Kelli Brett takes a renewed look at Bocuse d’Or the world’s most prestigious cooking competition.

In June I came across the most incredible set of illustrations by graphic designer Alan Hughes. They were the designs for the canapés created by Bocuse d’Or Team New Zealand as they competed for one of five spots in the Asia Pacific region to go through to the Bocuse d’Or grand final in Lyon in January. These illustrations took my breath away; what caught my eye was the detail in the tiny tomato heart encased in a glistening tomato and kawakawa gelée, perched on a tomato chutney with a kawakawa pesto, paprika-spiced gel and Cardrona gin-soused heritage tomatoes. The tart shell was even made with freeze-dried tomatoes.

For the unenlightened, the Bocuse d’Or is a two-day competition in Lyon, France created by the pope of gastronomy, the late Paul Bocuse. Every two years, teams from more than 60 countries compete for one of 24 places to cook at this phenomenal event, which over its 35-year history has become known as the world’s culinary Olympics. And on 22 January 2023, our New Zealand team will compete for the first time in the finals.

I’m not quite sure why New Zealand has been so slow to realise that culinary tourism is a massive deal, but at last there seems to be an understanding as tourists begin to return to our shores. If we guide them towards our local flavours via food events, food and drink trails and great restaurant experiences, we might finally become a country that is internationally celebrated for its food and drink offering. The opportunity to showcase the cuisine of Aotearoa at Bocuse D’Or in France provides a significant platform for the story of our food culture, one that puts us alongside the big guns of gastro tourism in a country that is undeniably a top destination for foodies. Many countries receive government funding and support to participate in this competition and this funding also allows them to invest heavily in their young chefs and the future of their culinary story.

As I write this piece, our team – having completed highly successful fundraisers to pave its own way to France – prepares to showcase its skills and our unique cuisine on a global stage with a dedication and determination that is not unlike that of our celebrated athletes as they train for the Olympics. Chef William Mordido (of Buko pop-up restaurant) is seriously one to watch having been named the Restaurant Association of New Zealand chef of the year in 2014, making the top 10 finalists list at the San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year in 2015 and 2017 and bringing home a silver medal from the International Jeunes des Rôtisseurs Competition in 2016. William is supported by young and super-talented commis chef Szren Hamberger (Park Hyatt Auckland) and both will travel to Lyon with coach Ken O’Connell (Copia Restaurant) and team president John Kelleher (AUT).

On competition day they will have five hours and 30 minutes to create a platter for 15 people that highlights monkfish, scallops and mussels as well as a three-course menu for 15 that will showcase the hero ingredient of pumpkin and/or squash. The platter itself is no ordinary platter: the team has worked with Alan Hughes to tie back into Aotearoa and tell a story of the traditional ways that our kai moana (seafood) was sourced from the ocean to sustain life. Alan has included Māori patterns by local artists Jamie Boynton and Arekatera (Katz) Maihi in the final piece.

A sizeable group of passionate and talented people have put a colossal amount of work into the preparation for this competition. The pressure will be immense, the competition will be fierce within this high-stakes laboratory of excellence and it is a spectacular opportunity to draw the eyes of the culinary world toward New Zealand.

Now THAT is a win-win for all of us. ■

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