In January 2017, the American team at the Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon, France, made history when head chef Matt Peters and commis Harrison Turone took the coveted gold for the first time in history. Plate was there for the grueling five-hour competition—a culmination of more than two years of intense training and rule-restricted recipe development. This year, Team USA head chef Matthew Kirkley and commis Mimi Chen will endure what’s been called the Olympics of the culinary world to try and bring home another gold statue. As a follow-up to our award-winning long-form feature on the Bocuse d’Or, we are proud to host this blog series, “Behind Team USA at the Bocuse d’Or,” which will explore before-and-after insights pre- and post-competition. We’ll capture the personal, behind-the-scenes perspectives of past and present chefs, captains, coaches, program directors, and others as the team prepares to head back to Lyon in January.

From Chef Matthew Kirkley……

It’s starting to hit home.

As cooks, we aim to please. I believe that it takes a servant’s heart to be a great cook. That desperate need to please, to make people happy. Our profession demands long and stressful hours, but it’s all worth it for that payoff of serving others; the genuine enjoyment of service, if not instant, then certainly daily gratification.

I’ve found it to be one of the greatest challenges of being the candidate for Team USA Bocuse d’Or, the lack of routine and continual feedback that you have in a restaurant kitchen. Over the course of my time with the team, 15 months in all, I will have a grand total of three services. All other days are spent in what are essentially prep, continuous tinkering and developing. You can become lost.

Indeed, we all crave constant, incremental measurement to judge our standing and progress. It is built into us all. The point has been made to me before that it is far more comforting to make $50,000/year than $500,000 in one year and then nothing for nine years. Pacing keeps us comforted.

As the team and I approach our final creative preparations, the thought is constantly with me. Is it good? Is it good enough? What are the other teams coming up with? Have they found something we have not? It can become consuming. Doubt creeps in.

Where I find reassurance is in the work itself. While this might be the medium at its most exaggerated, it remains but food at the end of the day. We ask ourselves this often during development. Is it still food we recognize? Does it still nourish? Not in a caloric way, but in a satiating one. Does it make us happy?

We are eager, nervous and excited. It’s hard to hold onto a secret for this long. We prep, practice, plan, contemplate. While we are all shooting for the top of the mountain, we’re happy to just be on the path.

64 days to go.

Matt Kirkley will serve as the head chef of Team USA for the Bocuse d’Or 2019.