The Bocuse d’Or is called the Olympics of the culinary world but unlike our sporting heroes, Aussie chefs rarely get a mention. In fact Team Australia is over in France now, training under the watchful eye of former Bocuse d’Or winner Serge Vieira at his 2-Michelin star restaurant in Cantal.
The competition named after iconic French chef Paul Bocuse has been running since 1987, with Australia’s best placing at 12 out of 24. Not bad considering we run on budgets a fraction of our rivals. The Europeans regularly stump up over $1 million for their teams. But money isn’t everything, and doesn’t guarantee a place on the podium no matter who you are.
While Australian candidate Dan Arnold and his commis Ryan Cosentino are busy in the kitchen in France, the Australian team manager Phillipe Mouchel is still here on the home front, doing his best to keep the money coming in for the boys.
Mouchel has a strong tie to the Bocuse d’Or, having worked for Paul Bocuse at the start of his career in France.
“It’s a long relationship between us. This is the main reason why when I came to Australia I said I would like to help with the Bocuse d’Or as well,” he says.
That desire to help resulted in Australia sending a team over in the early days of the competition with the help of Crown Melbourne, where his then restaurant the Brasserie by Phillipe Mouchel was based. They also needed a coach, and so with a little help from Bocuse, they persuaded former winner Serge Vieira to join them. That was in 1989.
“And now this year Serge is still helping us,” says Mouchel. It’s coming up to two decades of Australia’s involvement, but awareness and budgets unfortunately are still much the same they were at the start, with many of the sponsors the same ones they had with Crown’s backing.
“It is getting a little bit better but it’s quite hard to get new sponsors,” says Mouchel. “The problem is not many people [here] know about the competition.
“I don’t know why we are not embracing it. Is it because we are French? It’s even hard to find a candidate as well. In Europe they get 10 candidates, while we struggle to get four.”
The challenges are many. Other teams are training in replicas of the competition kitchen, while our team has to make do with Vieira’s kitchen at Cantal. It’s a French competition and the ingredients this year include chicken from Bresse, and as Mouchel says, “how are we going to get that in Australia?” Despite all the hurdles, Team Australia is giving it everything.
“To win you have to be the best on the day,” he says. “It is physically draining, training six days a week, starting at 7am and finishing at 10pm. It’s like the Olympics. If you want to win a gold medal you have to work hard.”
It’s not just the technical side of the competition they have to prepare for though. It’s the mental aspect, and ability to deal with the pressure of a live competition.
“You have 3000 people screaming in front of you, it’s like a soccer match,” says Mouchel. “Cameras everywhere, TV is there, judges looking at you. It’s hard. You need to be able cook of course, but you also need to absorb the pressure.”