created a signature cocktail hour canape and dish for the main menu. Participating chefs included Aaron Bludorn, Mathew Peters, Robert Sulatycky, Melissa Rodriguez, Junior Borges and Britt-Marie Culey.
Chef Bludorn, who is opening his own restaurant in Houston after developing his career at Bouloud’s eponymous Cafe Boulud, said the opportunity to help support the 2021 Team USA was a welcome chance to pay it forward. “We are creating the future of young chefs in the next generation, and I was one of those chefs,” Chef Bludorn said. “Coming up as a young chef, I was always inspired by the Bocuse d’Or. It was always part of our kitchen.”
As he works to fulfill his longtime dream of opening his own restaurant, Chef Bludorn said he will carry the Bocuse-worthy values instilled in him by Chef Boulud with him to Texas, with the goal of “having that woven within the fabric of who we are.”
“It’s about excellence, passion, precision and a sense of urgency,” he said. “All of those values that are so important to have as a young chef.”
It Takes a Patriotic Village
Team USA head coach Chef Robert Sulatycky said raising financial support during the intense 2-year preparation period is critical to the team’s success. “Events like this that we’re doing with Culinary Vegetable Institute and The Chef’s Garden today are crucial,” he said. “It takes tremendous financial and human resources. For two years it is a full time job. Every day.”
Chef Mathew Peters, who has worked alongside Chef Keller both at Per Se and The French Laundry, is also the 2017 Bocuse d’Or gold medalist, the first American in the history of the competition to ever win gold at the worldwide competition.
“You have one shot that you’ve been practicing for two years,” he said. The pressure to meet and exceed the expectations of mentors, live up to the legacy of former competitors and to accomplish personal goals is magnified by representing the United States. An entire country that’s now being put onto your shoulders. “Being able to impress them on a world stage was unlike any other feeling that I’ve had in my career.”
Chef Jamie Simpson, who has had the opportunity to attend a Bocuse event as a spectator. He called the experience “the most patriotic thing I have ever done as a human.”
“If you can, imagine a world stage, with 24 countries behind you waving flags and drumming drums and blowing whistles and dancing and doing chants and national anthems and fireworks,” he said. “It’s mind blowing, the patriotism that happens. It’s a beautiful place.”
Nothing but the Best will Do
All of the chefs agreed that working with vegetables from The Chef’s Garden dovetailed perfectly with Chef Paul Bocuse’s emphasis on using only the highest quality ingredients.
“I truly feel that The Chef’s Garden is continuing Monsieur Bocuse’s dream to use the best ingredients and to be able to showcase that on the plate, with the idea that you have to do very little,” Chef Boulud said. “I think Chef Paul would have related so well with Farmer Lee, and his father, and with the passion, and the knowledge they have, and that they keep searching for.”
“The best products in the world is the most valuable thing that we can supply for Team USA,” Chef Jamie said.