How Competitions Benefit Restaurants
The NoMad Hotel in New York City has numerous dining venues and private-dining spaces. The NoMad’s executive chef James Kent and chef de cuisine Brian Lockwood are avid proponents of the ment’or BKB Foundation and chef competitions. Chef Kent competed in the Bocuse d’Or in 2011, placing 10th in the world, and Chef Lockwood is serving as an adviser for Team USA, which will be competing in the 2017 Bocuse d’Or.
After experiencing intense competitions, what do you bring back to your work in restaurant kitchens?
CHEF KENT: Over the past five years, the experience of competing has helped me find my voice and my path. Then, I was a young sous chef at Eleven Madison Park and it was a two-year process from the American competition, through training, and then the competition in Lyon, France. ... It was about life experiences and working with incredible people. When I came back to Eleven Madison Park, I stepped into the chef de cuisine position. If I had just stepped into that role from being sous chef, it would have been hard for the team to respect me, but they understood I had [acquired] the skills to come back and help push the restaurant.
CHEF LOCKWOOD: In competing to be part of Team USA, I found the organization needed was on such a different level. Generally cooks are pretty organized and efficient, but a competition takes it to a whole other level. It also makes you think about food differently. It pushes you to think more creatively, and ask: Is there a better, more efficient way to do this? And that carries over into the daily routine of the restaurant.
How are you thinking differently about food for the next year?
CHEF KENT: I’ve been working with food a long time, about 20 years. Every year I try to do new things, evolve, and grow. Now, as I get older, I’m really focused on being healthy and eating right.
Are you bringing that to your menus as well?
CHEF KENT: Definitely. It’s not cooking healthy foods; it’s about finding ways to make food delicious but not necessarily heavy. It’s not a conscious thing; it’s more the way I want to live my life now, and it translates to the food I cook.
For the past six or seven years—first at Eleven Madison Park and now at The NoMad—we’ve been focused on vegetable-forward food. We always have a vegetable entrée and vegetable dishes, not like side dishes, but the focus. And it’s just the way that we cook now.
What is your passion relative to the food you prepare?
CHEF LOCKWOOD: I love the mechanics of cooking, just the daily repetition—breaking fish down and dicing vegetables. Those little Zen things like peeling cherry tomatoes. The tedious jobs that people at first find challenging, those are the things that calm me and soothe me.
Chef Kent: Running a restaurant is more than just cooking and I love the leadership aspects—challenging young cooks to grow and seeing people [succeed]. That’s really what I love about this.
It’s so much more than just food. To work at this level, you need to know how to cook really well and put food together. That’s the base level, and then it’s about challenging people and watching people grow. We all started somewhere. As a young cook, I worked with people who helped me grow, and I’m happy to do that for others. That philosophy dovetails 100 percent with the ment’or BKB mission.