Even in normal times, the cooking competition is notoriously highly-pressurised, demanding nothing less than 100% dedication from the chefs participating. But this year chefs will face a new set of challenges.
It has been said that in order to succeed at Bocuse d’Or, a chef must dedicate his or herself to the competition, almost to the exclusion of everything else. The eventual winner of the famed gold statuette will enjoy an elevated place in the world of gastronomy, with professional admiration and success guaranteed.
Chefs, of course, are made of stern stuff and are well used to high-pressure environments. As the saying goes: 'If you can’t stand the heat...' However, with everything that 2020 has served up to restaurant professionals, the competing chefs will face different pressures and psychological demands.
Usually, the atmosphere at Bocuse d'Or competition events is a major feature. With the auditorium full of very vocal supporters from all over the world, it's more like a major sporting event than a cooking competition. This year will see chefs perform to a virtually empty venue, but it won't put them off.
"When we are in the box, we are above all ultra-focused," says Davy Tissot, chef of the Saisons restaurant (Ecully), who won the French selection of the Bocuse d'Or. "We are focused on the actions to be performed, the steps to follow, the timing to be respected.
"This will of course change the general mood of the contest, but I know that I am supported by the thoughts of many people. Their support is precious."
Unfortunately for the UK and Belgium teams, they have had to withdraw from the competition due to restrictions within their own countries. But for the others, the prize is still up for grabs, and the competition will be fierce. It's a great honour for the chefs to represent their countries doing the thing they love. And for Georgia, a country in the competition for the very first time, the focus is on the experience itself.
"Our main goal for this year is to feel and catch the main spirit of the contest, and to share our experience with the future candidates from Georgia," says Lali Papashvily, creative director of Gastronaut Georgia, a creative agency supporting the Bocuse d’Or national selection for team Georgia in Europe. "But we do also believe that we have a great chance to become worthy competitors to experienced European countries."
As for sourcing speciality ingredients, Italian participant, Alessandro Bergamo says he hasn’t encountered any problems. “Apart from truffles and caviar, which under the competition rules you may use, we have not encountered any problems,” he says. “All the ingredients were selected following a logical thread: the quail egg and the quail, with vegetable side dishes, are not subject to any kind of restrictions. The same is true at the level of techniques. Some ingredients may be late with delivery, but in general everything is under control and easily manageable.”
The sourcing of ingredients, their transport and storage for the competition, is the responsibility of the individual teams, so logistically it is they who deal with the realities of having everything to hand in the optimum condition on the day.
Another consideration for the chefs in competition must be their future plans. With so many restaurants closed or operating at very limited capacity, it is a time of uncertainty in the restaurant industry. Only recently a Bocuse d’Or participant could rest assured that, regardless of their achievement in competition, they would be leaving to step into a globally thriving and growing industry. There is a rather large question mark over that now.
“It's a little scary,” says Bergamo. “Because you don't see an easy way out of the Covid, but it's still important to believe in it. We must take the necessary precautions, but also keep looking ahead: it is difficult for everyone, but we must raise our heads.
“This situation will not prevent me from pursuing my passion, which is cooking for other people. As cooks, it is something we can always do, even if the restaurants close. We need to be positive, find solutions, maybe reinvent and renew ourselves and adapt."
It is this can-do attitude and agility that has shown the future of the industry need not be dark, but with so much talent, and above all, passion, whatever the future holds, chefs will continue to inspire. So for now, absolute focus is necessary, and that is something any chef who has toiled in the white-hot heat of service will know well.
“Even for us participants in the Bocuse d'Or, there will not be the same showcase, but this is not a reason not to do it, because it is always a matter of great pride to participate in such a prestigious competition,” says Bergamo.
“There will be no family, no friends, no delegation following us. There will certainly be less advertising, but we believe in it and we continue our project to the end: we must also know how to be satisfied with our work.”