Tracking the Bocuse d'Or: Meet Norway's Geir Skeie
The Bocuse d'Or, the international culinary competition that takes place every two years in Lyon, France, begins Tuesday. At this point, all of the chefs are gathered in Lyon and are getting ready to compete over the next two days -- 12 on Tuesday and 12 on Wednesday. Representing the U.S. is Timothy Hollingsworth from the French Laundry, who has been in Lyon since Jan. 16. He's been doing full practice runs there to get acclimated (as in getting used to using French butter and cream).
Hollingsworth faces stiff competition; among his top rivals will be Norway's Geir Skeie (pictured right). If there were a prize for best chef wearing scuba gear while holding a cod and a giant fork, guess who'd win.
Skeie's a chef at a restaurant in Sandefjord, Norway, called Midtaasen, whose chef-owner -- Odd Ivar Solvold -- won bronze at the Bocuse d'Or in '97. Although France won in every year it competed until 1999, Norway's been giving the French a run for their cuisine.
The Norwegians, who are coming up in the culinary world and train hard for the competition, go all out. Skeie has a Bocuse d'Or semi-trailer decorated with a picture of himself holding a 20-pound cod.... Read on to find out about his trailer (and his platters):
Can you tell me about your trailer?
It has a kitchen in the back so that we are able to make the preparations for the competition and also train in it when we are in Lyon. Then we do not have to move our stuff into a restaurant kitchen and then take it out into a truck and go to the competition. It is all in all very practical for me, so I can concentrate on the food and not the logistics in Lyon.
Have you been working at the restaurant or have you had time off for training?
I worked full time until Dec. 1. Then I took two months off to train. So from September to December, I both worked full time and trained.
Where have you been training?
I have made a replica of the kitchen in Lyon in the garage of the place I am working (Midtaasen). It is a double garage, fully isolated, which used to house Anders Jahres' (a midcentury shipping magnate, friend of Aristotle Onassis) Rolls-Royces. On the top of the garage lives my commis (assistant), Adrian.
How long have you been training?
I have been training with the food since the end of September, but we have been preparing for the competition since I won the competition to be the Norwegian candidate in March 2008.
Who have you been training with?
Odd Ivar Solvold is my coach. And for the European part I trained with my commis Ørjan Johannessen. But after that I changed to Adrian Loevold, who has been working for me only since October.
What does training involve? Have you been doing practice runs?
It involves a lot of testing and failing in the beginning. Since the middle of November, we have done practice runs. That means that we pretend that it is the competition, so we have five hours before we present the fish, like in Lyon. This we have done maybe 30 times now, and have around five left.
Are you confident about your dishes at this point?
I feel confident about the taste of the food. We are doing the last adjustments on the presentation. But when we are in Lyon, I think and hope that I will be happy with everything, and then I have done my best.
Can you tell me about your platters?
We have been cooperating with one of Norway's most renowned designers, Johan Verde. This "operation" has been taking place from December 2007. The platters are a little bit unusual of what is the "normal" in the Bocuse d'Or. I think it will draw attention, hopefully positive. The design is something we have focused a lot on. We have also designed our own plates together with Figgjo.
How has Norway become so strong a competitor at the Bocuse d’Or?
I think it is because we have a very good team with all the previous competitors in the Bocuse d´Or. So I can ask them for anything, and they will do all they can to help me win.
Do you think that the caliber of American chefs at the Bocuse d’Or has been on a level with European chefs?
The U.S.A. have never been in the top five in Lyon. So they have not been on the level with the top countries in Bocuse d'Or. But this year, when the competitor is from Thomas Keller's imperium, I think they will do very well.
-- Betty Hallock
Photo illustration courtesy of Geir Skeie