While the James Beard awards are the culinary Academy Awards, the Bocuse díOr is the culinary Olympics. Itís a biennial world chef championship historically dominated by France and other Western European countries. In 2017, the United States won for the first time, shocking the world. Our goal? To do it again in January 2019 in Lyon, France.
The U.S. team is headed by Matthew Kirkley of Coi in San Francisco. But whatís this? Twenty-four-year-old Jordan Guevara, who grew up in Dunedin and Clearwater, is a member of next yearís six-person team. He is a graduate of the Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy in Tarpon Springs and returned recently to collaborate on a nine-course dinner held in Tampa on Saturday with his high school culinary mentor, chef Gui Alinat. Itís a dinner they called Full Circle.
"I was Jordanís very first chef back in 2009 when he was a freshman in high school," Alinat said. "He came into my kitchen with long hair, a Game of Thrones beard and flip-flops. (But) I quickly understood he was one of the very few to Ďhave it.í So, I took him under my wing and trained him."
A lot has happened since then.
A couple of days before the Full Circle dinner, we hooked up with Guevara in the kitchen of the Vault, the special event space adjacent to C.W.ís Gin Joint where the one-night-only meal would take place (sold out, nine courses, two seatings of 18 people). He was testing out a Booker and Dax Spinzall, the first centrifuge designed for culinary use. He was doing something with salted and charred cucumber skins, which he would blend with a neutral olive oil and put through a coffee filter to yield an emerald green juice. It was implicated in a stone crab dish that was hard to follow.
This is complicated stuff. Here is Guevaraís brainstorming about part of a dish inspired by a path off one of the back roads leading through the mountains from Sonoma to Napa in California: "On top of the service piece will be the first dish. Grenouille (thatís frogís leg), torqued into a tube, set in a bath, and confit in chamomile butter. There will be a jacket of clear chamomile tea that will be wrapped around the tube, a line down the center of brown butter solids, which will be topped with sprouted wheatberry, and some type of small green garnish. Iím going to take the bones from the frog and sand them down and stick it back through as a handle, and it will be taken in one bite."
Guevara did not start his career torqueing things into tubes or sanding bones.
"My grades fell in middle school; being a class clown was more important," he said. "Tarpon Springs was my last choice, but I thought it would be easy and Iíd get to eat food. I instantly fell in love with it, and I thought if Iím going to be doing this I might as well try my hardest at it."
Alinat helped him get a job at the fine-dining Hapa in Oldsmar working under chef Brett Gardiner. He worked at Pelagia in Tampa, Parts of Paris in Safety Harbor and Olde Bay Cafe in Dunedin. Bitten by the culinary bug, in 2012 he sent an impassioned letter to superstar chef Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Californiaís wine country. Kellerís team wrote back, and Guevara bought a one-way ticket to California.
"I remember being overcome with emotion arriving in Yountville," Guevara said. "I started crying. I would pick frisee for like three hours. I would peel roasted grapes for five hours. During service Iíd just sit in the pass and watch. It got my wheels really turning."
After his two-week stage (essentially a culinary internship) at the Laundry, he didnít have a plan. He worked at Chris Cosentinoís butchery called Boccalone, then at Incanto in San Francisco, then Plum and Haven in Oakland, a brief pause to turn compost at a farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains, before heading to Coi in San Francisco, SingleThread Farm Restaurant in Healdsburg and Lazy Bear in San Francisco. Two things to bear in mind: Chefs move around a lot, and Guevara got all these jobs with a foundation of high school at Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy in Tarpon Springs, no culinary training beyond that.
At the Vault in the runup to the Full Circle dinner, Alinat, Guevara and C.W.ís Gin Joint chef Cody Tiner worked through all the courses ó Alinatís dishes leaned heavily to classical French; Guevaraís, while showing French techniques, had the kind of deconstruct-then-reconstruct paradigm popular at some of the worldís best restaurants these days.
"The menu has to be meaningful but consistent, and the dishes have to complement each other," Alinat said in his crisp chef whites. "I have mixed feelings. Iím proud to see my protege soar so far beyond me. But (here he pantomimes tripping Guevara) if I had to step in and save the day ..."
But long after the Full Circle dinner has been digested and the Booker and Dax Spinzall has been returned to whence it came, itís clear that French-born Alinat will be rooting for Team U.S.A. and his former student at the Bocuse díOr next year.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.