Tag: Culinary Olympics

AMERICA’S CULINARY TEAM

  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…

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF TEAM

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF TEAM

What are the differences between a group, teamwork and a true team? This definition may shed some light, however, it falls short of the real meaning of team:

TEAM – DEFINITION

“A group of people with different skills and

different tasks, who work together on a

common project, service, or goal, with a

meshing of functions and mutual support.”

Most people would agree with the interpretation offered in this definition, but does it really clarify why some teams consistently reach and exceed goals; goals that are focused on results both professional and personal? Any group can be directed to work together to accomplish a goal. This is, after all, why we have managers and supervisors. The question is “what happens in the absence of directive”?

Those of us who have experienced a real “team” situation understand how special that is. “Teams” go beyond the obvious: there is chemistry, a bond that stems from understanding, appreciation, support, dedication, resolve and friendship. This connection, once experienced, does bring about great results in the moment but also evolves into a sense of family that is just as strong as any biological family unit. Team members care for each other, are truly interested in what each member is doing and gains strength from that connection.

I spent last weekend with fellow chefs who were a part of the 1988 New England Culinary Olympic Team. I have, in previous posts, told the story of how this team came together and what we accomplished, but this weekend served as a reminder to me just how important this bond was and is. The four days we cooked together, broke bread, toasted with a few glasses of wine and simply enjoyed each other’s company, was by far one of the highlights of my year.

We became familiar with each other’s recent professional accomplishments, talked about family, and laughed constantly. We were humbled by Chef Charles Carroll’s work with “Operation Hot” in support of our troops in Afghanistan, were amazed at the work that Joe Faria was doing at Quail Valley Golf and River Club, were riveted to the stories that Michael Beriau shared about his ski patrol work outside of his culinary commitments at White Oaks Country Club and went to school watching Walter Zuromski demonstrate contemporary techniques for food preparation. It was a true demonstration of what can happen when “team” takes place.

Thank you Joe Faria and Amy Haase-Hughes for putting this weekend together. It is my understanding that the week of charity at their property will raise over $400,000 in support of children’s programs in the Vero Beach area. We were treated like kings and were proud to have contributed in some way to the success of the events.

Cooking together was so easy. It was like the 25-year separation from our group didn’t exist. From the moment we first hugged each other we were back in 1988. I wish that everyone would find an opportunity in their lives to experience this type of bonding. I feel very blessed.

The 1988 New England Culinary Team was:

Anton Flory – Team Manager
Roland Czekelius – Team Captain
Charles Carroll (pictured)
Michael Beriau (pictured)
Walter Zuromski (pictured)
Joe Faria (pictured)
Paul Sorgule (pictured)
George Higgins
Lars Johansson
Danny Varano
Neil Connolly

This weekend was dedicated in memory of the team members and advisors we have lost in recent years: Anton Flory, Roland Czekelius, Neil Connolly, John Carroll, Gino Correlli and Bud Matheson.

For more information about the team members in attendance:

Joe Faria: http://www.quailvalleygolfclub.com

Charles Carroll and Operation Hot: http://www.chefcharlescarroll.com

Michael Beriau: http://www.whitecliffscc.com

Walter Zuromski: http://www.chefservicesgroup.com

Paul Sorgule: http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

MY OCTOBERFEST – MEDALS BEFORE BEER

MY OCTOBERFEST - MEDALS BEFORE BEER

The Culinary Olympics were over. Our team was exhausted, yet numb from exceeding our own expectations. It certainly felt good to walk away victorious, but what would take some time to sink in was that we were successful because we came together as a team. It had much less to do with individual talent, it was all about a group of chefs with a common purpose. A team of people who understood and supported each other. We had become the “cinderella” team to many back home and a model for each of us and others who worked with us for the years to come.

After the final award ceremony we headed down to the Saxon House district of Frankfurt (one of the only historic sections of town that survived the bombings of WWII) to a Brathouse that had been rented by Michael Minor for the various teams that represented the United States. A restaurant full of chefs eating German sausages, Sauerkraut, Pigs knuckles and toasting with tankards of German beer. It was incredible and such a wonderful release. Thank you Michael!

After our first decent nights sleep we boarded a bus for Austria. We were to be the guests of the Austrian Team that shared the kitchen with us in Frankfurt. Driving at night on the autobahn hid the wonderful scenery that we would encounter the next day. We checked into a pension later that evening and awoke to the most spectacular view of the Alps surrounding us. That day we were given the key to the city of Innsbruck by their mayor and toured this Winter Olympic community. In the evening we traversed through the woods to a Hanzel and Gretel style restaurant owned by one of the Austrian Team Chefs. We enjoyed tremendous ethnic food and were honored to be the first Americans to ever set foot in the chef’s private wine cellar. We toasted with schnapps, drank more wine and claimed our friendship for life.

It has been twenty-five years since that date in October 1988. Our team members have gone on to pursue their individual goals. We will always share in that experience that changed our lives. Charles Carroll (the youngest member of our team) has gone on to receive international recognition as one of the most accomplished chefs from the U.S. He served on subsequent ACF Regional and National Culinary teams, left the Balsams, his employer in 1988 to now serve as Executive Chef at River Oaks Country Club in Houston. He is the author of two books, frequently serves as an inspirational speaker at conferences, conventions and graduations and most recently has taken on the role of facilitator for culinary and entertainment events for our troops in Afghanistan. Michael Beriau moved on to become the Executive Chef for Dole and Bailey out of Boston and now serves as the Executive Chef for White Cliffs Country Club on the Cape. He returned to competition to serve as a team advisor for the U.S. Culinary Team in recent years. George Higgins is now one of the most revered pastry instructors at the Culinary Institute of America and turned out to be quite an accomplished drummer with a band comprised of other chefs from the CIA. Walter Zuromski founded Chef Services Group, a firm that works with foodservice companies to develop gold standard product formulations. Danny Varano continued teaching in the Connecticut School system and recently retired. Varano was inducted into the Order of the Golden Toques for his accomplishments as a chef. Lars Johannson eventually retired from Johnson and Wales as the director of the pastry school. The college named their retail bakery after this incredible pastry chef. Joe Faria left the Ritz Carlton in Boston shortly after the team returned. He is now Executive Chef at Quail Valley Golf Club in Vero Beach, Florida. I stayed at Paul Smith’s College as Dean until 2005 when I returned to industry as Executive Chef of the Four-Diamond Mirror Lake Inn. In 2008 I returned to education as Vice President for New England Culinary Institute and in 2012 formed Harvest America Ventures, a consulting company for restaurants and culinary schools.

We lost three of our team members and a dear friend supporter over the past few years: Anton Flory, our team manager and certified master chef; Roland Czekelius our team captain; and Neil Connolly a pastry chef member of our team. Bud Matheson was the owner/operator of Dole and Bailey. Without Dole and Bailey’s help, our team would have never raised the funds to support our efforts. Bud accompanied the team to Germany and Austria. What we did not know at the time was that on the way to Austria the team was out of money. Bud pulled out his checkbook and donated additional funds for the team so that we could enjoy our accomplishments in Innsbruck. A great man.

In the years that followed, I worked with many students and tried to relay the joys of teamwork and the challenges of competition. I am always proud to note that two of my former students represented the United States on teams over that period of time. Jamie Keating as a member of the U.S. Regional and subsequently a member of the U.S. National Team and David Russ (one of my first students) who represented the U.S. as a member of numerous Army teams competing in the Culinary Olympics.

That call from Anton Flory in 1986 changed my professional life. If it were not for that moment, I would not have had the opportunities that I have thoroughly enjoyed over the past 25 years. I am sure that each team member feels the same way about their opportunities.

Twenty-five years later I tip my toque to Anton Flory, Roland Czekelius, Neil Connolly, Bud Matheson and all the suriving team members and advisors for a life-changing opportunity. Happy Octoberfest!

In January of 2014, the remaining team members will gather at Joe Faria’s shop in Vero Beach to share stories, and cook for charity.

MY OCTOBERFEST 1988 – A TEAM EFFORT

MY OCTOBERFEST 1988 - A TEAM EFFORT

After the day one results in Frankfurt, the New England Culinary Olympic Team was truly energized. Mickey Beriau and Danny Varano had set the bar very high with their gold medal performances. This now became everyone’s goal and the team would rally behind each chef preparing to show.

We were not free of issues that would throw us a curve ball. I had mentioned how easy it was to get through customs on our way into Germany. That changed when they apparently read our manifests and realized that our team had brought in some proteins that were banned in Europe. We were, of course, unaware of this until they threatened to confiscate our supplies and maybe even hold us in custody. Thanks to our team manager – Tony Flory and team captain Roland Czekelius (both born in Austria) and their diplomacy we reached an agreement. Some items were discarded and customs assigned an agent to insure that each day after judging we would discard everything from our presentation tables. Additionally an important part of our pastry displays was to be sugar work under huge, custom made glass domes. These domes arrived in Germany from the manufacturer cracked. Another adjustment was in order.

Despite these set-backs the team continued to work 20 hours a day executing our programs and doing so with high expectations.

Each day brought more excitement as chef after chef was awarded a gold medal for his performance. Joe Faria worked through a stomach bug, a few items on our programs didn’t work out as planned so the team rallied to help with solutions, sleepless nights began to take their toll as evidenced by the state of the kitchen we were using each morning (the chef of the facility was beginning to regret his generosity), and it appeared that a few of our finished items in coolers found their way on to platters presented by the Austrian Team with whom we shared the kitchen. Through this, the team continued to exceed everyone’s expectations.

In the end, the team walked away with 19 gold medals, 1 silver, 1 bronze and recognition as the overall best team competing in the Culinary Olympics that year. The day that the team walked onto the stage to receive this recognition was, by far, the most exhilarating accomplishment of my professional career. Each chef: Roland Czekelius, Mickey Beriau, Danny Varano, George Higgins, Neil Connolly, Lars Johansson, Walter Zuromski, Charles Carroll, Joe Faria and myself would be changed forever.

What was most satisfying was how the team evolved from a group of individuals to a cohesive team. We respected each other’s abilities, complemented each other’s weaknesses, supported each other’s efforts, honestly critiqued each other’s work followed with help and advice on how to improve, took great joy in each other’s accomplishments but most importantly placed the team before the individual.

I have, over the years, used this model of unity and performance in everything that I have attempted, with every organization that I have worked for and with every individual who has worked beside me.

The picture on this post is that of Anton Flory, Certified Master Chef and manager of our team who set the tone for our accomplishments, mentored each of us, and supported our work in any way that he could. Whether we needed someone to brunoise a vegetable, slice a terrine, polish a platter or wash a pot, Anton was there.

Tomorrow’s post will complete the story and reflect on 25 years later for Team New England.

MY OCTOBERFEST 1988 WITH TEAM NEW ENGLAND

MY OCTOBERFEST 1988 WITH TEAM NEW ENGLAND

It was October 1988 at Logan International Airport when we were waiting to board a Lufthansa airplane to Frankfurt, Germany. As we (10 team members, spouses, apprentices, manager and coaches) lined up with our tickets I started to reflect on the last 18 months of preparation for this moment. We had gone through a great deal together: learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses, losing one team member due to his work requirements but gaining an excellent replacement; Charles Carroll (the youngest member of the team at 23) struggles to raise the money to support our efforts, nearly disbanding after a dismal performance at a Boston Show, re-energizing after a training session in the Adirondack’s, coming together as a true team and now waiting to show the world what we could do. I put nearly 20,000 miles on my car going to practices over the past year and a half, and was ready to see if it would pay off.

Arriving in Germany, along with hundreds of cooks from around the world was energizing. We passed quickly through customs (only to return in another day) as the German security guards seemed very anxious to host this onslaught of chefs. Arriving at our kitchen (home for the next 7 days) we were met by the chef who welcomed us and turned over the keys. We could have the kitchen every day from 2 in the afternoon until 6 the following morning for the next 7 days, but had to share the space with the Austrian National Team. In total, there would be 15 chefs, 4 apprentices, 2 team managers and various advisor/coaches occupying the space. It would get very crowded, very quickly.

What we had learned over the past 18 months was that at this point we could only execute what we knew, we had practiced our food programs many times so we knew what to do, let’s just do our jobs and try to have fun. Easy said when we were fully aware that a panel of chef judges would scrutinize our work over the 5 days of competition, many sponsors had gone out of their way to raise the funds to support us, and we were representing the New England States and the U.S. as well.

Since this would be our only day without kitchen time, we traveled to the convention center to see our display space (paid for by Michael Minor and Minor Foods) and would sit down to a traditional game dinner as a team with our spouses and supporters. It felt right, but we were all nervous and ready to unpack and start cooking.

The team stayed at Bed and Breakfast and had the entire building to ourselves. Nice accommodations, but the owner had a tough time understanding our schedule (we would be working from 1 in the afternoon until 7 a.m. each day, needed to sleep for a few hours and wanted breakfast at 12 noon each day). It took her some time, but eventually accepted our strange hours of operation.

In the kitchen we were like a machine. Each day two chefs of the ten member team were showing in the competition. The two who were on the schedule for the next day were assigned to work on their own programs while the remaining six were assigned to help the show chefs for that day. Everyone had their assignments, we had drilled through them many times over the past 18 months, and we started to unpack, set-up our mise en place and rock the food. At 4 a.m. each day, the van was packed with the show chefs program and off they went with the advisors and our team manager. Everyone else stayed behind to clean and organize for the next day. We only had a mile or two to drive, but at 20 miles an hour (didn’t want to upset the food platters on board) it was a long ride. We entered the convention center each day and proceeded to our show table. The chefs displaying that day would supervise the final placement of platters and plates, touch things up, and direct the advisors on making sure the whole table was pristine. Judging began at 7 each day and show chefs and the manager would stay until the judges had been through our table. We would not know the results until later in the afternoon.

Off for 2-3 hours of sleep, a shower and some breakfast – we were back in the kitchen to start on day two preparations. The show chefs from day one along with the team manager would return to the convention center to get the results. We had just sat down to a family meal prepared by our advisors when the call came in. The team captain took the call and returned to the table. We waited for his news. He raised his glass and said: “can you think of anything at this point better than a gold medal?” We waited for a few seconds while he took a drink. “How about two perfect scores”! The room erupted! If we were energized before, the energy level just increased ten fold. Now the message was clear, we all had gold in sight.

Michael (Mickey) Beriau and Danny Varano had set the bar very high. It was everyone’s job to keep that momentum going.

On Wednesday and Thursday I will post the completion of this story. Stay tuned for the balance of “My Octoberfest”.

OCTOBERFEST AND THE PHONE CALL THAT CHANGED MY CAREER

Fresh-Food-1-1024x680

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.

%d bloggers like this: