We have known about Bocuse d’Or for years but never had the opportunity to experience it first-hand in Lyon, France. We got a rare glimpse into this prestigious culinary event in Nevada. This year’s Américaine du Bocuse d’Or USA selection was held at the beautiful Palazzo Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. We came away with one thought: Bocuse d’Or is a big deal, a very big deal. You know this is a very important event when the roster includes the culinary geniuses of Chef Thomas Keller and Chef Daniel Boulud. 

Photos by Scott Harris

What is this legendary event all about you may ask? In January 1987, French Master Chef Paul Bocuse created the Bocuse d’Or, a true world-class culinary competition much like a sporting event, placing an emphasis on skillful cooking amongst the best international chefs. The event brings together 24 young chefs from all over the world who are the most promising talents in the hospitality industry. The competition is fierce. Each country’s team consists of two chefs—one lead chef, and a commis/assistant chef—who must be under 22 years of age at the time of the competition. They must prepare two presentations: a meat dish and a fish dish all in an open theater with over 1,000 screaming fans. To decide a winner, a jury composed of the most illustrious chefs in the world chooses the medalists.

In the 20 years since its inception, with the increasing number of nations who want to take part in the prestigious contest, an international selection platform was created. In 2007 the Bocuse d’Or inaugurated the concept of pre-selection events by introducing the continental events Bocuse d’Or Europe, Bocuse d’Or Latin America and Bocuse d’Or Asia (which became Bocuse d’Or Asia-Pacific in 2014 and now includes Australia). These events are continental finals. The winners travel every two years in January during Sirha in Lyon, France. Many compare Bocuse d’Or to the Olympic Games. At the USA team selection dish after dish was tasted by the jury of renowned culinarians as the eager crowd waited for the final outcome.

Beads of sweat were forming on the brows of these nervous young chefs as they labored over every detail. After months of training and mentoring who will it be to represent the USA in Lyon, France in 2019? After four and a half hours of intense cooking, Chef Mathew Kirkley from San Francisco punched his ticket to Lyon in 2019. During the day he showed exceptional technical skills and creativity in preparing the winning dishes clearly demonstrating the numerous hours he placed honing his skills to compete on the culinary world stage. With his commis (assistant), Mimi Chen of San Francisco’s Coi, Kirkley masterfully created two platters using proteins of steelhead trout and American Waygu beef. The competition was difficult as fellow San Franciscan Chef Jeffery Hayashi and commis Brionna Morrison from Mourad, and Chef Anthony Benjamin Grupe and commis Jared Dix of St. Louis’s Elaia & Olio rendered impressive plates that made the judging intensely difficult. 

As 2019 quickly approaches, Chef Kirkley will be defending the USA gold medal that was won for the first time this year by chef champion, Matthew Peters. The competitive pressure is even more intense than ever but with team USA chairman Thomas Keller as a mentor, team USA may rise again to capture the world stage of culinary supremacy. “People are really taking notice to who we are, and of course, that respect is from all the hard work that these teams, and I mean teams, have done,” said Chef Keller. “The final winner is standing on the shoulders of the teams that have come before them.”