Culinary Olympics deserve recognition
In all their splendor and glory, the Culinary Olympics will unfold in Frankfurt’s gigantic Messegelande Exhibition Hall Oct. 16 to 20. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for 2,000 participating chefs from the United States and 34 other nations.
The competition lasts for just five days once every four years in Frankfurt, but it takes tons of preparation and practice for months and even years. Participants are true competitors in every sense.
Yet somehow this dramatic event goes largely unnoticed on the American scene, in comparison with the tremendous hoopla associated with the Summer sports Olympics, which also occur once every four years. If you asked anyone on the street where the Olympics are, you would almost certainly receive this response: South Korea in September.
Without taking anything away from the heroic exploits of athletes throughout the world who will compete there, we think the Culinary Olympics deserve far more exposure on the national scene, beyond the restaurant trade. Yet the sponsoring American Culinary Federation and National Restaurant Association have been able to obtain only the most limited coverage nationally. There has not been nearly enough merchandising and promotion.
The U.S. Olympic sports committee has barred the use of the term “Culinary Olympics” and forced its downgrading to Culinary “competition,” much to the chagrin of American team captain Timothy Ryan and other culinary officials. It is recognized as the Culinary Olympics in West Germany and Western Europe, where there apparently is more general appreciation for the culinary arts.
Nation’s Restaurant News is emphasizing the Culinary Olympic’s overwhelming importance with regular weekly news coverage. NRN will be on the scene in Frankfurt, as will some 50,000 culinary devotees (primarily Germans and other Europeans). We will provide full news and pictorial coverage of all the events and behind-the-scenes action.
If the American Olympic culinary efforts had more support, they would receive more exposure nationally. The NRA and ACF have largely been left to carry the ball themselves although the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales (with its own team), Diners Club, Sheraton Hotels (displaying in the Culinary Arts Salon competition), and a number of other corporations are giving substantial moral and financial support. Fifteen regional teams and a number of independent ones also are entering from the United States.
But the Culinary Olympics should receive far more support from restaurants (other than those with chefs actually participating) and from chains. It is certainly not too late for an all-out effort in this direction.
Other questions abound about the Culinary Olympics, splintered into so many categories and segments that it is difficult to keep track of all the simultaneous events in the cavernous Exhibition Hall.
Of the five U.S. national team members chosen in May at the National Restaurant Show (emerging from among 150 original candidates), four master chefs are the same as at the 1984 Frankfurt Culinary Olympics. They are Ryan, the CIA’s culinary education director; Mark Erickson, a CIA department chairman; Dan Hugelier, executive chef of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Rockford, Mich; and Harmut Handke, executive chef of the Greenbrier Resort. The one newcomer is Christopher Northmore, executive pastry chef of the Cherokee Town & Country Club, Atlanta, who heads the dessert competition for the United States.
Ferdinand Metz, president of the CIA and again the team manager, emphasizes that the judges were dedicated to choosing the best possible chefs and that all five were chosen on a “blind basis” without the judges knowing the identities of any of the competing chefs. We would like to see more diversity on the national team but have no quarrel about going with the absolute best.
The national team will compete in the four major events: hot food, hot food served cold, cold food, and a new pastry category. A U.S. regional team of nine chefs also will submit ice sculptures and hot- and cold-dish creations, and two sous chefs will help the regional and national teams.
More than anything else, we certainly hope the judging this time will be fairer and clearer. The situation in 1984 was one of such total chaos that sportscaster Howard Cosell would have called the event “absolutely and utterly appalling” if he had been covering it. He would have demanded an instant replay and a recount.
The American team won the hot food and cold food gold medals while Canada won the gold for hot food served cold. Canada was then declared world champion on the apparent basis of more gold, silver, and bronze individual points in the three events.
To their credit, Metz and U.S. team officials took the decision stoically. But officials from other nations protested the procedure.
Chauvinism aside, we trust that there will be no “mystery” secret ballots by the judges this time. Judging for events in the Winter and Summer sports Olympics that require subjective decisions is always completely open, with each judge’s exact points-vote posted publicly for the worldwide television audience. It should be no different at the Culinary Olympics.
Now an apparent improvement has been made in the system, which in 1984 had five German judges and 10 judges from other teams for each event. The competition still will be supervised by the German Chefs Association, but the team manager of each competing nation and two designated senior German chefs will judge each event.
The judging must be conducted at the highest professional level. While participation and sportsmanship are primary principles on the culinary field of battle, this still must be conducted as a full-scale competition.
Nor should the Culinary Olympics in any sense play second fiddle to the Summer Olympics, with American culinary officials going around apologizing and explaining what they are doing. They have every right to hold their heads high and to expect full support from the entire food-service industry.
“Bring home the gold” is a legitimate slogan. But the total involvement of the industry, rather than that of select organizations and individuals, is more important.
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