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Knives at Dawn: The Cooking Competition You've Never Heard About

I just finished reading Andrew Friedman's food geeky book, Knives at Dawn, which chronicles last year's bid by an American team—led by Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller—to win the international Bocuse D'Or cooking competition. Never heard of it? Though Americans seem to have an endless appetite for cooking competitions (witness the success of Top Chef and Iron Chef), this one has largely flown under the radar, though it has a long and storied history and a distinguished pedigree, having been founded by none other than legendary French chef Paul Bocuse. That's changing somewhat, thanks in part to the active participation by Boulud and Keller, who are introducing and legitimizing the contest for a whole new generation of American chefs. Chefs nominate themselves and submit to a rigorous application process; should they be accepted then the real work begins—most applicants spend months in active preparation for the competition, first to become the American representative, then in the finals in Lyon, France, where they compete against teams from around the world. The American team has never won the gold.

The American team will send one representative and their assistant (who must be 22 or younger) to compete in Lyon, as they did last year (in 2009 it was Timothy Hollingsworth and Adina Guest from the French Laundry representing). This weekend, the 12 American finalist-chefs will go head-to-head at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park. Percy Whatley, chef of the Ahwahnee in Yosemite, is the closest thing we have to a local competitor, though SF chefs Traci des Jardins and Daniel Patterson, along with an impressive roster on NYC chefs who together make up the Bocuse D'Or Culinary Council, will be on hand to judge the entries and help determine a winner. Since Hyde Park, New York, is a long way to go for some gastronomic fun, Patterson is helping well-heeled San Franciscans get in on the Bocuse D'Or fun—next Monday, February 8, he'll be teaming up with Manresa chef David Kinch to prepare a seven-course meal at Coi. Proceeds will go to support the training of the chef who will be representing the U.S. in Lyon. The dinner is $195 (excluding tax and gratuity); reservations can be made by calling 415-393-9000. Early Valentine's Day?