Book Review: Knives at Dawn: America's Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d'Or Competition

Another find from the new book shelf at the local library, Knives at Dawn: America’s Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d’Or Competition by Andrew Friedman ($18 @ Amazon), the Bocuse d’Or (named for French chef Paul Bocuse) is a real world Iron Chef competition. Teams from all over the world compete in a five hour competition that focuses on flavor and presentation.

The book covers the refocusing of Team USA in 2009 to try to win, starting with the competition between US chefs, then the selection process, and finally the months of thinking and preparation leading to the final event. It’s interesting how much thought/work goes into what to cook, then more time on learning to cook it the right way, and then doing it over and over again to make sure that every step is choreographed.

It’s a play by play account, and I found it reasonably interesting.The US team placed 6th, not bad – but not a win either. Little things matter in this competition. For example, the shrimp at the final event were much smaller than they had practiced with, only afterward did they realize the information was available in advance – they just didn’t see it.

It also felt like a look into a world beyond the Food Network. Shows on the Food Network are fun, and meant to be entertaining. This was more of a look at people really serious about their craft, and that’s interesting to me regardless of the topic, understanding just how big the gap is between me making from scratch brownies and these guys.

It’s also a lesson in preparation. From the book you get the impression that we lagged behind a bit all the way, with one more month of prep could have done better (maybe). It’s got to be hard, doing a five hour practice session over and over, and having to clean up each time, making little notes to help things go better the next time. Yet, it’s the repetition and attention to detail that make the difference, not a contest where you can just show up and throw something together.

Here’s a link to the US site: