Raleigh chef Danny Cerqueda (shown above, photo credit: Bonjwing Lee) cooked for five hours Sunday, serving up platters of intricate cod and chicken dishes, for a chance to represent the United States at the equivalent of the culinary Olympics.
But his cooking chops weren't enough to go to the Bocuse d'Or, an international culinary competition held every two years in Lyon, France.
Cerqueda, 31, the executive sous chef at the Carolina Country Club in Raleigh, finished fourth. Richard Rosendale, executive chef at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV., was chosen to represent the United States in France in 2013.
His mentor, Patrick Colley, executive chef at the Carolina Country Club, said he was proud of Cerqueda's performance. "Any time you put yourself in that position to be judged by your peers, there's nothing to be but proud. I think he represented himself, the club and the city quite well."
Sunday's competition aired live online from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. The broadcast showed a raucous event. With music blaring and the crowd ringing cow bells, the chefs paraded their finished platters before a panel of judges, including superstar chefs Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz and Daniel Boulud. A couple of the judges pulled out their cell phones to take pictures of the food, several of which appeared on Twitter. Then the platters were plated for each judge to taste and evaluated on a 60-point-scale with 40 points for taste and 20 points for presentation.
The winners were announced at 4:30 p.m. Bill Bradley, a chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Cambridge, MA, came in third and Jeffrey Lizotte, chef de cuisine at Onzo in Hartford, CT, came in second.
This was Cerqueda's second trip to the Bocuse d'Or USA finals. Two years ago, he was one of 12 finalists who cooked at the Culinary Institute of America. This time, they narrowed the field to four. The winning chef will train for a year under the supervision of some of the nation's best culinary talents: chef Gavin Kaysen of New York's Cafe Boulud, who led the U.S. team in 2007; Achatz of Alinea in Chicago, a molecular gastronomy mecca; and chef Gabriel Kreuther, who runs the Modern, a fine dining restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
The Bocuse d'Or contest is more well known in Europe than here. Chef Paul Bocuse, who owns a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Lyon, France, started the international culinary contest in 1987. It pits 24 teams of one chef and an assistant from different countries against one another. The U.S. team has never won. In 2008, the Americans created a foundation to support the U.S. team in an attempt to win the title.
Cerqueda, who graduated from Johnson & Wales University, has competed in more than a dozen such contests in eight years. The Atlanta native became intrigued by the Bocuse d'Or competition after Colley, his boss, was a semifinalist for the U.S. team in 2004.