Since the vast majority of hospitality employers aren’t able to focus on professional development in the day-to-day, USBG’s competitions hope to fill the participants’ need by offering competitors thorough feedback from the judges. Each bartender receives a detailed breakdown of where they fell at different stages of the competition, as well as written feedback on their strengths and where to consider improvement.
“I hear from competitors year after year, since we started that process, that that is one of the most valuable experiences that they gain from participating in competitions. The hospitality industry managers don’t always have time to give thoughtful, comprehensive evaluations to their employees,” Smith says. “We see people returning to programs year after year to demonstrate their improvement and learn more about what they can do to get better.”
Chef Lance Nitahara, a lecturing instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, shares Smith’s sentiment. As a frequent competitor in American Culinary Federation (ACF) competitions over the last decade—as well as a mentor for students preparing for competitions through organizations like ProStart and SkillsUSA—Nitahara sees competitions as vital to a young chef’s education.
“I believe that everyone should compete at least once,” he says. “It wasn’t an experience that I necessarily wanted to have until I actually had it, but it really opened things up for me.”
His experience as a competitor has kept him organized and his technical skills sharp, Nitahara says. “When I work with students who compete, oftentimes there is only one gold and only one silver. [When] they aren’t successful, I see them really beat themselves up about it. I tell them that the competitions that I’ve learned the most from are the ones that I didn’t win.” Reflection in those instances, he argues, helps chefs grow and learn.
Chef Philip Tessier, who won the silver medal at the international Bocuse d’Or competition in 2015 and coached Team USA to gold in 2017, appreciates his competition experience for the chance it was to build a diverse network of professionals in his field, as well as push him to enhance his skills. “When you’re in a professional restaurant, you’re working at the stove, you’re constantly refining your skills and you’re working, ideally, amongst a great team, but it’s one team, one chef, that you’re working under. With the Bocuse d’Or, I saw the opportunity to work with multiple chefs across the country. Why would I not want to be in the center of this opportunity?” he says.
To inspire other young chefs to embark on such a unique opportunity as representing the USA on a national stage at Bocuse d’Or, Tessier has written a book, Chasing Bocuse: America’s Journey to the Culinary World Stage, about his experiences with the competition as a chef and coach. “Competing in this competition has been life-changing and eye-opening in so many ways,” Tessier says. “The more that young chefs begin to understand the opportunity that competitions have to enrich and focus their training and create opportunity and exposure to other chefs in different realms across the world, [the better it is for the industry.]”