U.S. Chefs and Cuisine Gain Global Respect

Chef Phil Tessier, left, with his commis, Skylar Stover, on the right.
Chef Phil Tessier, left, with his commis, Skylar Stover, on the right.

Chef Philip Tessier talks about bringing home the Silver statue from the 2015 Bocuse d’Or and the many benefits of the ment’or organization.

The Bocuse d’Or competition held biennially in Lyon France, is considered the Olympics of culinary competitions. In 2015, Team USA placed among the top three for the first time, bringing home the coveted Silver Bocuse statue along with an elevated respect for American cuisine and American chefs. Chef Phil Tessier, formerly executive sous chef at The French Laundry, and his young commis, Skylar Stover, led Team USA to the unprecedented victory. Chef Tessier, who now serves as coach for Team USA in the 2017 Bocuse d’Or, talks with FSR about the experience:

How did that mentor relationship begin, and how did you come to be on the Bocuse d’Or team together?

I had gone to the competition in 2013, and being there and being surrounded by the people there was very exciting. It was something that I always thought I would love to do, but didn’t expect to have the opportunity to do. When I saw the support and structure that ment’or had created, it made it possible for me to do it. Part of the application process is choosing a commis—which is an apprentice—and that person had to be 22 years old or younger at the time of the competition in France. So, that meant I was looking for someone who was essentially 20 to 21 at the time. At the restaurant—at The French Laundry [where Phil Tessier was executive sous chef]—Skylar was the right age. And, he had demonstrated his ability to take instruction, to follow tasks, and to do it well. That was kind of the initial conversation.

What was Skylar’s reaction to the idea?

I think—because I kept asking when his birthday was—he thought I was going to buy him a birthday present or something like that. When I sat down with him and asked him what he thought of competing in the Bocuse d’Or, he had no idea what he was saying “yes” to. It was more like: “Chef is asking me to do something; I should do it.”

I wanted to make sure he knew what he was getting into, so I sent him home, told him to read up, watch some stuff on it, and come back with a firm answer. Of course, he came back and wanted to do it.

What did you think, starting out?

In the beginning, for me, it was kind of a challenge because we’d only known each other for two or three months at the time. … And this was a huge commitment, not only from both of us, but also the resources, the time of others in the group, and the team. The crazy part about the competition—for someone like me, who had been cooking for nearly 20 years—was that you set aside your whole career for a year and a half to dedicate to this competition. When you do that, you are going to prepare yourself in every way possible. But no matter what you do, half of what happens the day of the competition falls into the hands of a 22-year-old. It’s a pretty daunting task to take someone with a relatively small amount of experience and work with him in such a way that he is personally and highly motivated, that he will have the endurance and perseverance to get through it, and to come out on the other side of the training, not only with a fresh attitude towards it, but also with a sense of confidence, determination, and excitement.


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