Keep your eye on Trevor Ritchie as he competes on Team Canada at the Bocuse d’Or 2019 Grand Finale in Lyon, France.
Trevor Ritchie has dreamed of winning the Bocuse d’Or ever since he was a teenager living in Waterloo, Ont. He remembers how, while training for a high-school level Skills Canada cooking competition in the early aughts, he obsessed over a grainy documentary on VHS that featured Canadian chef Robert Sulatycky in his quest to become the first North American chef to break the top five at the biennial culinary Olympics founded by the late Paul Bocuse. (Sulatycky, who now coaches the reigning Team USA, placed fourth in 1999, Canada’s highest ranking yet.)
“I told myself I was going to work really hard and be on the first Canadian team to make the podium,” says Ritchie, Team Canada’s candidate for the January 2019 Grand Finale in Lyon, France. Ritchie has indeed been working hard. Now the chef technologist at George Brown College in Toronto, he has worked in several notable kitchens, including Langdon Hall, while honing his competitive skills: the Chopped Canada (champion), the Hans Bueschkens Junior Culinary Challenge (gold), Angliss Culinary Professional Chefs Challenge (second place); and the Bocuse d’Or 2017 (coach). Last January, he reduced his teaching hours and went on half-salary in order to train; he stopped teaching altogether in September.
Still, until last April Ritchie’s dream looked rather hopeless. For Team Canada, it’s been all downhill since Sulatycky. Hamstrung by a lack of funding (the federal government doesn’t contribute a dime), public indifference and vast geographical distances that make national organization and team continuity difficult, Canada has limped through the last two competitions, placing 21st (out of 24 countries) in 2015 and 17th in 2017.
Canada’s dismal showings must have tasted especially bitter to all the other countries vying it out in continental qualifiers while we (along with the U.S.) continued to receive one of four free byes to the finals, a privilege we have enjoyed since Jamie Kennedy represented Canada at the first awards in 1987. So when several rules changed this year, which included two new spots for Africa, we got sent back down to the minors to compete in the expanded regional semifinals for all of the Americas, held in Mexico over two days in April.
Lo and behold, Ritchie’s team placed second, right behind the U.S. (which nobody expected to lose).
“It was the right call,” says Ritchie, who impressed the judges with suckling pig and cured salmon dishes garnished with Canadian ice cider, Acadian caviar, Ontario apples, B.C. clams and Quebec foie gras. His commis, pastry chef Jenna Reich, a former competitive dancer, also caught the eye of many observers, including Team USA mentor Daniel Boulud, who commented on her graceful composure and station cleanliness.
Mexico was more than just an intense practice round under the spotlight, says team president John Higgins. “It was about regaining respect for Canada. This is an incredible team, and Trevor is our best chance in a long time.” — ALEXANDRA GILL