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Montreal chef Laurent Godbout in competition of his life at Bocuse d'Or

01/21/2015 05:18 EST | Updated 03/23/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Laurent Godbout is leaving nothing to chance as he prepares to cook in one of the most prestigious culinary competitions in the world.

The Montreal chef, who is representing Canada in the Bocuse d'Or in Lyon, France, on Tuesday and Wednesday, is transporting some 1,360 kilograms of equipment overseas, including 42 knives, 33 spatulas and 91 cutting boards.

He has also commissioned a special platter to use as part of his presentation to the panel of international judges at the biennial event.

Getting ready to compete against 23 other chefs — in what some dub the culinary Olympics — has consumed Godbout's life since 2013, when he won the right to represent Canada at the Bocuse d'Or.

"I can tell you that we worked almost 80 hours a week for this competition for seven months now, so I haven't seen too much of anybody, even the people in my restaurant and my family," Godbout said by telephone in the midst of feverish preparations to depart for France.

Godbout spent three days in Paris picking the brains of Team France and Thibaut Ruggeri, who won two years ago. He also met with a past Bocuse d'Or winner in Copenhagen, and with people in the U.S. arm of the Bocuse organization in California and New York before returning to Montreal to let the ideas percolate and come up with a plan of attack.

Part of the two-day competition, which was launched in 1987 by Lyonnaise chef Paul Bocuse, involves chefs expressing their creativity using their regional culture.

"When we won the Canadian competition immediately we were thinking about how can we bring Canada to them and we wanted to tell them the story about Canada," said the 43-year-old owner of Chez L'Epicier Restaurant in Montreal, who is opening another restaurant of the same name this year in Palm Beach, Fla.

His theme is "passion from coast to coast," and some ingredients he plans to use are mustard greens from Saskatchewan, maple syrup from Quebec and icewine from Ontario's Niagara region.

Competitors must prepare a meat dish, a fish dish and three garnishes, including one that represents their home country.

While they found out in June that they'd be cooking free-range guinea fowl, organizers kept the fish ingredient — fario trout — under wraps until November in a bid to inspire more spontaneity.

"I wanted to know what is that kind of trout that we don't have in Canada, so we talked with our fish supplier in Montreal and we found out how to get it here in Montreal, then after we practised with this one for two months now," Godbout said.

The fish dish must contain at least 50 per cent vegetables and chefs will have 30 minutes at a market to select them. One required vegetable will be announced the day before the competition.

For the first time, competitors will also be judged on how well they limit waste. In another change, chefs have to prepare 14 plates of each dish for the judges instead of a large tray presentation — all within five hours and 35 minutes.

"You have to be ready on time because if you pass by like two minutes you're going to lose like 24 points and we could be ranking three and go back to maybe 17 or 20 because you're late, so that's going to be the most complicated thing," he said.

To prepare for cooking before a boisterous audience, Godbout's team played videos from YouTube of previous competitions — full blast — while they practised.

In 2013, Vancouver chef Alex Chen came in eighth. He apprenticed under chef Robert Sulatycky, who was Canada's Bocuse d'Or 1999 representative and North America's highest finisher to date, placing fourth.

"Other countries like France, United States, Nordic countries, Japan, they have a lot, a lot, a lot, a huge (budget) for this competition. They're going to spend like one million euros to participate in this competition. Some of these (chefs) are going to take a year off just working on that," he said.

"It's a little more complicated here because our government don't assist us so much so we have to raise the money for this competition."

Godbout will be assisted by 20-year-old Adam Martin, who works at his restaurant.

Their coach is Sebastien Giannini, executive chef of the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal. Serving as a judge for Canada is Shawn Whalen, executive chef at the InterContinental in Toronto.

"For me the most important thing is to cook with great ingredients, to surprise people when they eat my food," said Godbout.

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