Chef of the century

Chef of the century

I had the pleasure of attending a very special event at the New York Marriott Marquis on Wednesday evening, March 30. The occasion was the 5th annual Culinary Institute of America Gala, where nearly 700 chefs, foodies, educators and hospitality executives gathered to honor Richard Marriott, Daniel Boulud, Michael Chiarello, Jerome Bocuse and the “celebrity chef before there were celebrity chefs,” Paul Bocuse.

This event — known as the “Augies” in CIA circles, a name given the awards as homage to Auguste Escoffier and to commemorate the success and achievement of our industry’s best and brightest — has already hosted some of the biggest names in the food business, but none bigger than Paul Bocuse. In this day of FoodTV, Google and more cooking blogs than imaginable, it is easy to forget that this one man has done more for cooking than anyone since the illustrious Escoffier.

Tim Ryan, CIA president, walked through a thoughtful presentation that began with the premise of Googling “most famous chefs.” The top three in order: Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Rachael Ray. Influential and extremely talented, but not a Keller, Boulud or Ripert, and especially not a Bocuse.

Paul Bocuse’s namesake restaurant has held a Michelin Three Star rating every year since 1965. Truly unbelievable. He is the father of improperly maligned “Nouvelle Cuisine.” Maligned because, before that movement, the best fine dining was considered to be silver and French tableside service. Think where our industry would be now if food presentation was still the responsibility of servers.

If nothing else, the entire china industry owes Paul Bocuse an enormous debt by freeing chefs to plate the food themselves. Without that contribution, we would never have the unique service pieces we now use so naturally, nor would we have witnessed the amazing creativity of chefs over the last 40 years translated into so many beautiful dishes.

Paul Bocuse is aging gracefully, but we sometimes forget the people who blaze the trails for others to follow. Sitting next to Chef Bocuse was Thomas Keller, who just the day before had been awarded the French Legion of Honor, joining only two other Americans in this honor. Thomas tweeted from the table and gave thanks to the man who has done so much for all of us. Chef Bocuse gave a wonderful speech and called out his personal heros, Ferdinand Point and the American Army, who he said saved French Cuisine by saving France in 1944. Fitting for a chef who was just named “Chef of the Century,” who was the coolest chef before chefs were cool.

CIA Leadership Awards Gala

Chef of the Century – Paul Bocuse

Chef of the Year – Daniel Boulud

Alumni of the Year – Michael Chiarello ’82; Jerome Bocuse ‘92

Frances L. Roth Award – Richard Marriott