March 12, 2009
Timothy Hollingsworth: back from the Bocuse d'Or


We recently sent our best wishes to Timothy Hollingsworth, the chef with Placerville roots who competed at the Bocuse d'Or World Cuisine Contest in Lyon, France. This event is something like the Olympics of cooking, with chefs from around the globe competing for one of the most prestigious awards in the culinary world. The Norwegian team, led by Geir Skeie, took top honors in the field of 24, while Hollingsworth and Team USA captured a respectable sixth place.

Hollingsworth's schedule has been slammed since returning from France. The 28-year-old is back in the kitchen at the French Laundry in Yountville, but he took some time out from cooking to reflect on this Bocuse d'Or via e-mail. Here's what Chef Hollingsworth had to say:

Timothy, congratulations on your Top 10 finish at the Bocuse d'Or. How are you looking back on this experience?
Thank you. I look back on the experience with gratitude, respect and new insights on the history of cooking as well as modern global cuisine. Throughout the experience, I tried to live as much as I could in every moment, but it went so fast it was almost too much to absorb while it was happening. It is great for me to look back and reflect on all the people I met and the experiences that we shared.

What was the toughest dish to create in the competition? How tough was it to keep your cool in the midst of cooking?
For me, the toughest challenge was working with the proteins. The Scottish beef used in the competition is very different than the American beef we practiced with. Scottish beef is older than American beef and has a different flavor and texture when cooked. The shrimp we used on competition day were also different than the product we were used to working with, so we actually had to change the composition of one of the garnishes and adjust on competition day. The pressure in the kitchen and during the preparation was not too overwhelming. The most difficult challenge came at the time of plating. We were using many of the silver pieces - including the platters themselves - for the first time and pulling all these components together took longer than anticipated. During this time, it was very intense, we could definitely feel the pressure and the noise from the spectators was extremely loud. To keep my cool during this time was very challenging and required extreme focus on the tasks at hand.

You received a three-month sabbatical to train for the Bocuse d'Or. What was a typical training day like?
Truly there was no typical day. As I moved through the process of creating the menu, each day would bring new challenges and a new focus. We did have some obligations to fulfill at the French Laundry, so it was a balance. In the two weeks prior to departing for France, the restaurant was closed and our full attention was on the competition. Everyday we would arrive at our training center in the morning and set our schedule for the day ahead. On full practice days, we would set up for a few hours, eat lunch, move through the 5 hour timeframe, evaluate the outcome and identify what we could do better, faster, smarter. Many days we had colleagues, visitors and friends come by to offer support and make suggestions on the food, technique and timing. Then we would do the dishes and head home. The days were long and challenging, but the process itself and seeing the progress was rewarding.

Does cooking at The French Laundry now feel like a cakewalk to competing in the Bocuse d'Or?
The French Laundry will never be a cake walk for anyone, no matter what their experience. We strive to excel and evolve and hold ourselves to the highest standards we know. Our motivation is that we can always improve, so it's never easy.

I understand you have some roots in Placerville. Did you ever cook there, or anywhere else in the Sacramento area?
Yes, I grew up in Placerville and graduated from El Dorado High School in 1998. I began cooking my senior year at Zachary Jacques with Chef Christian Masse and his wife Jennifer Masse who was the pastry chef. I worked there for nearly four years before getting the opportunity to go to The French Laundry.

Once again, congratulations on the strong showing for Team USA. Any final thoughts you'd like to share?
I want to thank everyone for their immense support and interest - my friends, family, colleagues, mentors, press, and all the new acquaintances that I met along the way. I am grateful for the experience and hope to maintain the relationships that I've established for a long time to come.

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