Down in a bunker, US chef targets French cooking prize

Richard Rosendale is a man on a mission -- to capture one of international cooking's most coveted prizes, the Bocuse d'Or. And he's going about it with military precision.

In a windowless Cold War bunker under The Greenbrier, a splendid antebellum resort hotel in rural West Virginia, the 37-year-old chef is perfecting his dishes with a view to nothing short of total victory.

"For over 10 years I wanted to compete," Rosendale told AFP as he prepared to fly to Lyon, France for the biannual competition on January 29-30 that many regard as the Olympics of fine cuisine.

"I just look at it as the pinnacle of cooking competitions."

If he wins the gold prize against rivals from 23 countries, he will be the first American ever to do so. Even if he takes silver or bronze, it would be a US breakthrough in a competition traditionally dominated by Europeans.

Rosendale, executive chef of the Greenbrier's nine acclaimed restaurants, is no novice, having opened two restaurants and participated in 45 international culinary competitions.

He qualified for the Bocuse d'Or, named after the celebrated Lyonnais chef and nouvelle-cuisine pioneer Paul Bocuse, after winning the national Bocuse d'Or USA finals a year ago.

Every day, Rosendale and his commis (assistant) Corey Siegel, 22, descend into the bunker -- originally built to shelter US politicians in the event of nuclear war -- and get cooking.

In an exact replica of the kitchen they will use in Lyon, right down to the utensils, with a US flag on the wall, they perfect the meat, fish and side dishes they will present to 14 discerning judges.

An adjoining "war room" features a countdown clock and photographs of winning dishes from past regional Bocuse d'Or contests.

During his allotted five-hour, 35-minute slot in Lyon, Rosendale is planning to make beef filet, lobster and turbot dishes, plus three sides using ingredients from a surprise shopping basket.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for all the competitors," he said. "But I don't just want to go to Lyon and say, 'I did the Bocuse d'Or.' I do want to win."

So far, no American chef has ever risen past sixth place in the competition.

During a recent visit to the Greenbrier, Rosendale and Siegel, dressed in matching crisp white chef's uniforms, worked in lockstep as they prepared a beef stock.

"Corey, how much of that wine did you use?" asked Rosendale, who compares the intensity of their work to playing an American football game.

"Three hundred and seventy-five grams," or 13.2 ounces, Siegel replied. "We have enough for four servings."

"OK," his boss said. "We've got to really watch that, because that stuff is... I only have the two bottles."

Rosendale, a native of Pennsylvania who draws inspiration from the classic American cooking he grew up with, said: "I've got a pretty good idea of what I want to do."

He cites Yankee pot roast and butternut squash cooked in apple cider -- "it goes great with lobster" -- among his favorites.

"The ideas for the beef are things that I remember from my childhood, that I grew up eating, things that my mom used to cook," he added. "It's very much an American style.

"I love the flavor of eating a grilled steak on the grill, and I think of the Fourth of July whenever I have that," Rosendale said.

The challenge: "How do you take a grilled steak off of the grill, and how can you elevate that to a very high level of cuisine?" he added.

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