It was a stunning result for Team Australia at this year’s Bocuse d’Or final in Lyon, smashing through into the top 10, and in the process beating Singapore and Japan, the two other nations that had placed higher than Australia in the Asia Pacific selection process earlier.
The Bocuse d’Or is arguably the hardest culinary competition in the world, and to win instantly puts that nation into the realm of the global culinary gods. Team USA won it this year, with Mathew Peters from New York’s per se the first US chef to be awarded the coveted gold.
“This is just one step, we [the US team] belong up here; we belong in the realms of everybody else here. This just proves that we are here to stay,” he said on the podium.
The Bocuse d’Or has been historically dominated by European and Scandinavian countries, so the US win is a milestone, and one that Australia would do well to look at closely, says Bocuse d’Or Australia’s new president Tom Milligan, who is the executive chef at the Atlantic Group. Milligan, who replaces out-going president Phillipe Mouchel, is well versed in what it takes to succeed at that level having competed himself in 1995.
“When I competed it was a budget of a few shillings and the US team even then had a half a million dollar budget,” he says. “The budget doesn’t necessarily make the placing. In those days they were coming at the back of the field and it is only recently that they [the US] have understood that the cuisine needs to reflect the Bocuse d’Or rules. It’s not about showcasing the cuisine of your country it’s about making sure you meet the criteria of the Bocuse d’Or so you win.”
Australia has fielded some fine chefs in the past with George Calombaris and Scott Pickett both representing the nation in the past. But it takes more than just a great chef to get results. Competing in the Bocuse d’Or is a team effort in every sense, and good teams don’t come cheap. It takes money. The US has thrown millions of dollars towards its teams over the years, with that huge investment finally reaping top honours. And in retrospect that looks like money well spent. Australia has managed to achieve amazing results with much less, but Milligan is well aware that this needs to change if we want a podium finish.
“It’s a European competition and it’s always been a hard ask [to get people to support us],” he says. “The main teams compete with government funding or superannuation firms supporting them financially. We want to get some good sponsors to drive it home and win.”
Mouchel, who will remain on the Bocuse d’Or Australia committee, is happy to be relinquishing the role of president on a high note, but knows full well the scale of the challenges that await for the next one.
“It’s the best result we have had but it’s always important to ask ‘what could do better for next time?’” he says.
“That’s the game, you can always do better and learn every time. It’s exactly what happened with the US team. There were there for years getting better every time. Two years ago they finished second and this year they won. We don’t have the same budget in Australia but hopefully one day people will understand the Bocuse d’Or and we can get a bigger budget.”
Mouchel is confident we have the talent needed to succeed in the long run.
“We have a lot of talented chefs here and I believe we can one day be on the podium,” he says.
That process of finding the right candidate is taking a new direction this year, with the selection process being held live at Foodservice Australia in Melbourne.
“Having the selection process being held at Foodservice helps make the national competition as significant as the international one,” says Milligan.
“The guys who we want to aspire to compete in the Bocuse d’Or are those who are working at the top of the field. You need to be the best in your country to win. All the winners are significant chefs in their own country.
“It is the most prestigious and difficult competition to be involved in for any chef. That is what makes it exciting. There are a whole range of things to consider when you compete. It’s a cooking competition like no other, and the chefs are like athletes competing in the sport of cuisine.”