Before the top chefs enter the ring and conjure up the dish of a lifetime in 5 hours and 35 minutes, Akos Bosze and his team have already gone through weeks of detailed planning. On the day of days, everything has to work to the letter. No mistakes are allowed. Not in the entire course of the event. And certainly not with the quality of the products.
Chief cook and bottle washer
Akos Bosze, main organiser and head of the METRO HoReCa Business Development team in Hungary, knows what challenges await him. Hungary hosted the European Final of Bocuse d’Or in 2016. Back then, Akos was already part of the organisation, so he can draw on a wealth of experience. ‘Being an organiser is a huge responsibility. And in my case, it means being the chief cook and bottle washer. It’s not a 360-degree job, it’s a 720-degree job,’ he laughs. Choosing the themes, coordinating more than 100 staff members, building a 1,000-m2 exhibition area, preparing activities, making hotel bookings, issuing invitations, coordinating procedures and selecting products – everything is his responsibility.
The fact that Hungary is hosting the European final for the second time makes him very proud. ‘We must have applied very successfully with a good concept.’ It takes an application of more than 100 pages to be allowed to host this top-calibre cooking competition. Everything is put to the test, not least the financial possibilities. The list of applicants was long. ‘With Sirha Budapest, which takes place every two years, we have one of the most important international HoReCa and retail fairs in the region. The Bocuse d’Or is now being held in this setting. It is the perfect place for this unique event,’ explains Akos, who started thinking about the whole concept all the way back in June last year. ‘Combining the fair and the cooking competition is unique and requires precise planning. At first, we were just a small team of 4 people. Now there are over 100 players working behind the scenes here,’ he says proudly.
It’s all about trust
He can rely on this team 100%. ‘Trust is the be-all and end-all in this kind of planning. Here, the processes go hand in hand and we have to be able to rely on each other. Blindly,’ Akos is quick to add. The team makes it possible for all 17 participants to experience a professional setting and be supplied with the best products so that they can demonstrate their creativity and ingenuity on these days.
His personal worst-case scenario now would be to fall ill with Covid-19 just before the final. ‘But even if that were to happen – we are prepared, and I can count on my team.’ In an emergency, he could join in virtually to give the final instructions for the smooth running of the event, but his team are completely ready to fulfil every task and manage each detail. ‘For me, that’s the true measure of success, because alone you can sprint but with a team you can go the distance in the marathon!’
I can count on my team. For me, that’s the true measure of success, because alone you can sprint but with a team you can go the distance in the marathon!Akos Bosze, main organiser and head of the METRO HoReCa Business Development team in Hungary
METRO as ingredients supplier
But he doesn’t want to think about that – and there’s no time for that in any case. His day, like every day to come, is packed with tasks. This morning he briefed the master of ceremonies and in the evening he will select potatoes. Personally. Handpicked. And that is more complicated than expected: ‘Everything has to be right: the size, the length and the diameter of the potato. We have to make sure that all the ingredients are perfect. After all, we are the main supplier.’
As one of the main sponsors of the renowned cooking competition, METRO also supplies many ingredients to the participants and demonstrates its expertise in terms of assortment, quality and freshness. METRO Hungary supplies the finalists with all the ingredients for the dishes and they are already training to get the best out of these ingredients.
Although a grand jury from France will decide which dishes the candidates will have to cook, products from the host country are traditionally chosen.
The top chefs have to create a platter with game and foie gras as well as a vegetarian dish with potatoes from the region. There will also be Hungarian cottage cheese and sour cream. ‘Bocuse d’Or has a great impact on Hungarian gastronomy because the participants in this contest really use the latest techniques and unique ingredients,’ Akos explains. He illustrates this with the example of microgreens: ‘The fresh herbs were first used 8 years ago. Now it is impossible to imagine Budapest’s restaurants without them.’
Bocuse d’Or: more than a competition
This shows that the Bocuse d’Or is a source of new gastronomic trends. But it is much more than a top-class competition in which the best chefs in the world compete with each other. It is the place where young talents are discovered. ‘One of the most important tasks of the Hungarian Bocuse d’Or Academy is not only to present the best possible team for the most famous culinary competition in the world, but also to participate in the education and promotion of the next generations,’ Akos explains, adding, ‘Bocuse inspires young chefs and motivates them to pursue this profession with all its facets and creative ideas.’
Gearing up for the gastronomy Olympics
While the chefs work at full speed on the 2 days of the competition, the atmosphere in the audience will be bubbling. As a competition among top chefs, it’s like a Champions League final. Trumpets, caterwauling, a huge uproar: that’s how the chefs are cheered on. ‘The atmosphere will be like a lion’s den,’ Akos laughs. It’s a unique arena. How will the young restaurateurs be able to concentrate? ‘They are already being blasted with recordings from 2016 during rehearsals and practice cooking,’ he explains. ‘That steels them.’ At least, that’s what he can report of the Hungarian team, who receive support from the METRO national subsidiary. They benefit from the close partnership with METRO, whose extraordinary gastronomy and food expertise plays a vital role in the training and preparation of the chef through to the final in Lyon.
There is no question that the candidates are under enormous pressure. After all, they spend months honing their skills before the final, 6 days a week. They are assisted by a young helper, the commis de cuisine, who is no older than 22, plus a coach. On the day of the final, they will be at the chef’s side, where they are allowed to give instructions and tips and are also tasked with keeping a close eye on the time. The timing is a huge part of the challenge: 5 hours and 35 minutes. No more and no less. The exact amount of salt is added in less than 30 seconds. And then the taste has to be right. This renowned cooking competition requires precise hand movements that have been practised dozens of times in advance by the chefs and their teams.
Guarantee of quality and freshness
One of the biggest challenges as an organiser is to get ingredients of consistent quality to all the contestants on both days. The conditions for competing have to be fair and equal. That’s the reason the meat is brought to the venue early in the morning with a police escort. ‘It would be unthinkable if we got stuck in traffic during the delivery,’ says Akos.
He can’t switch off at the moment, unable to relax even at home with his family in the evening, he says. After a brief pause, it occurs to him: ‘Well, I can distract myself by cooking. I do that every evening.’ And according to his family, he does it really well. Before Akos was in charge of the Gastro Academy at METRO, he worked in the hospitality industry in America and Europe for more than 22 years. He had his own restaurant, worked for a 5-star hotel and owned his own pub and coffee shop – experience that makes him the ideal organiser for such a prestigious event.
Would he ever want to organise a Bocuse d’Or final again? ‘At this stage, I would say no. But on 25 March, I'll certainly say yes,’ he laughs, and excuses himself to rush off to his next appointment.