As we approach October I am always reminded of my time in Germany back in 1988. This year marks the 25th anniversary of my involvement with the 1988 New England Culinary Team competing in the Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany. Octoberfest, of course, means beer and celebration to many, but to the 10 member New England Team and its advisors, it meant sleepless nights in a Frankfurt kitchen, putting together the show food program that we had planned and practiced over the previous 18 months.
In 1986, I received a call from Master Chef Anton Flory (Anton was one of the first 5 chefs to be certified as master in the United States). Tony, who at that time I had only spent a few days with at American Culinary Federation events, suggested that I try out for the first ever, New England Culinary team to represent the United States in the Culinary Olympics. Honored and nervous, I agreed and spent a few weeks planning and preparing for the tryouts in Boston. Feeling that I held my own, but not expecting to earn the honor, I was floored when Tony called back a few weeks after the competition to congratulate me and offer a position on the 10 man team.
We met for the first time at a reception at the Ritz Carlton in Boston to introduce the team. The guest of honor was Julia Child. After a few warm toasts and words of encouragement the Team Captain was announced (Roland Czekelius from the Park Plaza Hotel) and the first planning meeting was scheduled. Over a period of 18 months we scheduled cooking sessions in Boston twice per month, worked through individual programs and assignments, critiqued and re-invented, strategized and argued, and eventually wound up a tight team of chefs that were hopeful, confident that we would not embarrass ourselves, and seasoned enough to not take ourselves too seriously.
We packed up at the Dole and Bailey plant outside of Boston, loaded two cargo containers full of food and equipment and our able bodies on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt.
The competition was held at the Convention Center in Frankfurt that would house over 1,000 chefs each of five days through the competition. Over 60 countries that were members of the World Association of Cooks were represented. It was simply amazing. In the second blog in this series I will give more details of the five days of competition and our results, but for now let’s talk about Germany in October.
The picture at the lead of this post is a corner of the Kleinmarkthalle in Frankfurt. This enormous hall is where we went to select our ingredients every day. I have been to many markets, but this was by far the most expansive, filled with extraordinary ingredients, helpful people, produce, charcuterie, fresh meats and seafood. It was Disneyland for chefs.
What struck me about the Germans was their attention to detail. Most parts of the city were very clean, the kitchens were spotless, the hotels were white glove clean, and the people were a mix of very friendly and stoic professionals. The food in the restaurants was very good, not terribly imaginative, but always fresh. The beer, of course, was exceptional.
We shared a kitchen with the Austrian National Team and became very good friends with them as well as the chef of the kitchen that we borrowed (later to his dismay).
The streets of Germany are filled with history of dedication to exactness, a commitment to industry, and stark reminders of the remnants of two world wars. As a competing team our only exposure to Germany was from the inside of our kitchen, set-up in the Convention Center and occasional trips to the Kleinmarkthalle. Fortunately, our spouses took plenty of pictures for us to see afterward.
Whenever October comes around, I always reflect on our experiences there in 1988. For those who may be interested, another post will follow next week that details the team and our time in the kitchens of Frankfurt. My reflection is especially relevant this year since the remaining members of our team will be meeting for a fundraiser in Vero Beach Florida this coming January. Sadly, three of our original members have passed away since 2009. We will be celebrating our friendship, sharing remembered stories, drinking a few German beers, and toasting our lost friends.