On the 29th and 30th January in Lyon, after a series of pre-qualifying rounds around the world 24 countries will take part in the Bocuse D’Or, a bi-annual cooking competition and spectacle that warrants its reputation as the greatest cooking competition in the world. The competitors draw for who will cook the first day and the rest perform the following day. Their task will be to cook a Fish Course (Turbot and Langoustine) then a meat dish (Irish Beef), for 12 people with appropriate garnishes. A live television programme covers the whole 2 days and in between chef and judge interviews, and interviews with sponsors and representatives from government and the city’s leading businessmen, all get their chance on television to pay homage to the founder of this competition the revered Paul Bocuse. The city of Lyon is recognised as the gastronomic capital of France and Paul Bocuse sits at the top of the table as one of the capital’s most influential people. He’s a man of few words but at 86 he carries his formidable frame and reputation with regal calm, and so he should – he’s held three Michelin stars continuously since 1965. He has restaurants dotted all over the city, a chef’s school, numerous franchise operations in Japan and the States and of course he is the daddy when it comes to product endorsements. You can’t go into a kitchen shop in France without seeing Paul Bocuse on pots and pans, cookers, in fact anything to do with the kitchen. He still works the tables with his wife at his 3 star restaurant most days, and at 86 what keeps him so young? Well he does keep two other homes in the city for the two mistresses he has been seeing almost continuously for over 30 years.
Apparently after waking up with his wife, Paul likes to visit his lover Patricia at her home in the woods where they enjoy the outdoor life, walks around his lake, hunting and fishing, cooking on the open fire, it all sounds such an idyll. For his business and foreign trips he prefers the company of his other mistress Raymone, the mother of his son Jerome, who works as a chef at his restaurant operation at Disney in Florida. It all seems very French to me, but with France’s enthusiastic adoption of the 35 hour work week perhaps fitting all these things in is possible.
Anyway back to the competition, we have had some very creditable British candidates attempt to win this competition in the past. John Williams (The Ritz), Andre Garret (Galvin Windows) Adam Byatt (Trinity, Bistro Union), Simon Hulstone (The Elephant) and what I think they would all agree on is, our attempts have been valiant, but run on a shoe string, and having little or no time to practise has always made things difficult. You have to realise that many of the competitors from France, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Spain will have taken the whole year off to perfect their menu and practice its execution. This year representing the UK we have Adam Bennett, Head Chef at Andreas Antona’s, Simpsons Restaurant in Birmingham. Through Andreas’s generosity and his links with University College Birmingham an exact replica of the kitchen Adam will compete in has been built at the college. Andreas has also released Adam from work so that he can concentrate on spending as much time as he needs perfecting his dishes. The benefits have already been realised when Adam won best meat dish at the pre-qualifying competition in Brussels earlier this year, so we are all hopeful. We have never done better than 9th in this competition and there are additional prizes for the best fish and best meat course, and of course the prize that nobody wants to win “Best Team Poster” competition. Every country submits a promotional poster, winning this is like being awarded a consolation prize for turning up, and usually won by one of the teams that “tried hard”. At the moment Adam is perfecting his fish dish and we are pleased to be supplying Adam with our smoked eel which we hope will successfully be incorporated into the garnishes for the fish dish. Let’s hope this is the year for team GB. To follow Adam’s progress or for more info go to www.bocusedoruk.co.uk.
On the subject of eel, elver fishing has started in France and figures indicate a 30% increase in numbers on last year. In fact fishing has been so good that fishing on certain rivers has been closed in an effort to stop prices falling. A ban on exports outside the EU and Spain’s economic situation has meant that the once commonplace Basque practice of eating elvers at Christmas has almost died out. Fishing in the UK is due to start in about 6 weeks and this recent spate of flooding has made conditions absolutely ideal for the elver entering our river system, we just need the flood water to fall back to fishable levels. Over 70% of the elvers caught on the River Severn last year were used in restocking projects around Europe. It is unfortunate that the POLITICALLY MOTIVATED scientific opinion WWF, and CITIES provide to MCS (Marine Conservation Society) has ensured that another year goes by with eel having a red listing. We need more chefs to get involved with our conservation ‘tanks in school scheme’ and insist on only using farmed eel.
We are gearing ourselves up for what we think will be a very challenging year ahead, and with that in mind I would like to wish all our customers Old, New and those just over the Horizon a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.