Adam Smith, the newish and youngish head chef at the Burlington restaurant at the Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey, has won first place in the Bocuse d’Or competition, which means he now goes forward to the world championships in 2015.
This chef of chefs competition was created by the Paul Bocuse, the famous, three Michelin star French chef, master of classic French cuisine, member of the Legion d’Honneur, etc. etc. and the hautest of them all. He created the competition in 1987 and it is a competition like no other.
Known as the chefs’ Olympics, chefs from all over the world perform in front of a braying audience of 3,000 friends and relatives dressed in national costume – no, really. We’re talking painted flags on faces, giant foam fingers, balloons and Union Jacks – all shouting, banging and screaming while the chefs are required to adhere to an arcane set of rules that involve mega tons of ingredients cooked over a five hour shift to produce ornate dishes and elaborate garnishes presented to the judges on mirrored platters.
We congratulate Smith in getting this far in a competition and
presume he knows what he’s letting himself in for. His winning dish was ‘a garnish of black leg chicken with Alsace bacon and foie gras, truffled egg, cabbage puree and new season pea mousse, langoustine and celeriac, a leek and cauliflower stack, golden beetroot with wild garlic’ and while it exhausts me just reading it I can see it’s the sort of thing that wins a competition.
My problem is that while we are told that Bocuse d’Or, ‘paves the way for a new culture of gastronomy’, I have to disagree. IMHO it encourages Adam Smith and far less accomplished chefs in every village gastropub and city restaurant to present us with ever more complicated, over-wrought, fussed-about dishes of costly ingredients in the name of ‘fine dining’. If you watched the recent Restaurant Wars on BBC2, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
All this kind of stuff is why ‘Squidbeak’ was named, a subversive lift from the graffiti found in the toilet of a fancy restaurant in which a plate of food was derided as ‘squidbeak of a bum’s arse on a bed of bum gravy.’ I once had the expensive misfortune of eating at Copenhagen’s Michelin-starred Geranium, a past winner of the Bocuse d’Or, and it still defines for me the fatuous extreme of food delivered by pipette, with microdots artfully arranged around an outsize plate. Squidbeakissimus.
If you need to learn more about the Bocuse d’Or, google Rachel Cooke’s entertaining evocation of it in Observer Food Monthly in which she calls it as ‘the bastard child of Eurovision and Masterchef with some of the bafflement of It’s a Knockout thrown in’.