Not yet are European and Japanese travel agents offering gastronomic tours of the U.S., but American cooking is clearly the culinary scene to watch nowadays. The latest indicator showed in Frankfurt, Germany, last week, when the 50 U.S. chefs competing in the 16th International Culinary Olympics were awarded 40 gold medals -- the greatest number per chef of any of the 28 participating countries.
And, for the second straight Olympics, the U.S. national team won the prestigious hot-food competition, which is the only edible category of Olympic events and said to be the most difficult. Thus America's Loin of Lamb Wyoming and Seafood Sausage Virginia join the 1980 U.S. winners, Turkey Breast Oklahoma and Black Sea Bass St. Augustine, in the culinary hall of fame, and the U.S. becomes the only country to win that honor twice running.
Held every four years, the culinary Olympics is divided into three main competitions -- hot food; hot food presented cold, which the Japanese won this year; and cold platters, which the U.S. team also won, thereby becoming the only national team to win two first prizes in 1984. New this year was the Overall Performance and World Championship Award, which Canada won, though that country did not place first, second or third in any of the other major competitions.
Multiple regional teams can enter from any country, and the U.S. had more regional teams than any other country this year, with seven, including a natural foods team. But there is only one national team, a group of four plus a team manager and a backup team of eight, which also enters as a regional team. This year the U.S. national team was sponsored by the National Restaurant Association and the American Culinary Federation. And for the first time, most members of the U.S. team were native Americans; in fact in 1980 Richard Schneider, this year's captain, was the first American-born and American-trained chef to ever make a U.S. national team.
Chefs for the Olympic teams are typically executive chefs from large hotels and resorts, used to commanding large staffs; and traditionally they have come to this country from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the major training centers for hotel professionals.
This year's team was not only uniquely American but also unusually young. Schneider is chef de cuisine at the Silver Lake Inn in Clementon, N.J. Dan Hugelier, one of the youngest members of the 1980 regional team, is executive chef for Schuler's Inc. in Michigan and was formerly executive chef for the Detroit Athletic Club. Lawrence Timothy Ryan, at 26 the youngest member of this year's team, is an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y., where he manages the American Bounty restaurant. Marcus Bosiger, the only foreigner among the four, was born and trained in Switzerland, and now is executive chef for the Westin Galleria in Houston; he replaced the CIA's Lyde Buchtenkirch, the first woman to have been selected for a national team, after she had to step down for health reasons.
Manager of the team was Ferdinand Metz, president of the CIA. Among the eight regional/backup team members, the highest achiever was Siegfried Eisenberger, Austrian-born executive chef for the Opryland Hotel -- which is said to be the largest conference facility in the U.S. -- who won three gold medals among the myriad sub-categories of awards.
Preparing for the international Olympics takes nearly four years of commitment from the team members, from their first competing in regional shows for places on the team, to weekend-long meetings every month or two to home in on their entries. Forget about social life for the year, team members resigned themselves. "It's tough," said Hugelier. "It's like having another job on the side."
This year was slow going for the team; after an international competition in Japan where the Americans were faced with work tables that came up to their knees, they came home disappointed with their performance and began to concentrate on the hot dishes that would be going for the gold. The choices were to be made last January at the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia, but after a weekend of cooking they were still not ready. Another weekend in March at the Opryland Hotel in Tennessee still left them indecisive, though there the ideas and philosophy came together, said Metz, adding, "Maybe it was the country music." It was not until summer, after the team's Dinner of the Century at the National Restaurant Association convention, that the team settled on the four dishes to present the International Olympic committee, which then narrows down the entries to two.
In devising the entry dishes, the national team and the back-up team worked as a whole, each presenting dishes to the group for critiquing. A primary consideration was the use of native ingredients, but that had to be tempered by what would be available in Germany or could be shipped there. Uniqueness was clearly a major concern, but cost efficiency was also considered vital -- as it had been an important characteristic of 1980's prizewinning Turkey Oklahoma, which had tripled the servings of turkey per pound, and a 1976 duck dish that eked six servings out of a duck rather than the usual two. Along the way the team considered color combinations, size of portion, whether practical for cooking in large volume, labor intensiveness and -- for the first time -- nutrition.
The 1980 dishes, they decided, were too labor intensive. This year the chefs were trying to adulterate the food as little as possible; they said they were doing a minimum of chopping and grinding. "We're looking for the greatest effect from the simplest means," said Hugelier.
If a moment of invention can be pinpointed, it was at the Greenbrier, on a wintery Saturday morning. By 7 a.m. the chefs were quietly at work, each at his own cooking station, beside trays of lamb in racks, chops and loins. Like an artist's own distinctive palette, each station was piled with ingredients that looked like the chef's signature. There were silver bowls full of basil, tiny heads of red radicchio, fennel bulbs and good old familiar idaho potatoes. Trays of chanterelles, red peppers, red currants and papayas. The miniature vegetables that would eventually accompany the lamb to Frankfurt and a gold medal: pattypan squash and yellow squash the size of baby fingers, tiny carrots with their stems.
Team members worked silently and alone, slicing and julienning like human Cuisinarts. Tim Ryan was dreaming up saffron rice croquettes shaped like fish, to be breaded with cornmeal and fried, later to show up with the Seafood Sausage Virginia as a gold medalist. Ryan had made his rice mixture in New York and brought it to Virginia on ice. Richard Schneider was stuffing his Rack of Lamb Cheyenne with spinach and wrapping it with its own fat; its name and method were to be adapted -- the Cheyenne to become Wyoming and the fat exchanged for a caul fat wrapper -- into the Frankfurt prizewinner.
Victor Gielisse, executive chef for the Westin Hotel Galleria in Dallas, was already wrapping his lamb in caul, as was Mark Erickson, then of the Greenbrier and now at the CIA. Clearly caul, that web of fat that can be stretched like plastic wrap to tightly encase its stuffing, had become the most fashionable of ingredients for this team. "I only started working with it three years ago," said Erickson. "It's come a long way. Now most major purveyors have it." As he praised this all-natural wrapper he cut his finger on the mandoline he was using to slice. "It says right there in Japanese to be careful," he chided himself.
What was stuffing those caul packages? Mousseline of chicken, sweetbreads and kidneys; julienned vegetables; pecans, onions and mushrooms with herbs; ricotta. But not all the lamb was being stuffed in caul; Raimund Hofmeister had wrapped his in green pasta. Hofmeister played the Californian to the hilt. He had brought rare yellow beets to West Virginia, and he was combining his wild rice with tofu. The team still remembers that it was he who four years ago brought rattlesnake among his ingredients.
After cooking from dawn to long after dusk, tasting and commenting and cooking some more, the chefs had identified certain clear trends. This year's dishes were lighter than had been previous Olympic entries. The sauces were also lighter, and thinner. This year, as opposed to 1980, "They're really seeking more simplicity, and they are more original," said Metz of those Greenbrier experiments.
What drew attention to Schneider's rack of lamb at that stage was that the lamb itself had a very good taste, Metz expounded to the group; "It brings us back to basics. There was nothing done to it. There is a lesson in that." The dish needed work, though. The rosemary sauce dominated rather than enhanced the flavor. And wrapping the lamb in its fat for roasting left it with too much fat and prevented the meat from browning. So it was decided to trim all the fat and wrap the meat in caul.
As for choosing the seafood sausage, that was a coalescing of several ideas. Sausage was obviously a favorite form this year. Erickson had made a wild mushroom sausage, another chef did duck sausage and one did chicken sausage. Sausage had the advantage of a variety of possible cooking methods -- frying, saute'eing, poaching. Tim Ryan had presented a seafood sausage titled Ole Miss, with creole mustard sauce and his saffron rice croquettes shaped like a fish. The judges liked the combination of seafood and mustard sauce and definitely wanted a decorative item that related to seafood, though the fish-shaped rice could be improved by more detail. The sauce was considered too robust, and there was concern over which kinds of fish would be available in Frankfurt -- last time the sea bass never arrived and the St. Augustine dish had to be revised at the last minute.
In Frankfurt the two dishes were to be prepared in 100 portions, to be served to the public. Speed, accuracy, the ability to work as a team under unfamiliar conditions would be necessary. Thus the chefs were not only chosen for their individual creativity but for their ability to work well in a team. Said Baron Galen, president of the American Culinary Federation, "The most important thing in Frankfurt is compatability and the ability to work under pressure. We don't want individuals; it's a team effort."
And, said Metz, it is an effort that affects the food industry, sets trends for the future. In 1968, he recounted, "We really just prepared continental food and gave it American names." In 1972 the dishes began to be really American. But the contestants went more as individuals than as a team. In 1976 the Americans tied France for third place in the hot-food competition; it was a breakthrough. 1980 was America's first big win.
And now, with its most American team, and its youngest team, the U.S. has solidified its standing -- and become the team to beat in 1988. ROAST LOIN OF LAMB WYOMING (12 servings)
TO PREPARE THE LAMB: 2 double loins or saddles of lamb, boned and left whole (reserve bones and trimmings) 18 ounces trimmings from loin 6 ounces fresh pork fat 4 egg whites 1 ounce pine nuts 1 piece shallot, minced 2 ounces carrots, shredded 1 bunch scallions 3 ounces spinach leaves 1 clove garlic, minced 1/4 cup parsley, chopped 1/4 teaspoon crushed fresh thyme 1 tablespoon salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1/2 teaspoon coriander 8 ounces pork caul fat
FOR THE DUXELLE 1/8 pound mushooms, cleaned and finely chopped 1/4 onion, chopped 1 chopped shallot Salt and pepper to taste Nutmeg to taste 1 1/2 teaspoons butter
TO FINISH: Lamb bones cut in small pieces (from loins) 1 carrot, split 1 celery, split 1 small onion, cut in half 3 garlic cloves 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced 3 cups dry red wine 3 cups espagnole sauce (recipe follows) 2 tablespoons butter
Bone full loin or have butcher bone it, reserving loins, tenderloins and all lean meat trimmings. Reserve the bones for the sauce.
Wrap mushrooms in cheesecloth to remove as much liquid as possible. Remove from cheesecloth and saute' with remaining duxelle ingredients, until liquid has evaporated from mushrooms. Chill.
Saute' pine nuts, shallot, carrots, scallions, spinach, garlic, parsley and seasonings until dry. Chill in freezer.
Prepare forcemeat by dicing meat trimmings and fat. Chill. Pure'e in food processor until smooth; add egg whites one at a time until blended. Add pine nut-vegetable mixture and duxelle, mixing lightly just to blend.
Roast bones with vegetables until well browned. Add garlic, ginger, red wine and espagnole sauce, cook 30 minutes, strain. When ready to serve over lamb, reheat, at the last minute swirling in 2 tablespoons butter to give the sauce a gloss.
Place 1 tenderloin on top of each loin, and encase with forcemeat, packing around lamb tightly. Wrap with caul fat, season, and roast at 375 degrees for 20 (for extremely rare) to 35 minutes (for medium rare). Let rest 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with sauce. ESPAGNOLE SAUCE (Makes 2 1/2 quarts) 5 quarts warm light brown stock 6 tablespoons butter 6 tablespoons flour 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1 medium onion, diced 4 strips bacon, diced 1/2 cup white wine 1 medium carrot, finely chopped 1 sprig thyme 1/2 bay leaf 2 cups tomato pure'e
Warm 4 quarts brown stock.
Melt butter in a heavy 6-quart saucepan. Add flour and whisk over low heat 8 to 10 minutes, until flour slowly turns nutty brown. Remove from heat and blend in boiling stock all at once. Blend in tomato paste.
Lightly saute' onion in bacon, drain. Pour fat out of pan and add 1/2 cup white wine. Deglaze over high heat for 1 minute. Add to stock. Add onion, carrot, thyme and bay leaf to stock. Cook gently 2 1/2 hours, skimming frequently. Strain sauce, stir with wooden spoon until cold.
The next day add another quart of stock and 2 cups tomato puree to the sauce and simmer very slowly for an hour, skimming often, so as to obtain a brilliant textured sauce. Remove all grease, strain through cheesecloth.
From "Larousse Gastronomique," by Prosper Montagne