LAKE BUENA VISTA — While guests noshed their way around the World Showcase during last weekend's opening of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, a much different type of cuisine was being created nearby. The U.S. semifinals of the prestigious Bocuse d'Or cooking competition were held in the World Showplace pavilion. When the two-day event was over, Timothy Hollingsworth, the sous chef at the acclaimed French Laundry in Napa Valley, emerged as winner. He beat out seven other contestants, including former reality TV star Hung Huynh (Top Chef Season 3). Hollingsworth, who won $15,000, will represent the United States in the Bocuse finals in January in Lyon, France. More than 20 countries will send chefs to compete.
The silver medal went to Richard Rosendale, chef of his eponymously named restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. The bronze went to Michael Rotondo, chef de cuisine at Restaurant Charlie in Las Vegas.
The chefs each had to present two dishes — one fish and one beef — each with three garnishes on both elaborate platters and individually plated portions, with presentation making up half of each contestant's total.
Hollingsworth's winning entries were Atlantic cod with Hawaiian blue prawns and sea scallops and Brandt beef tenderloin roasted in bacon with beef cheeks and oxtail.
More notable than the winners in this year's competition is the major shift in how the United States prepares its young chefs to compete against the best in the world. (There has never been a U.S. medalist in the Bocuse d'Or, which is considered the world's culinary Olympics.) The full weight of American gastronomy has now been thrown behind the U.S. effort.
Before Saturday's competition began, a procession of acclaimed chefs — Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Laurent Tourondel, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, among others — marched out before media members covering the festival. Looking on, Bill Brown, an Epcot chef, said: "It's like the New York Giants for us."
Keller, noting that Disney is the place "where dreams come true," told the media: "We want to go there and make our presence known for America and for our culinary heritage."
Now, because of Keller, Boulud and others who helped establish the non-profit Bocuse d'Or USA organization, chefs like Hollings- worth will be able to compete on equal footing with their counterparts from around the world. Hollingsworth will get a three-month paid sabbatical to work on his dishes full-time in a test kitchen (which mimics the facility in Lyon down to paint color) established next to Keller's California restaurant.
"Right now in Europe . . . in the back of the kitchen, there is the guy who preps only for the competition, and they train them," Tourondel said during Saturday afternoon's competition as music blared. Co-host Al Roker traded quips with the assembled judges and a live audience of Epcot guests while chefs and their assistants cooked in glassed-in kitchens. "It is something new for us here."
In comparison, Gavin Kaysen, 29, who represented the United States at the Bocuse last year, had to buy his own equipment and build his own test kitchen. Kaysen, now the chef at Cafe Boulud in New York City, helped judge the fish dishes for the Epcot competition. He says that his Bocuse experience helped him persuade his boss, Daniel Boulud, now the Bocuse d'Or USA chairman, that something had to be done to help the American chefs.
"I didn't do anything," Kaysen said. "I just told Daniel to do it, and he's powerful enough to do it. He knows all the powerful people.
"We literally started doing this in May. Wait until the next time, it's going to be amazing."
Peter Couture can be reached at email@example.com.