What does it change for you to be on the other side of the mirror?
I’d still like to be a participant (laugh)! But today, it’s time for me to move on and give younger chefs their chance. This edition gives me an insight into another facet of the contest. I’ve been fortunate enough to be both a participant and a member of the IOC (International Organizing Committee). I got a ‘taste’ of everything. The adrenalin is there too, it might be different because I won’t be cooking, but it gives me an opportunity to discover all aspects.
You have travelled extensively since your victory. What can you tell us about your encounters, the countries, how is cooking changing?
In all the countries I visited, people are very committed to their work. The Bocuse d’Or always conveys culinary and identity values, which is really interesting. The encounters are always friendly, and, despite the rivalries, the solidarity is there. The contest perpetuates these values. As for cooking, there was so much to discover, but I won’t reveal everything here…
Did you feel there was a new perception of the cooking contest?
Not really, but France must stay at the forefront, continually reinventing … At this time, Naïs Pirollet has surrounded herself with chefs from different horizons, which is very important. This is something we had initiated by inviting chefs who were not necessarily holders of the ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ distinction and who can be at the opposite of my own cooking, and we see that it works well. Many chefs who don’t necessarily have a contest profile become interested and exchange with us, it’s really great! I think that France’s victory was a good thing, even beyond the cooking world, it brought an openness and gave a boost to all trades and sectors.
You always stay up to date on the latest news in the hotel and food service sectors, the changes, the major shifts. Has this impacted your approach to the trade?
I believe that you never stop learning. Before my preparation stage, I travelled the globe for two months. I wanted to find inspiration, observe, taste, see, analyse and understand other cooking styles and practices that are enjoyed in different countries. The Bocuse d’Or is also about pleasing 24 friends from all over the world, 24 different palates, 24 approaches, even if some countries or regions can have a lot in common. The idea is to discover the quintessential ‘madeleine de Proust’ for each country. You can also really feel that the teams are eager to win, to earn a place on the podium.
You have held different functions in the contest. What strikes you in its evolution over the recent years?
From 2011 onwards, the artistic aspect has ramped up and the platters have become more refined. Each country needs to retain its unique identity, its touch, they must avoid copying other styles and create a real difference. It’s important to avoid the pitfall of doing like others just because a given style works. I want to be surprised each time. For our part, we surrounded ourselves with scientists and explored the cognitive aspects, the textures, cooking temperatures and such. That’s the richness of this contest. I don’t have the same vision of cooking now.