Away from Their Kitchens for a Day, America's Top Chefs Get Their Just Desserts
He may have been a wizard with a whisk, but when retired pastry chef Paul Nopper hit the slopes, his dreams of victory fell flatter than a botched soufflé. Nopper, one of 133 chefs who donned their toques blanches for the eighth annual U.S. Chefs' Ski Race at New York's Hunter Mountain, stumbled and was disqualified.
By the time the race ended, youth had won out over experience—and steak over bouillabaisse. Up against chefs from such world-class restaurants as New York's La Grenouille, Lutèce and Le Cirque, 20-year-old Jeffrey Westcott, assistant chef at Ben Benson's Steak House in Manhattan, and Seattle caterer Joy Burtis, 28, schussed away with the top honors. That means they will represent the U.S. this March at the international chefs' competition that will be held in Leysin, Switzerland. "I'm really not very good at cooking anything yet," conceded Westcott. "I've been a chef for only 10 months."
The contest began as a chummy get-together among 25 New York chefs. There is little shop talk ("We're just happy to be away from our places for a day," said Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni), an abundance of good food (supplied by Grand Marnier, a sponsor) and a hearty clash of wills. "When we ski against each other, we really go for it," said Jacky Ruette, of New York's La Petite Marmite, who was the race organizer.
Nopper was not the only one who went for it and didn't make it, however. Pierre Franey, 62, food columnist and author, fizzled on the giant slalom ("I stopped for 20 seconds—why, I don't know"), but gave a three-star rating to the Hunter Mountain base lodge's vegetable soup. "Some places open cans," he sniped. "This chef makes his own." Though some participants have grumbled that the event has now grown too big, there is talk of inviting European chefs next year. "But first," cracked Maccioni, "we have to find out how good they are."
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