There’s the Olympics. There’s World Cup Soccer. There’s the Super Bowl. And then there are the Bocuse d’Or awards – which basically blends all of these levels of excellence into one major food showdown.
And yes, Team Canada, through the auspices of the Canadian Culinary Federation (CCFCC), will once again be participating, one of 24 countries competing for the prestigious honour of being declared world champions in the culinary world. (Gold, silver and bronze Bocuse trophy and cash prizes are awarded to the top three competitors.)
Taking place at the end of January, this biannual chef competition offers the ultimate showcase for chefs from around the world. Named in honour of the late, great Chef Paul Bocuse, France’s legendary Michelin-star master chef, known quite simply as the Godfather of nouvelle cuisine, the event not only inspires chefs to bring out the best in their industry, but also promotes local and traditional gastronomy, and celebrates young chefs from all countries in the world. Taking place over two days in conjunction with SIRHA, the International Hotel Catering & Food Trade Exhibition, it attracts over 160,000 visitors globally.
It’s intense, highly charged – and extremely noisy, given it takes place in a huge arena where family, friends and followers of the various countries boisterously cheer on their favourite teams. Created in 1987, the event grows every year, and Canada has made it into the top tier on many occasions. The very first Canadian chef to compete was none other than the award-winning Jamie Kennedy, Member of the Order of Canada, and instrumental in shaping the culinary landscape of Canada.
Team Canada Chefs Trevor Ritchie and Jenna Reich in the kitchen at George Brown Centre for Hospitality & Culinary Arts ahead of Bocuse d’Or awards, taking place in Lyon, France end of January. Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network
This year, the Canadian team, made up of award-winning, Waterloo-born chef, Trevor Ritchie, and his commis (right-hand), Jenna Reich (both George Brown Culinary college grads), and coach James Olberg along with a small contingent of assistants and advisers, are gearing for the top prize: Gold. And they’ve been relentlessly training every day for close to a year. In fact, training has become their full-time career.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to compete in the Bocuse d’Or and represent Canada,” says Ritchie, team captain, who, with his team, has been in intense training since last January. “This is extremely prestigious – and taking place in the food capital of the world…to be representing your country in the home of Paul Bocuse really pushes the edge of gastronomic renovation.”
For 21-year-old Jenna Reich, “this is my only shot at this event, as the commis age limit is 23. We have a reputation to uphold and we have to come on strong, not just for Canada, but for every country participating in this event.”
The two agree, the competition will be fierce and wrought with schedule changes and curve balls. “But we’re prepared – we practice and practice and, when we’re through – we practice again,” says Reich.
“This event helps us truly represent the Canadian spirit,” says Chef John Higgins, professor and coordinator of George Brown’s chef school, as well as professional mentor to Team Canada. Higgins has also been invited to be part of the prestigious jury at Bocuse d’Or, seeing him stand shoulder to shoulder with the veritable cream of the culinary world. “It also brings the Canadian competition scene together, with help coming from so many facets of the country, help coming from all provinces.”
What sets this team apart from others? “In this type of competition, you have to take risks, and this is a risk-taking group,” says Higgins, as the whole team prepares to fly out this weekend to set up a home-away-from home base in Lyon to practice up to the very moment the competition begins.
At the end, it’s all about national pride: “It’s a great honour for sure, and as a proud Canadian chef it’s something that I’ve been dreaming of competing in my whole career,” says Ritchie.
We’ll let you know the results of the competition as soon as they are available. In the meantime, you can cheer on the home team by checking out Bocusedorcanada.ca. Additional details can be found on ccfcc.ca, as well as Bocusedor.com. #Bocusedorcanada