CHEF KLAUS LOOS of San Francisco was tired, but you wouldn't know it. Standing in the kitchen of Loews L'enfant Plaza Hotel amid a flock of tall white hats last Sunday, he appeared calm, strong and capable despite having slept only a few hours in the past three days. Preparations for the evening's dinner by Loos and his fellow chefs were well in hand. So he talked instead about the next event, the big one: world competition. The Olympics. The Culinary Olympics!
He is one of 14 chefs from a team that will carry the American flag to Frankfurt, Germany, next month to show their skills in a week-long program that has attracted entries from nearly 30 nations. The gathering has been called "the Mecca of the chefs," and the 43-year-old Loos feels his participation is "the greatest honor that can happen, the highlight of my career."
The dinner here was the team's final rehersal. The chefs, who are scattered from coast to coast, have met in different locations perhaps a dozen times in the past 18 months to perfect recipes, map out strategy and become used to working together. Sunday's dinner was a black-tie affair for members of two gastronomic groups, the Chaine des Rotisseurs and the International Wine and Food Society. It allowed the team to prepare 120 portions of recipes that are entered in the hot food competition at Frankfurt.
Although the international event can be traced back to 1900, and the United States has participated in the event since 1956 (it is held once every four years), the general public is largely unaware of the event, and many professional chefs are only vaguely aware of it.
Klaus Loos know about it, though. He went to Frankfurt four years ago and came home with two individual gold medals. This time he is part of the four-man hot-food preparation group -- a team within the team -- that must cook and serve 100 portions of two separate menus within two hours in the competition's most dramatic event. He knows the pressure and the glory that awaits and talks of it in a way any top athlete would immediately comprehend.
"It's a great honor," he said, "particularly because I am chosen by my colleagues, by other chefs in an open competition. But there is a burden, too, an obligation. For the past two years when I go to bed there is always a little wheel that keeps grinding in the back of my mind, asking, 'How will this come out?' 'What if we do it another way?'
"When you get there, no matter what you do and how you organize, all of a sudden you're on your own, pushing beyond yourself. I went 48 or 50 hours without sleep, lay down for two hours and, snap, I was going again. When you've worked so long for something you amaze yourself. My wife and family were in Germany with me, but you become so involved you forget them; you don't think of anything but the competition."
Loos had put in a full day's work Thursday, taken the overnight "red-eye" from San Francisco and was at work in the L'Enfant Plaza kitchen by 11 a.m. Friday. The chefs (11 of the 14 were on hand) worked through the day, then attended a reception in their honor that evening. They were at breakfast by 6 a.m. Saturday and, after a visit to the White House, spent that afternoon and most of Sunday working.
"Maybe why I was chosen again," Loos reflected, "was that I feel so strong that I must help my colleagues, that we must work together."
It is different to find a candidate for the Three Musketeers amid the collection of individualists who man restaurant and hotel stoves across America, yet good will and teamwork is essential. So is knowing the ropes. Culinary competition isn't a race that goes to the swiftest. It is closer to figure skating in that there are mandatory, tightly structured exercises that must be done correctly before the freestyle show. You can't win without knowing how to do both. And, as with Olympic athlets, there is no guarantee that a chef will be paid back for his or her effort.
U.S. participation in the Culinary Olympics is managed by the American Culinary Federation, a chefs' organization with about 13,000 members. Kraft Foodservice underwrites the team and handles publicity with a contribution that is "substantial" but "nowhere near" half a million dollars. It is "a kind of responsibility," a Kraft official said last weekend. "Chefs have kept the food service industry alive. We want to see them better known, to see America respected in this field around the world."
The U.S. team has done well at previous competitions, taking top honors in 1968. Under the inspired leadership of Captain Ferdinand Metz (this year's team manager and recently-named president of the Culinary Institute of America), the 1976 team won a record 28 gold medals and was vocally unhappy at finishing in a third-place tie with France. This year Metz has the team gong over a week before the event begins on Oct. 24 to limber up -- like athletes -- in a Bavarian training camp. Once the olympics start, there will be a full program of activities. In addition to work on, or support for, the two team events and team cold food displays, each member can submit up to five individual entries.
Nonetheless, this country's best-known chefs aren't on the olympic team (nor are they in France). "First, they have to enter," said a non-cook working with the team, implying that a number of big names pass up the preliminary competition rather than risk their reputations. "Also many chefs just can't get away. And they have to be able to do the work. Not every chef who cooks in a restaurant with only 50 seats, no matter how talented, can take the the pace and pressure. It's a different medium, a totally different ball game."
Kaus Loos, Olympic chef, directs the kitchens of the Holiday Inn on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. He is, he says, happy in his work.So, too, are such teammates as Helmut Loibl, who works for Host International at the St. Louis Airport, and Roland Shaeffer, who does product research and development for Heiz. Two other members teach at the Culinary Institute of America, two are at private clubs, three others work in hotels. Only three are restaurant chefs.
The lack of critical acclaim for his Holiday Inn dining room "doesn't matter to me," Loos said. "Wherever you work," he said, "if you are well treated and receive proper recognition by the organization, that's all that counts. I'm proud of what we do, and I have my own benefits."
Loos came to the United States in 1959 at the age of 22. He already had seven years of training and, now that he is well established, is a strong supporter of efforts by the American Culinary Federation to professionalize the craft in this country, to provide a guild-like structure separate from union hierarchy.
"Things have changed today," he said. "The stream of immigrant chefs from Europe has stopped. We missed the boat years ago by not training the chefs of tomorrow and by not finding ways to attract young people. Now it costs lots of money to go to school, just like any other profession, and children from rich families go so they can become management, not cooks. So we have organized an apprentice program to train professionals for kitchen work, to train American professionals. This year there are four native-born Americans on the team. We are very proud."
The new cooks are having to absorb new ideas, too. Team coach Baron Galand spoke of nutrition, cost effectiveness and energy conservation in explaining why the team had chosen to highlight one of its menus with a stuffed roll of ground turkey. "We aren't just divising recipes to show once at Frankfurt," he said. "We are trying to develop recipes that can be used in restaurants across the United States. What we're doing isn't strictly gourmet."
He didn't sound apologetic.
Here is the menu and one recipe the team prepared last weekend, plus several others that were perfected by the 1976 U.S. Culinary Olympics team.
Menu: Consomme L'Enfant with cheese straws; backed sea bass St. Augustine with lemon sauce, stuffed new potatoes and now snow peas; raspberry ice; roast turkey roulade Oklahoma with mushroom-shaped potatoes, vegetable nest and cranberry relish in a pear; salad Lohengrin; chocolate amaretto parfait Philadelphia. BLACK SEA BASS ST. AUGUSTINE (6 servings) 6 boneless sea bass filets, skinned (about 2 pounds) 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 6 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or scallions 4 ounces butter, plus additional butter (clarified) for frying 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for coating. 4 ounces light cream 5 ounces Alaskan king crabmeat, cut in small pieces 4 ounces dry white wine 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs 2 medium eggs, plus 4 egg yolks for coating Salt and white pepper to taste Hot pepper sauce to taste
Butterfly each filet and season with salt and lemon juice. Marinate (refrigerated) for 1 hour. Meanwhile saute the shallots in butter until tender and stir in the flour to make a creamy roux. Simmer for several minutes, then add the cream. When it comes to a boil, add crabmeat, wine, salt, pepper and red pepper sauce. Off the heat add bread crumbs and seasoning. This filling should be firm but spreadable.
Place an even coatiing of filing on each filet and roll it into a spiral. Place additional flour in one dish and lightly beat egg yolks in another. Heat clairfied butter in a frying pan. Coat the filets in flour, dip them in egg and brown them on all sides in butter. Transfer to an oiled baking pan and bake in pre-heated 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Present them whole or let stand in a warm place for 10 minutes before cutting into slices. Serve with a lemon-butter sauce.
The following recipes are from the 1976 Culinary Olympics. CUCUMBER SOUP GARDEN -- STYLE (6 to 8 servings) 1 cucumber, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes 1 small onion, finely diced 2 tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and cubed Butter 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 1/2 tablespoon flour 1 quart beef broth 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill Salt to taste 1 1/2 tablespoons brandy 1 cup heavy cream
Braise cucumber, onion and tomatoes in a little butter. Add parsley. Dust with flour and add broth; simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add chives and dill. Season with salt, brandy and heavy cream; heat throughly, but do not boil. THE BUCCANEER HAMBURGER SANDWICH (6 portions) 1 pound, 14 ounces lean ground beef (chuck preferred) 2 tablespoons capers 2 tablespoons washed and finely chopped anchovy fillets 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives Salt and pepper to taste 6 slicess hard-cooked egg 3 stuffed green olives 9 ounces Thousand Island dressing 6 kaiser or hamburger rolls
Mix ground beef with capers, anchovies and chives. Form into 6 patties. Season with salt and pepper. Broil to desired doneness. Place on heated or toasted roll and decorate with egg, slice and half stuffed olive. present Thousand Island dressing separately. Serve with German potato salad or coleslaw. POLLO VERDE (4 to 6 portions) 2 fryer chickens, 2 1/4 pounds each Salt and pepper 1 tablespoon vinegar 1 1/4 cups chicken broth Sauce: 1 1/4 pounds tomatillos (Mexican green tomatoes) 2/3 cup sliced white onion 3 cloves garlic, peeled 1 teaspoon cumin powder 4 jalapeno chiles
Cut chicken into pieces and season with salt, pepper and vinegar. Let marinate for 1 hour. Place pieces of chicken into a casserole and put into moderate oven (375 degrees until it is fairly browned and done. Remove excess fat from pan and cover the chicken with prepared sauce. Add chicken broth. Cover casserole and simmer slowly for approximately 1/2 hour. Serve with rice pilaf.
To prepare the sauce combine tomatillos, onion, garlic, cumin powder and chiles in an electric blender and make a coarse puree. Add salt and pepper to taste.