France’s Culinary Olympics: Ready … Set … Sauté!

The reputation of France as the standard-setter in the culinary arts will be further burnished two weeks from now when 24 top chefs from around the world square off in Lyon, France, for the Bocuse d’Or, otherwise known as the Culinary Olympics. Begun by legendary chef Paul Bocuse in 1983 as an offshoot of a international culinary trade fair, the prestigious biennial contest has become a showcase for the latest in haute cuisine — and a highly competitive showdown for national pride and individual bragging rights.

After surviving a grueling round of regional contests, final teams consisting of a lead chef and an assistant (who must be 21 or younger), face off on January 24th and 25th. Working in fully equipped kitchens in front of an audience of several thousand and a roving panel of eagle-eyed judges, teams have five hours and 35 minutes to prepare, cook, and plate elaborate presentations consisting of a meat dish and a fish dish. For the 2015 finals, the basic ingredients were guinea hen and trout. Accusations of cheating by sneaking in food prepared in advance have led to rules changes and tighter controls in recent contests.

After dominating the competition in the early years, home teams from France found themselves standing by as Scandinavian chefs went home with the gold statuette of Paul Bocuse in full high-hatted chefs garb. Norway, which earned gold five times, returns this year as the defending champion. The United States finished far back in the pack until 2015, when an all-out, year-long effort of preparation and training, backed by a $500,000 budget, vaulted chef Phil Tessier of the Napa Valley restaurant French Laundry to the argent, or silver. For the 2017 final, chef Mathew Peters of Per Se in New York will represent the United States.

High-profile events aside, France still sits at the head of the table when it comes to the fine art of eating, and travelers are invited to celebrate the French culinary mastery by joining Vantage Deluxe World Travel in 2017 on our Culinary Delights & Historic Treasures on the Seine cruise; or in 2018 on our newest 5-star European river cruise, France Culinary Delights: Paris to Normandy. Via tastings, cooking lessons, demonstrations, and special meals, this special culinary tour introduces travelers to the exquisite tastes of Normandy, from creamy cheeses to calvados apple brandy to the hearty, tasty dishes drawn from farm, field, and orchard. Highlights include lunch at La Couronne in Rouen, the restaurant that Julia Child visited on her way to Paris, later declaring that she had experienced “the most exciting meal of my life,’’ and a special Taste of Normandy Tour. To further their culinary explorations, travelers can also reserve the Avignon, Lyon & Provence pre-trip extension, which includes a pairing of fine wine and chocolate in Châteâuneuf-du-Pape and a visit to the famed Les Halles de Lyon gourmet marketplace in Lyon.

Beginning this year, all of the cruises aboard Vantage’s European river fleet will feature enhanced culinary features, including an interactive series of regional cooking classes that take place in the Captain’s Club. Classes are free, but are limited to 30 participants and require pre-registration aboard ship. Among the itineraries featuring the classes are such popular voyages as Switzerland & the Heart of the Rhine & Moselle and Majestic Rivers of Europe.