Chef Jeffery Hayashi looks down to his work station, his eyes focused on filleting the monkfish, his glove-covered hands making precise moves. He’s far away from his home state Hawaii, but the inspiration never leaves him: there are colorful leis on his station, vibrant shades of green and purple, perhaps reminding the Chef of warmer climate and leisurely days. The dreams of leisure will have to wait for now. Chef Hayashi and Commis Franco Fugel are working around the clock representing USA at the world’s most prestigious culinary competition, Bocuse d’Or, hoping to emulate the performances attained by Chef Philip Tessier in 2015 (Bocuse d’Argent for USA), or Chef Mathew Peters in 2017 (our first Bocuse d’Or).
On the other side of the station, Head Coach Robert Sulatycky is watching the monitors to make sure everything is going as planned, and every minute is well accounted for. From time to time, legendary Chef Thomas Keller (one of the forces behind the USA Ment’Or BKB Foundation, which supports American chefs who wish to compete in Bocuse d’Or) stops by to check the latest developments at Chef Hayashi’s station. Will the Chef be able to win the gold again for USA? Who’s going to win the culinary Super Bowl this year? The weightlessness of the moments flying by, the media’s excitement surrounding the candidates, the confetti, the loud music, the whistle of the eggs boiling, the timers clocking in, everything seems to coordinate perfectly towards the same exciting question and finale. We have been waiting for two years, and we want answers now.
Bocuse d’Or is held in Lyon, France, every other year, and it brings together competing teams of chefs from 24 countries. It’s because France and the city of Lyon represent the centre of expression for all the cuisines of the world, that Chef Paul Bocuse imagined in 1987, during a trade fair which has since become the Sirha Lyon, a worldwide competition for chefs keen to break codes.
Today, the Bocuse d’Or is far more than just a gastronomic competition; it is a laboratory of excellence and an incubator of talent where commitment, passion, technique and creativity determine the greatest of tomorrow’s chefs. It is a wonderful springboard for anyone wishing to gain international recognition, while also paying homage to the timeless spirit of Paul Bocuse through their dedication to the culinary arts.
The Grand Finale, which takes place during the Sirha Lyon Expo, is the milestone of a cycle of 70 national and 4 continental selections undertaken over a period of two years. Before reaching the Grand Finale, each team spends two years training to perfect their skills. This makes the Bocuse d’Or much more than just a competition: It is a genuine human experience, which combines self-improvement and team spirit in the pursuit of gastronomic excellence.
During this spectacular event in terms of scope, mission, and gastronomic talent and creativity, the 24 candidates surpass themselves in front of stands worthy of major sporting events and under the eyes of cameras broadcasting the competition live around the world. Like Chef Hayashi, over the course of 2 challenge-packed days, everyone has only one ambition: to win the Bocuse d’Or.
This year, the 24 teams had 5 hours and 30 minutes each to create and to showcase their takes on two specific challenges. Challenge 1, named “Feed the Kids,” involved the creation of an entire menu based on squash, with egg as a compulsory element, to raise awareness among children and to educate them about healthy eating.
Challenge 2 was the platter challenge, where the candidates had to prepare and to present sumptuous dishes on platter presentations showcasing monkfish.
In an effort to encourage the fight against food waste and to promote eco-responsible alternatives, this year the Bocuse d’Or deepened the initiatives taken in previous editions. All products which were not used during the competition were donated to organisations fighting food waste. Furthermore, this was the first year when a special Social Commitment Prize was instituted to reward a team for their adoption of responsible agriculture and fight against food waste, among others.
To evaluate the participants in both challenges, the Bocuse d’Or had a Tasting Jury and a Cooking Jury, presided over in 2023 by Davy Tissot (Bocuse d’Or 2021 and M.O.F), with Dominique Crenn the Honorary President this year. The Tasting Jury rated the candidates’ creations based on criteria such as presentation, taste, cooking techniques, hygiene, respect for the products, and originality of the recipes.
Meanwhile, The Kitchen Jury examined the technical details as well as compliance with the rules of the competition, while also answering the teams’ last questions.
I thought Sweden was going to win. Their “Feed the Kids” menu was highly praised by the judges…
… while their monkfish platter – for which Sweden won a special prize, but not the Bocuse d’Or itself – looked spectacular!
In the end, Denmark won the title. After his victory during the European selections, Chef Brian Mark Hansen succeeded in making Danish gastronomy shine in the Grand Final, taking over from Chef Ronni Vexøe Mortensen, who was runner-up in 2021. Based on the theme of fairy tales and inspired by the famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, Brian Mark Hansen’s menu was a hit with the jury.
Representing Norway, Chef Filip August Bendi came in second…
Hungarian Chef Bence Dalnok third…
… and Swedish Chef Jimmi Eriksson 4th.
To create the “Feed the Kids” menu, US Chef Hayashi drew spellbinding inspiration from the childhood fairy tales “Cinderella,” “The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs,” and “Snow White.”
Meanwhile, Chef Hayashi’s platter, symbolically named “Postcard From Hawaii,” featured monkfish jus, ragout of mussels, hen egg custard, and avocado green goddess.
In the end, the USA team placed 9th. The Hawaii dream of gold will wait, for now – but what a stunning performance! Congratulations, Team USA!
Here is the complete order on the podium:
Bocuse d’Or: Denmark – Brian Mark Hansen
Bocuse d’Argent: Norway – Filip August Bendi
Bocuse de Bronze: Hungary – Bence Dalnok
4th : Sweden – Jimmi Eriksson
5th : France – Naïs Pirollet
6th : Finland – Johan Kurkela
7th : United-Kingdom – Ian Musgrave
8th : Iceland – Sigurjón Bragi Geirsson
9th: USA – Jeffery Hayashi
10th : Switzerland – Christoph Hunziker
11th : Canada – Samuel Sirois
12th : Japan – Tomoyuki Ishii
13th : Estonia – Alexander Gureev
14th : Belgium – Sam Van Houcke
15th: New Zealand – Will Mordido
16th : Colombia – Carlos Pajaro
17th : China – Nick Yuli Lin
18th : Australia – Alex Mcintosh
19th : Mauritius – Kritesh Halkory
20th : South Korea – Byeonghyen Hwang
21st : Chile – Ari Zuñiga Salas
22nd : Mexico – Marcelo Hisaki
23rd : Morocco – Faical Zahraoui
24th : Sri Lanka – Mihishan Rashminga Silva
Best commis award: Norway – Leon Haarberg Nilsen
Best “Feed the Kids” test award: France – Naïs Pirollet
Best theme on a platter award: Sweden – Jimmi Eriksson
Social Commitment Award: Mexico – Marcelo Hisaki
As you know from the two other articles I wrote on the topic (which you can read here and here), my experience at Sirha Lyon, culminating with the Bocuse d’Or, was like nothing I have ever experienced in terms of breadth, scope, and knowledge – a thought-provoking event which has shaped my culinary insights in profound and lasting ways, and has added to my understanding of the marvelous universe of food. While I did not compete, I was there in the audience, in the midst of the events, experiencing the excitement, the timing, and the exhaustion of it all. Observing the chefs in action at their spotless stations, analyzing their choices of ingredients, interpretations of the themes, and artistry in motion, has made me a better cook, and has reinforced my respect and admiration for my beloved world of tastes.
Equally important, I loved seeing the friendships and community spirit built around these culinary events. The same “faces” I had seen in archive footage of the Bocuse d’Or were in Lyon this year. While observing them in action, it occurred to me that these individuals were not just continuing Chef Bocuse’s legacy, but there was something else too, that was “binding” them together in the most meaningful of ways: they were, and they are, a family. This event is a wonderful tribute to Chef Bocuse’s influence in the realm of gastronomy, to his love for his profession, for Lyon, France, and the world.