Where government leaders fail, perhaps chefs will succeed.

I think this partly because of something Esther Choi said when we talked for our cover story: “I truly believe,” the chef/owner of m˘okbar told me, “that food is the first element that brings people to be interested in any culture … You fall in love with a cuisine and it opens the door to other aspects of the culture.”  

She was talking about bringing Korea’s cuisine and culture to U.S. diners—but the same could be said for bringing a better understanding of America to other countries. This seems like a great time to be reminding the world that America is so much bigger—and more diverse—than any one conviction or any one Administration.

As I write this, international diplomacy has become something of a debacle. The Administration’s executive order for a travel ban remains blocked. The furor and potential fallout from policy shifts on a number of issues—from immigration to global trade—are reverberating throughout the restaurant industry, the States, and countries the world over. And regardless of our individual political persuasions, there’s no denying that the world’s perception of America is being altered.  

Elevating American cuisine—and perhaps by default the perception of our country—is precisely what happened at two recent world-renowned culinary events. 

At the Bocuse d’Or competition held in Lyon, France, in January, Team USA—led by Chef Mathew Peters of Per Se in New York City—claimed first place. This was the first time a U.S. team won the prestigious event, which was celebrating its 30th anniversary. (For this competition, Team USA is recruited, trained, and sponsored by the ment’or Foundation, a nonprofit that was founded by Chefs Jérôme Bocuse, Daniel Boulud, and Thomas Keller.) 

In October, Chef Ben Grupe, of restaurants Elaia and Olio in St. Louis, led the American Culinary Federation’s Team USA to a fourth-place ranking at the Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung Culinary Exhibition in Erfurt, Germany. He brought home three gold medals from the international competition, which was founded in 1896. 

Chef Grupe told me he also returned with a better appreciation and understanding of what it means to practice restraint and have patience. He was talking about exercising restraint in plating food, so that dishes are balanced. It’s about giving people what they really need, what they will benefit from, and not about, as he says, “throwing everything in your arsenal at the plate.” 

Expert Takes, Feature