WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — A chef who lists “culinary competitions” as his primary hobby could hardly be blamed for feeling a small twinge of disappointment at a seventh-place finish in the most prestigious cooking contest of all.
But Greenbrier Executive Chef Richard Rosendale chooses to focus on the bountiful positives he brought home from his experience competing in the international Bocuse d’Or earlier this year rather than spend time on those “what-ifs.”
“I’m a pretty positive person,” Rosendale says, sitting in the chandelier-bedecked main dining room at The Greenbrier.
“If we had had mistakes like overcooking one of our components, that would have upset me, but that didn’t happen. We have a lot to be proud of. We felt quite good about the performance and the food. We had an ambitious workload, but we executed everything as we had planned.”
Putting the competition in perspective, Rosendale adds, “In 20 years, only two non-European teams have gotten to the podium — finished first, second or third — so it’s not really surprising that we didn’t get there. With all that we accomplished, I feel that we laid an incredible foundation for 2015 (the biennial competition’s next installment).”
To ensure there’s no mistake about his apparent sangfroid, Rosendale adds, “I like to be No. 1 one, but we had so much support, it’s just impossible to feel bad. It was more about the journey and sharing it with everybody here. It was cool to share the experience with the people that work here and the people that stay here.”
Staged in Lyon, France, the Bocuse d’Or this year pitted teams from 24 nations against each other. The seventh-place finish of the U.S. team, comprising Rosendale and his commis (assistant) Corey Siegel, was three places higher than Team USA’s 10th-place finish in 2011.
France won the competition, its seventh victory in 14 tries. Denmark was second and Japan third.
Comparing his experience in the Bocuse d’Or to the more than 40 other international culinary competitions in which he has participated, Rosendale emphasizes his impression that the entire community was behind him.
“When I got back to work after being in France, I walked into a managers’ meeting here and everybody stood up, waving flags and chanting, ‘USA! USA!’” the chef recalls. “It was the same when we won the U.S. competition.
“I’ve been stopped at the grocery store and congratulated. Here in the hotel, while I was preparing for the competition, I received encouragement and offers of help from everyone — carpenters, housekeepers, other chefs. People are just so proud of how this reflects on the community.”
The support didn’t stop at the doors of The Greenbrier — or even at the U.S. shoreline.
“The day of the competition, Corey and I got to (the venue in Lyon), and there were a couple hundred people there cheering us on,” Rosendale says. “In past years, Team USA has had maybe 35 or 36 people in the gallery, so the number of supporters we had was really out of the ordinary. When I looked out over the crowd, I saw more Greenbrier T-shirts than Team USA shirts.”
Rosendale and Siegel left Greenbrier County for New York on Jan. 19, scheduled to catch a Sunday flight there for France, only to find the flight would be delayed nine hours due to bad weather in Paris. They finally arrived in Lyon at midnight, thankful that the next day’s schedule was supposed to be light.
“We were working at the Institute of Paul Bocuse (the competition’s founder),” Rosendale relates. “We staged our prep there — food, service ware, cookware, utensils were all set up there.”
First on the schedule for the chefs was to pick up a box truck loaded with more than a ton of culinary equipment Team USA had shipped to France weeks in advance.
Because the equipment was an exact duplicate of the items contained in the special practice kitchen that was set up in the Bunker at The Greenbrier, Rosendale says of working in the Bocuse kitchen, “It was just like doing a practice run.”
Adding to Team USA’s enjoyment of the competition was the attention they received from fellow chefs, thanks to the enormous amount of publicity that had preceded their arrival in France.
While modestly asserting that much of that publicity arose from their practice site within the Cold War-era Bunker at the resort, Rosendale admits, “I was a bit of a culinary celebrity.”
In addition to a pair of news features on the CBS television network and a spread in the Washington Post, Team USA was also featured in media reports in such far-flung locales as China, Belgium, Dubai and even Sri Lanka.
While he had the media’s attention, Rosendale says, he took the opportunity to serve as an unofficial goodwill ambassador for both The Greenbrier and the local area in general, describing to reporters how it feels to live in “America’s Coolest Small Town” (Lewisburg) and work at America’s resort.
“Jim Justice has said many times that he wants The Greenbrier to be the best resort in the world, and I did think we’d get a lot of exposure from doing this competition,” Rosendale says. “We were competing on a world stage.”
Bouncing back quickly from the rigors of the year-long preparation for the Bocuse d’Or and from the exhilaration of competing, Rosendale is brimming with plans for The Greenbrier’s culinary division.
The resort’s main dining room, with its signature green crystal chandeliers and towering windows, celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and Rosendale promises a few tweaks.
“There will be some positive changes — changes that will enhance the history of the dining room and the hotel,” he says. “Also, some dishes from the Bocuse d’Or will make their way here for some special events. And we will have more culinary-driven special events.”
Rosendale is looking forward to the return of cooking classes for resort guests and notes that work will soon begin on a new Greenbrier cookbook.
“An updated cookbook is long overdue,” he says.
The cookbook will include favorite upscale comfort foods like lobster mac and cheese and Kathy Justice’s traditional cornbread, both of which are on the menu at the resort’s steakhouse, Prime 44 West.
In addition, The Greenbrier’s executive pastry chef, John-Francois Suteau, is responsible for seeing to it that all ice cream served in the resort’s 14 restaurants is made fresh on the property, Rosendale emphasizes.
Recently named the U.S. Chocolate Master in a competition staged in Chicago, Suteau will visit the country of his birth later this year when he travels to Paris to vie for the top award in the World Chocolate Masters competition.
Yet another Greenbrier chef, Eddie Tancredi Jr., a sous chef at the resort, will compete this month for the title of American Culinary Federation Northeast Region Chef of the Year.
While he doesn’t rule out another run at the Bocuse d’Or title, Rosendale says with a hint of amusement, “It would stress out The Greenbrier if I mentioned it this soon.”
After a brief pause, he continues, “I would consider it in the future. My focus now is getting back into my job at The Greenbrier, but I know in my heart that I can do better (in the competition).”
On top of his position overseeing the resort’s culinary endeavors and dreaming of the next competition, the devoted family man — he and wife, Laura, are the proud parents of two young sons, Laurence and Liam — also plans to run a marathon this year.
“It hard to find that balance between work and family; that’s the reason I’m fanatical about being organized,” Rosendale says.
“I like to set goals,” he adds earnestly.
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How the competition among chefs works
In the Bocuse d’Or competition, each team is provided 5 1/2 hours to create two elaborate platter presentations, one seafood and one meat, with each accompanied by three original garnishes. The cooking takes place in front of a live audience.
This year’s competition required the participating chefs to build their fish course around turbot and European blue lobster, while the meat course required Irish beef.
Chefs acquired half of their ingredients for the fish course “on the fly” from a local market, which Chef Richard Rosendale compares to his visits to The Greenbrier Farm where the resort’s produce is grown.
“It was uncharted territory, spontaneous,” Rosendale explains.
In saying his team laid a good foundation for the future with their efforts in the competition, Rosendale notes that Team USA’s plates and food were “a lot more ambitious” than those of past years.
Rosendale’s team of internationally-renowned mentors included Grant Achatz, Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, president of the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation.
In crafting his menu for the Bocuse d’Or, Rosendale says he was inspired by the dishes he remembers from childhood. This is what he came up with:
Fish course: Slowly cooked turbot with Virginia ham and Tennessee black truffles; Lobster mousse with butternut squash cooked in cider; “Mushroom Explosion”; Twice-baked potato and leek cigar; Vin jaune emulsion.
Meat course: Hickory grilled beef filet with asparagus and horseradish; Fried hollandaise; Beef oxtail ‘Yankee pot roast’ with spiced red wine sauce; Potato dumplings, bone marrow and thyme-infused beef broth with crispy beef filet; Slowly roasted carrots.