Photographer: David Escalante
Food & Drinks

U.S. Wins Gold at Bocuse d'Or, the Olympics of the Chef World

For the first time in 30 years of the competition, the U.S. comes out on top.

Last year, Team USA won 46 gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Rio.

This year has started out well for America, too, when it comes to gold medals: The U.S. took first place at the 15th biannual Bocuse d’Or, the Olympics of the international chef community.    

It's hard to exaggerate the importance of this, at least in the food world. This is the first time the U.S. has ever won gold at the competition, which takes place in Lyon, France. To do so, head chef Matthew Peters, whose day job is executive sous chef at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, and his crew beat 23 other supremely skilled teams from around the world. The winning dish: their interpretation of "chicken and crayfish," inspired by poulet bresse aux ecrevisses—a classic Lyonnais dish.

Head Chef Mathew Peters (left) and Commis Harrison Turone.

Photographer: David Escalante

Like athletes, Peters and his commis (assistant) Harrison Turone, spent more than a year training full time for the event, practicing with all-purpose meats and fish, perfecting garnishes and techniques. A few months in advance, they were told the major ingredients they would be assigned for the competition. They practiced in a custom-designed kitchen that replicates the dimensions of Bocuse d’Or, from the size and height of the work stations to the heat of the burners. (For the last Bocuse, the team trained in the home of chef Thomas Keller’s father; Keller is the president of Ment’or, the foundation that backs Team USA.) In the past, the U.K. team brought an extra loud marching band to the event; to counter, U.S. chefs have played ear-splitting techo music as they practiced their sauces and garnishes.

Started in 1987 and inspired by the legendary chef Paul Bocuse, the Bocuse d’Or takes place in front of a raucous crowd of more than a thousand. In the past, mariachi bands have serenaded in support of their team; this year Japan brought Kota drum players; Australia had didgeridoos, and Norway brought a brass band. There are 24 elite judges from around the world who select the winner; past judges have included Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal, and Wolfgang Puck.

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 12:  Thomas Keller - the chef of Per Se restaurant - It is located in the Time Warner building in front of Central Park in New York, United States on November 12th, 2005.  (Photo by Maurice ROUGEMONT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Thomas Keller.
Photographer: Maurice ROUGEMONT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

It’s not the first time the U.S. has stepped onto the awards podium. In 2015, Team USA came in second, which was also a big deal. They had never before been honorees; the highest they had previously placed was sixth. Meanwhile, France has won seven times; Norway has gotten gold five times, including in 2015, when the U.S. was only 9 points behind (the equivalent of a photo finish in the world of Bocuse d’Or).  

This win is literally a dream come true for Keller. In a statement, he said: “Team USA’s historic first-place finish is the result of years of dedication and commitment. It was part of Paul Bocuse’s personal wish to see the United States on the podium at Bocuse d’Or that inspired me.” Although Paul Bocuse literally embodies French cuisine, he has a soft spot for America—Keller told me that when he was in World War II, the elder Bocuse wound up in a US Army hospital. A blood transfusion saved his life.

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