Lee Foden-Clarke is moving at high speed, practically oblivious to everything going on around him. There are cameras snapping, flashes going off, video cameras broadcasting live, on-lookers and supporters watching with baited breath, as well as two chef-judges hovering close by, scoring his performance and technique. He’d been cooking for the past two and half hours, and everything had come down to this: He had to get everything he’d prepared onto ten plates for final judging.
“Twenty seconds!” one organizer announced. He’d just finished slicing his rolled lamb loin, barely getting one rounded slice on the plate before the announcer called “10 seconds!” then “Five seconds!” and then: “You’re in overtime.”
About a minute later, he and his commis, Camden Hershberger, stepped back and and watched as their plates left the counter. They were the last of the four competing teams to send their dishes out. It was done.
Except that it wasn’t: With barely enough time to wipe the sweat off their brows, the young cooks had to get up in front of a podium (while Survivor’s “The Eye of the Tiger” played in the background) to face a panel of Who’s Whos in the culinary world: host chef Jérôme Bocuse, the son of culinary legend Paul Bocuse; James Beard Foundation award winner Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Atlanta; local Houston chef Seth Siegel-Gardner of host restaurant The Pass & Provisions; TV personality, chef restaurateur Ming Tsai of Ming’s Quest and Simply Ming; former Bocuse d’Or competitor and Nomad NYC executive chef James Kent; and Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia in Atlanta, Georgia.
Foden-Clarke was then tasked with presenting and then defending his dish, answering queries from the judges which ranged from why he chose a particular ingredient or cooking method.
This scene — the cooking, the concentration, the pressure and the final presentation — played out more or less the same for each of the four young chef-teams at last week’s Ment’or BKB Young Chef Competition, hosted by The Pass & Provisions. A shortened version of the Bocuse d'Or international culinary competition that takes place biennally in Lyon. France, the event is meant to inspire culinary excellence in up and coming chefs. The Houston event was the last stop in a four-part series which included events in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
“We stand for that commitment to excellence — that pride that chefs young or old, having pursued the highest standards in quality, taste and service, hold dear. We are proud of all the chefs here today, their hard work, the effort that they have put into the preparation of the dishes that will be presented,” said Ment’or BKB’s Vice President, Jérôme Bocuse.
“Being here and taking part in tonight’s competition illustrates the level of commitment and dedication to the craft. Opening oneself up to the challenge of a competition like this one takes courage and a belief in one’s success,” he said.
The night before the event, the young competitors were treated to a kickoff dinner at sponsor restaurant Table on Post Oak and its management firm, Invest Hospitality. Bocuse was there to mix and mingle with the young teams, and offered one piece of advice: “Cook with your soul tomorrow,” he advised.
Here’s how the competition played out:
First up, Angel Medina of Emmer & Rye in Austin, and commis Keith Rzepecki from Fixe Austin, presented a roasted rack of lamb glazed in a Dijon lamb jus, braised lamb osso buco, aerated braising liquid, sweet potato chip, sweet potato gratin topped with preserved mushroom, cranberry chutney, pine nuts and a mint mojo verde. Of the dish, Medina said: “This is just a story of many inspirations from people and things that we’ve encountered throughout this whole experience, the greatest experience being just getting a chance to do this. It pushed me to another level.”
The second team, Tyler Jay Prieve and Paris Dreibelbis from Spoon & Stable in Minneapolis, Minnesota, presented a dish of lamb crépinette with lamb sausage farce and braised lamb shank In feuille de brick; sweet potato three ways (sweet potato puree, sweet potato haystacks and cubed sweet potatoes, fried sweet potato threads); matsutake mushroom conserva, blanched Brussels sprouts, smoked-charred pickles, and pearl onions charred with juniper wood, with lamb jus.
Native Houstonian Mara Serna, a sous chef for the Treadsack Group, and the only female competitor of the evening, was assisted by Logan Jung of C.H. Guenther & Son in San Antonio. They were the third team to present with a composed dish of seared lamb rib eye, toasted pepitas and mole verde with braised lamb carnita and a spicy peanut mole rojo with a cucamelon salad with pineapple tomatillos, queso fresco and citrus coriander blossoms.
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Last but not least were Foden-Clarke and Hershberger — both from Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills — with their dish of rolled loin of lamb with potato cylinder, braised lamb osso buco, sunchoke puree, chestnut puree and braised celeriac.
Even though they sustained a five-point penalty for going into overtime, their dish, which was scored on excellence in overall taste (50 points), presentation (30 points) and kitchen organization (20 points), won the night. Foden-Clarke and Hershberger took home the first place $10,000 grand prize toward a stagiere of their choice. Prieve and Dreibelbis came in second place, taking the $5,000 prize toward a stagiere of choice.
During the competition, large video screens projected the kitchen and judging action to attendees in the bar and main dining room. A decadent spread of artisanal breads, cheese, charcuterie and desserts was provided by the host restaurant, The Pass & Provisions, accompanied by free-flowing wines donated by The Spire Collection, water by Nordaq Fresh and coffee by Nespresso.