Paul Bocuse Is a Ham

Bocuse d'Or Award

Bocuse d'Or Award

This past weekend, a most important culinary competition was held at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. Twelve finalists–five of whom are CIA alumni–competed for the honor of representing the U.S. in the prestigious Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine Contest, that will be held January, 2011 in Lyon, France.

The competition takes place only every two years, and was established in 1987 by world-renowned French Chef Paul Bocuse. It is the preeminent international culinary competition in which teams of one chef and one commis from 24 countries compete for top honors and international acclaim. (It is the equivalent of winning the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics-winter or summer.)

These 12 finalists had a mere three hours to do the early preparation work on Friday prior to the final contest that was held Saturday. They had five-and-a-half hours to complete one Scottish wild salmon platter and one American lamb platter. The chefs were required to make a total of 12 servings for each platter, which also had to have three garnishes.

At the competition’s end, James Kent, 30, was chosen as winner. He is currently employed as the sous chef at Eleven Madison Park in New York City.

Jérôme Bocuse, the son of Paul, is a chef and a CIA graduate. He serves as a judge for the cooking contest along with other chef luminaries including Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud.

Yet, I think I am safe in saying that none of the 800 spectators at the CIA knew about a (prior) dinner that was staged at a rented villa in the south of France.

The hosts were a couple of wealthy New Yorkers. The guests included the legendary Paul Bocuse and nine famous multi-starred French chefs. The hosts had dined in the various chefs’ restaurants for many years. They would leave generous tips at the conclusion of each meal. Thus they were remembered — vividly.

One year, the New Yorkers decided to turn the tables and invite the illustrious chefs to a “home-cooked” dinner at their rented villa. The main course was roast lamb.

Paul Bocuse was invited to carve the lamb. He walked slowly to the head of the table. He grasped the carving knife. He rested the fork on the surface of the lamb. A moment passed. Then another…

Sadly, he shook his head. “Madame,” he murmurred, “C’est terrible.”

“What?!,” wailed the hostess. “What’s terrible?”

“Ah, Madame…,” replied Bocuse mournfully. “You see, when the little lambs are in the field, the flies come. The lamb uses his right hind leg to brush away the flies. The right leg therefore gets more exercise than the left leg so it is more muscular. The left leg is more tender…”

“Madame,” he explained (with a twinkle in his eye), “you have chosen the wrong leg.”

The assembled chefs roared with convivial laughter.

The dinner was a huge success.

Paul Bocuse, (now 84?), lives on while all who know him tell stories of his genius, and his legendary sense of humor.