Months away from contending in the world's most prestigious cooking competition, Richard Rosendale was applying his keen concentration to scooping white stones into charcoal-colored bowls in Alinea's kitchen.
The 35-year-old chef spent much of last week with Alinea/Next chef/co-owner Grant Achatz, as well as the restaurants' innovative service ware designer, Martin Kastner, as part of his exhaustive preparations to represent the United States in the Bocuse d'Or in Lyon, France, in January. Achatz was one of the judges this past January when Rosendale, executive chef of The Greenbrier resort in White Sulfur Springs, W. Va., won the Bocuse d'Or USA competition.
Now Achatz, along with a dream team of other towering U.S. culinary figures including Thomas Keller (president of the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation) and Daniel Boulud (its chairman), is trying to help Rosendale become the first American chef to get to the international Bocuse d'Or medal podium since legendary French chef Paul Bocuse began presenting the biennial competitions in January 1987.
"We've had great chefs who have competed in the past," Rosendale said, "but they didn't have the kind of great access we have now."
"It's always been a grass-roots movement in this country," Keller, whom Bocuse asked to be the foundation's president in 2008, said over the phone from Sydney. "We've competed, but we've never competed as a collective of professionals or as a country."
Keller would like to see the United States' showing at the Bocuse d'Or reflect the tremendous culinary strides the country has made over the past 35 years. (Alinea ranked No. 7, and Keller's Per Se and the French Laundry were Nos. 6 and 43, respectively, on the recently released annual World's 50 Best Restaurants list.) No American Bocuse d'Or contestants have finished higher than sixth place.