NEW YORK —
If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, the old proverb goes. Under the tutelage of some of the best chefs in New York, the next generation of chefs are learning to adapt to pressure-cooker environments.
Daniel Boulud is arguably one of the best chefs in New York City, with seven restaurants in Manhattan, six James Beard awards and countless other culinary accolades. But today, he’s leaving the cooking to someone else.
Someone like 18-year-old Mimi Chen, who is among the aspiring chefs competing for a chance to represent the U.S. at the premiere Bocuse d’Or, a world cooking competition held every two years.
“The Bocuse d’Or is basically the world championships of cooking. It’s essentially 60 countries vying for 24 spots at a final that’s held every two years in Lyon, France," said chef Philip Tessier, the Bocuse d'Or 2015 Team USA silver medalist.
Chen is among the young finalists who have a shot at traveling and working with Team USA. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is made possible by Ment’or, a nonprofit started by renowned chefs Boulud, Thomas Keller and Jérôme Bocuse.
“For every grant we give to a young chef to be able to take a sabbatical from his job ... for them to be able to experiment in other people’s places ... and come back energized, come back inspired ... that’s what we’re looking for, helping the next generation to be better than us," Boulud said.
For many, the road to culinary greatness starts with early.
“I was 17. I went to culinary school and then graduated when I was 19," Tessier said. “It’s about pushing yourself to work for the best. Finding the right chefs to work for, and then sticking it out.”
Brendan Scott is only 20, but already has big plans in the kitchen.
“I want to be a chef, I want to compete in the Bocuse, I want to open up my own restaurant. ... I want to do all these things. ... but no matter what, I think it’s just gonna take time," said Scott, a competitor in the commis (apprentice chef) competition.
According to the National Restaurant Association, industry sales for commercial restaurants are projected at $720 billion this year. For young chefs hoping to make their mark, mentorships can be crucial.
“There’s restaurants that you just can’t make that leap to sometimes on your own, and this is our way of recognizing talent and connecting it to opportunity," Tessier said.
That opportunity just paid off for Chen, who won the commis competition. A victory perhaps not only for her, but for the culinary world.
WATCH: Renowned chefs mentor next generation