History will be written this year if Thailand manages to secure a first place in the prestigious Bocuse D’Or Grand Finale culinary competition. Prestige talks to Nuttaya Junhasavasdikul, one of the team’s managers, to find out what they are cooking.
WWith the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo behind us, it’s time for foodies to celebrate the Grand Finale of Bocuse d’Or, the prestigious chef’s competition held every two years and which is now nicknamed âthe Cooking Olympics. â. And this year, a Thai team will be among those vying for what is considered the top prize in Master of Culinary Arts.
The history of the Bocuse d’Or competition dates back to 1987, when the legendary French chef Paul Bocuse imagined a cooking competition – live, in front of an audience – stylized after major sporting events, with all the ferocity and acerbic drama that this implied. It is organized as part of the International Hotel and Food Catering Fair (SIRHA), a gastronomic and hotel convention that is held every two years in Lyon, France, and over time, it has become one of the most anticipated chefs. clashes around the world.
Unfortunately, chef Paul Bocuse – the man recognized as a pioneer new kitchen – died in 2018 at the age of 91, but his legacy lives on in many ways, including at events such as the Grand Finale of the Bocuse d’Or. The 2021 edition of the two-day affair will run from September 26-27, and alongside 23 other qualified teams from around the world, the Thailand team, led by Panuvit Khaokaew – who at 19 won the medal of gold at the 2016 Escoffier Young Chef Talent Competition in Strasbourg, France.
In order to qualify for the grand final, the Thai team had to secure one of the top five places in the Asia-Pacific final. During this event, the Thai team wowed the crowd by placing 2nd and will therefore represent the region with Japan, Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and New Zealand.
This is only the second time that Thailand has qualified for the final competition, the first being in 2019, when chef Natcha Saengow was the team captain. This year the main culinary team consists of Chef Panuvit and his right-hand man Chef Thanathip Piyakamperm – who was also part of the 2019 team – as they are the only two people cooking on stage during the competition. Several others, however, are involved in the ensemble, including the coach, Chef Jatuporn Juengmeesuk, and the official officials of the Bocuse d’Or Thailand team: Chef Olivier Castella and the husband and wife duo of Paniti and Nuttaya. Junhasavasdikul.
For Bangkok residents with a sweet tooth, the Junhasavasdikuls are known as the couple behind Kad Kokoa Co Ltd, suppliers of high quality Thai chocolate. Having gotten to know Nuttaya during my numerous visits to his delicious Kad Kokoa Thai Craft Chocolate CafÃ© on Soi Naradhiwas 17, it seemed quite appropriate that I inquired about his duties as a manager and the involvement of his company. as one of the official team sponsors. As I already know from the press material that Chef Panuvit will be incorporating some Thai ingredients into the dishes, I naturally ask if Kad Kokoa chocolate will be on this list.
“You bet!” she replies with a laugh, while telling me how chocolate played a central role in her involvement in the Bocuse d’Or Thailand in the first place.
âMy husband and I took part in a chocolate event in France, in 2018, and that’s where we met Panuvit for the first time,â she explains, adding that at that time the young chef had just come from register at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon. âWe stayed in touch, then later, we met Chef Olivier in Bangkok during a four-handed dinner at J’Aime by Jean-Michel Lorain. We talked about what he was doing with the Bocuse d’Or Thailand and that’s how we found out that Panuvit was part of the current team.
Nuttaya has been assisting in the management of the team since 2020 and his various responsibilities include budgeting, preparation of press material and sourcing of suppliers. âI am also responsible for coordinating the designers and printers of the books that Panuvit will present at the event, which is part of the competition. You must submit the recipes to the judges. The book is about 20 to 30 pages long.
Another of his tasks is to involve the team in goodwill type events. In May, they prepared approximately 600 boxed meals for the local âFood For Fightersâ campaign; a crowdfunding initiative involving around 30 restaurateurs, food suppliers and others who help feed overworked hospital staff during this critical time (while also enabling employees at participating restaurants to earn a much-needed daily salary).
At the end of July, Chef Panuvit returned to Lyon, where he finished his studies at the Institut Paul Bocuse and worked part-time at the Gastronomic Restaurant Christian TÃªtedoie, a Michelin star. Soon he will be joined by the entire Bocuse d’Or Thailand team, which has 12 in total; on hand to help behind the scenes, find some ingredients and make sure everything goes well.
Nuttaya reveals that the menu – four courses in all, plus a chocolate dessert – includes a Massaman-style stew, made using an oyster blade of beef, served with rice, lemongrass soy sauce, mushrooms and bergamot leaves. She also points out that this year’s event will have a unique pandemic-related twist, as all leaders will need to do something a little more.
âHe’s got to create three items for a takeout box,â she said, sharing my amusement at the idea. âIt’s the first time it’s been done, and I think it’s very creative. We make our take out box the Thai way, to look like a handmade woven basket.
Singha Corporation, the main sponsor of the team, adds considerable financial support to the whole operation – “They fully support us, without hesitation,” Nuttaya remarks – while the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) contributes in dealing with certain travel and promotional details. And although it is not an official sponsor, it is clear that the culinary arts program at Dusit Thani College also plays an important role, since Chef Panuvit is a graduate, Chef Thanathip is currently a student there. and Coach Jatuporn is a part-time teacher.
As for Olivier Castella, originally from France, his illustrious career has seen him work in some of the finest kitchens in Europe, and even, for a time, as the private chef of Baron Von Zitzewitz in Monaco. During his decade in Thailand, he held executive chef positions at Aldo’s Bistro, Restaurant Artur, and property development company Siam Sindhorn, but he also worked as a consultant, cooking show judge. and private chef. Through it all, he has devoted considerable time to promoting young culinary talents, including five years as president of Disciples d’Escoffier Thailand. Since 2011, he has been President of Bocuse d’Or Thailand, which grew out of an idea that he and Chef Jatuporn conceived together – to propose that Thai chefs receive the training necessary to show their considerable skills in international competitions.
This desire to put Thailand on the global gastronomic scene is also shared by Nuttaya and her husband. âWe have the same mission,â she says. âWe want to promote Thai cuisine and products internationally. This is why we are all working together.
Regarding the worldwide recognition of Kad Kokoa, they have won numerous accolades, including a recent gold medal at the Agence Pour la Valorisation des Produits Agricoles (AVPA) awards in France for their dark chocolate Chumphon 70% d single origin (in the category âOriginally processed chocolatesâ). Meanwhile, back in Bangkok, their chocolate is now part of the delicious dessert menu at Chim Chim Restaurant, at Siam @ Siam Design Hotel, and Nuttaya shares with me that plans are underway to open a second Kad Kokoa coffee. on Sukhumvit Soi 31 in the near future.
Unfortunately, the current Covid crisis means that Nuttaya and Paniti won’t be able to travel to France to cheer everyone on, but they will be watching from their homes – just like you – via the live stream on www.bocusedor.com.