How the Industry’s Best Chefs Inspired Me

There are dozens of ways Dubuque (Iowa) G&CC’s Executive Chef Chad Myerswill apply what he learned and saw during the Ment’or Young Chefs and Bocuse d’Or selection competitions.

My good friend, Paris Dreibelbis, was recently chosen to be a competitor in the Ment’or Young Chef & Commis Competitions and last month I had the unique (and awesome) opportunity to go to Vegas to watch him compete.

I met Paris years ago at a small, hometown restaurant here in Dubuque where I was offered a job. I worked at the restaurant for only a couple of days to see if it was a good fit. Long story short, it wasn’t, but Paris and I remained in touch and became friends.

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A few months later, I was offered the position here at Dubuque (Iowa) Golf & Country Club. After coming on board, I learned that Paris was a former employee of the club as well and that he was friends with another chef friend of mine, Mike Erschen (see Magic Happens When Chefs Unite and Why Mentoring is Worth It). Like Mike, Paris decided to relocate from Dubuque to Minneapolis to pursue bigger opportunities.

He worked at various restaurants in Minneapolis before he was given an opportunity at Spoon and Stable, a Restaurant of Chef Gavin Kaysen. He worked there through graduation and then decided that he wanted to move to Milwaukee to be near his son, Colten. He was offered a position at Ardent, which is where he currently works.

When he was selected to be in the competition, I knew I had to find a way to be there to support him. It’s inspiring to watch someone realize their potential and do everything they can to achieve their goals.

Watching the event was revelatory. I went from being a country club Executive Chef to a geeky, giddy fan, learning from some of our industry’s biggest talents. I was surrounded by stars—Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Philip Tessier, and Matthew Peters, to name just a few. And during the event, I was able to see what it takes to truly be a great chef.

As I watched Paris prepare his salmon dish during the competition through the window at UNLV, Chef Thomas Keller came down the hall. I was starstruck and I stuttered my way through the tiny phrase, “Hi, Chef.” As he went by he extended his hand for a shake. I felt like a little kid meeting Santa. Later, as my wife asked him for a picture, I was still so wound up I missed his fist bump three awkward times. After the third miss, he simply put his hand on my shoulder and suggested we instead go over by the Bocuse D’or trophies for a picture. I happily obliged.

My nerves eventually calmed and I got a few more fist bumps in with Chef Keller to redeem my nerdy self. My wife, who isn’t at all intimidated by this group, did a few dance moves with Chef Keller, which is ranks as one of my favorite moments ever.

I also got to meet Farmer Lee Jones from The Chefs Garden as he was a sponsor for the event.

It was a tense day and I wasn’t even in the competition. As I watched Paris, I was running lists through my head as if I were in the kitchen with him. A week or so before the competition, I watched him do a practice run so I kind of knew what to expect. He nailed it. Paris won the competition! I was so proud of and happy for him and for our little town of Dubuque, Iowa, where he is from. It goes to show, true talent and hard work will take you places—and it’s going to be a pleasure to watch Paris’ career skyrocket.

The next day was also an incredible day. It was the competition for the selection of the USA’s competitor for the Bocuse d’or.  I didn’t know any of the competitors, but my friend was helping one of the competitors prepare for the competition (the winner, Matthew Kirkley).  I did see some people from previous Chef to Chef Conferences including Richard Rosendale, who is super involved with the competition, and Simon Lewis, Executive Chef of The Riviera Country Club, who said he was also rooting for Chef Kirkley.

This competition is where chefs take perfection to a whole new level. My friend who was assisting explained to me how they have binders of information going through each step of their process. All pans and equipment are labeled and they have roughly 25 timers set for when to fire stuff.  They also have pictures of the sheet trays and every piece of mise en place has a specific spot on a tray.  The precision and discipline required for what they do is absolutely mind-blowing.  I try really hard at my job, and I feel like I do it well, but this level of chef-dom is a level I don’t think that I will ever reach. I’m ok with that, and it doesn’t mean I won’t keep pushing, but there are millions of ways I can apply what I learned and saw to what I do at the club. And it will make me and my operation better.

Isn’t that why we all are in this business? To be better than we were yesterday?  I know I am, and even if I will never have the skill required to compete for the Bocuse d’or, I will always remember this trip to Las Vegas when I got to be surrounded by greatness and refocus myself on the bigger picture: the pursuit of perfection.