Tag: Octoberfest

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

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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.

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