Five things to know about France’s victory in the ‘World Cup of cooking’

Five things to know about France's victory in the 'World Cup of cooking'
Davy Tissot and members of his team celebrate their victory. Photo: OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP.
French chef Davy Tissot won the 2021 Bocuse d'Or in Lyon on Monday, the first time France has come out on top since 2013. Here's everything you need to know about the world's most prestigious cooking competition.

Often referred to as the chefs’ equivalent of the World Cup or the Olympics, the Bocuse d’Or assembles some of the best chefs from around the world.

It was created by a legendary chef

The competition was founded in 1987 by Paul Bocuse, one of the most well-respected figures in French gastronomy, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 91.

Since then, it has been held every two years during the Salon international de la restauration de l’hôtellerie et de l’alimentation (Sirha) in Lyon, the foodie capital of France. Sirha is one of the largest and most prestigious culinary fairs on the world, and also hosts the bi-annual World Pastry Cup.

These days, the Bocuse d’Or is presided over by Paul’s son, Jérôme Bocuse.

It’s a global event

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Thailand’s Panuvit Khaokaew prepares a meal during the final. Photo: OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP.

Held over two days, the competition usually features teams from 24 countries, although this year three teams had to cancel because of health restrictions. Competing in the tournament this time were 11 European teams, five from Asia and the Pacific, one team from Africa, and five from the Americas.

The final is the result of a gruelling qualification process, which includes sixty national eliminations before the victorious chefs then compete with teams from other countries in four continental qualifications for the chance to travel to Lyon. There, after two years of intense training, the teams have five hours and 35 minutes to prepare a meat dish and a fish dish for a panel of international judges.

The trophy has so far mainly been dominated by France and the Nordic countries – Mathew Peters won the USA’s only gold medal in 2017.

‘It’s coming home’

“It’s really coming home,” Tissot said as he celebrated his victory, and it was about time. Despite dominating the competition since its conception, France had not won gold since 2013, with Denmark, the United States and Norway winning the most recent iterations before this week.

This is now the eighth time France has won in 18 editions. Denmark took the silver medal, with Norway rounding off the podium. 

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The victory is even sweeter for Tissot, who was representing his country in his home city. “As somebody who comes from Lyon, my first restaurant was with Paul Bocuse more than twenty years, so I’m very happy and very proud,” he told franceinfo.

Tissot is chef-instructor at the Michelin-starred Saisons restaurant, which is part of the Institut Paul-Bocuse culinary school in Ecully near Lyon.

It’s a big deal

There were huge cheers as Tissot and his team lifted the trophy, proudly waving the French flag, which shows just how seriously people take the competition.

French President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter on Monday to praise the French team, writing: “You are making young people dream, you are the pride of a whole industry, a whole country.”

Prime Minister Jean Castex praised “the energy, abnegation, talent, audacity, and finally the passion” which the French chefs displayed along the way.

Winning the Bocuse d’Or, considered the highest honour for a chef, has the potential to make careers, and certainly catapults recipients to a new level of fame.

In keeping with the times

As well as the main platter test, which this year required the chefs to create a dish using the cheaper cut of beef known as chuck steak, the competition also featured a “take away” challenge, to “pay tribute to the initiatives taken by chefs during the health crisis”.

But while many of us will be able to relate to ordering fast food during lockdown, the task here was slightly more sophisticated.

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“The recipes are not the same. The palette is more limited. If the dish is to be reheated, it should be slightly undercooked,” tasting panel member Florent Ladeyn said ahead of the final. “We must also and above all think about conditioning. It is essential to choose eco-responsible and recyclable packaging such as jars to try to reduce the environmental impact. Nor is it simply a matter of doing in a jar or in a package what you would do on a plate.”

Competitors were charged with creating a three-course meal, all featuring tomatoes, and presenting it in a box developed by the candidates themselves, using plant-based materials.

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