This is the motherlode time of the year for sports fans. Hockey, Football, and Baseball all intersect for a month making it difficult for many to choose what to watch. There is another sport that takes place during October – once every four years. It is the sport of cooking known as the Culinary Olympics. Yes, I consider it a sport and will elaborate later in this article.
Most people, many whom even work in the restaurant industry, do not know that there is such a thing as a cooking Olympics, and many might even scratch their heads in wonderment – what would a cooking Olympics entail?
America, like many other countries who belong to the World Association of Cook’s Societies (WACS) send a team or teams to represent the millions of cook’s who tie on an apron every day. The process of team member selection may vary, but it is safe to say that those who wear the colors of their country are among the most talented, and passionate professionals from a country’s kitchens. The U.S. has been sending teams to the Olympics, held every four-years in Germany, since 1956. Over that period of time our representative chef’s have changed world opinion about America’s food and the talent responsible for its preparation.
The multi-day event is grueling, highly competitive, focused on demonstrating the highest level of culinary competence in both cold and hot food preparations, and relevant as a source for new directions in food preparation that will define the restaurant business over the next few years. After years of intense preparation, our team will be flying to Erfurt, Germany later this month to test their skills against a field of the best chefs in the world. The Culinary Olympics (as they have become known) will begin on October 22.
I know, from personal experience, that the preparation necessary and the character required of team members parallel that of a highly focused sports team. Side-by-side, the requirements are the same.
It goes without question that those who step onto the football gridiron or the baseball diamond are highly skilled professionals- individuals who have dedicated their lives to mastery of the skills necessary to hold their own when the game begins. The same is true of our culinary team professionals. Chefs who make the cut as a member of our Culinary Olympic Team are seasoned veterans of the kitchen who set the example for all of us to follow.
 TRAINING and INTENSE PRACTICE:
Focus, critique, pursuit of perfection, repetition, trial and error, and more repetition and critique are the roadmap for success of any team. Olympic chefs, like athletes, invest every spare moment outside of their already grueling schedule as a property chef, to hone their skills and perfect their competition dishes.
Competition requires physical and emotional stamina. The hours of work and intense stress to perform at the highest level demand a conditioning regiment to strengthen the body and mind. Olympic chefs need this level of conditioning as well.
At this level of competition there is no room for “almost right”. Every step must be fully understood, practiced, and driven into the conscious and subconscious mind so that the steps in production and dish refinement become second nature. Olympic chefs must become conditioned to accepting this level of consistent excellence and never waiver from it.
 DEVELOP A GAME PLAN
Many would agree that the majority of sporting events that result in a “win” are those that begin with and stick to a well thought out game plan. This plan requires a full understanding of the game, the likely approach that will be taken by the competition, and the contribution that every team member might offer. Culinary competitions require a game plan as well that includes menu, understanding trends and potential trends, a full comprehension of ingredients, mastery of equipment, and understanding of what might get in the way of performance.
 KNOW THE COMPETITION
Just as a sports team will study film of competing teams and players so that everyone can fully understand how they perform in a variety of situations, so too must a culinary team study their competitors. Granted, the results of a food competition are measured in performance against a standard rather than competition with each other, but chefs know that a competing team that demonstrates something new, something executed at a never before seen level of excellence, will influence a judges assessment against the score. To this end – know your competition.
Team means team – not individual. Building a representative team of any type requires the ability and desire of members to work together and accept roles (even if that role is not what they would prefer) is as, if not more, important than the level of skill that each individual brings to the table. Teams without chemistry will eventually fail.
 PROBLEM SOLVE AND ADJUST
What can be predicted is that things will go wrong at some point. Even the best game plan may not work in certain situations, so a team must be conditioned well enough to “audible” at the line of scrimmage. Over time, a culinary team will learn to find solutions to problems. These solutions come from an ability to work through potential scenarios and plan for the unexpected. Teams get to know each individual’s strengths and weaknesses and when to support or follow the person who is carrying the ball or fumbling it along the way.
 COACHING IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS
Behind every winning team is leadership at all levels and a cadre of seasoned professionals who have “been there” and can coach team members to winning results. This is evident in every sport, including the sport of competition cooking.
 THE 12TH MAN STILL COUNTS IN COOKING COMPETITIONS
We (cook spectators) may not be working in the kitchen alongside our representative team, but our moral support is critical to their success. Our thoughts and cheers will become that endorphin boost that helps to carry them over the line to victory. This victory may not result in medals, but will always help them to look back and proclaim that they did their best.
Your 2016 American Team:
Executive Chef – St. Louis, MO
Executive Chef – Sanibel Island, FL
Executive Chef – Franklin, TN
Pastry Chef Instructor – Joliet, IL
Master Chef – Charlotte, NC
Pastry Chef Coordinator – Lancaster, PA
Executive Chef – Fort Worth, TX
Corporate Chef – Charlotte, NC
Team Managers and Coaches:
Chef Joseph Leonardi – Team Manager
Chef Steven Jilleba, CMC
Chef Stafford DeCambra – Youth Team Manager
Chef Shawn Culp
Chef Dan Hugelier, CMC
Chef Tim Prefontaine
Although you will not find coverage of the Culinary Olympics on your local or cable television networks, keep in mind how important your moral support is to the team. Keep your team in your thoughts and cheer them on as they represent the millions of cooks and chefs who work on the line in American restaurants.
GOOD LUCK TEAM U.S.A.!
*I was fortunate to be a member of the 1988 New England Culinary Olympic Team that helped to set the standard for excellence – an experience that helped to set the direction for my career.
Check out this link and the imbedded video clip on Team U.S.A.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
SHARE this article with your network in support of our AMERICAN CULINARY TEAM or for those readers who are from another country – send your thoughts of support to your respective team. These chefs represent you and they deserve your enthusiastic support.