ACF Culinary Team USA Gears Up for 2024 Competitions

ACF Culinary Team USA held its first two practices late last year, with more planned for the coming months in preparation for the Villeroy & Boch Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg this year and the 2024 IKA Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, Germany. The first practice was held at Oregon Coast Culinary Institute in Coos Bay, Oregon, where the team’s assistant team manager, Chef Randy Torres, CEC, serves as executive director. Another practice was held at Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food, an academic department at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, Arkansas. At press time, details were being worked out for additional practices scheduled this year throughout the country.

Chef Kevin Storm, CEC, CCA, AAC, team manager, says the locations for the practices are thoughtfully selected from a pool of applicants (mostly culinary schools) and must meet certain requirements, like having ample kitchen space and being able to offer students for assistance.

At each of the initial practices, Chef Storm says, the team is mainly focused on R&D and refining menu development, but there is also attention placed on education for both the team members and culinary students. “We get a lot accomplished at the practices, and there is a lot of interaction with the students,” he says.

At the last practice, Chef John Coletta, CEC, AAC, demonstrated rice recipes from his new book, while Chef Storm ran a seminar on halibut and Chef Susan Notter, CEPC, Team USA’s pastry coach, did one on chocolate. In addition, Chef Steve Jilleba, CMC, CCE, CCA, spoke about the Certified Master Chef exam.

“We try to give back to the schools with learning opportunities; they pay big dividends for us, so it’s a win-win for both,” Chef Storm says. “It also helps us grow our outreach for ACF membership and is helpful for future team recruitment.”

Holding practices at schools around the country also exposes the Team USA members to the foods of those regions — which helps the team develop menus that represent American culinary traditions.

“The menu should tell the story of America,” Chef Storm says. “When we were in Oregon, we visited some oyster farms and foraged for mushrooms. In Bentonville, we visited some sustainable farmers and got to work with their products.” The team also learned that more than 300 varieties of apples are grown in Arkansas, with black apples being the state’s signature.

For the Restaurant of the Nations part of the competition, the team must prepare a three-course menu with a seafood starter, a main entrée and a dessert. For the Chef’s Table challenge, the team needs to prepare a series of edible tasting platters for 12 people while meeting certain carving requirements. At each course, the chefs must explain the thought process behind each dish. It’s here that the chefs may draw on knowledge gleaned during practices.

Chef Tim Recher, CEC, AAC, CWX, a member of the 2024 ACF Culinary Team USA and 2021 winner of the ACF’s National Chef Professionalism Award, says he decided to try out for the team based on positive experiences at past competitions. “When I first joined the ACF, I entered my first competition for fun, having no idea what it was about,” he says. “I was fortunate enough to earn a silver medal and ended up winning the show it was a part of. I was instantly hooked. At that first one, I met Certified Master Chef Rudy Speckamp, who really became someone I looked up to and admired. His advice and encouragement led me to compete more and more, driving halfway across the country to cook and meet so many people.  They became not only friends but also the mentors that really helped me build a professional career. Competing was truly a turning point in my professional life and drove me to where I am today. Many of those chefs were a part of Team USA over the years. To have been offered a chance to try out and subsequently make the team is beyond humbling to me. To be able to participate at the same level as my mentors is an honor and one I do not take lightly. It’s a chance for me to be a part of U.S. culinary history, legacy, and hopefully offer an opportunity to those that follow us, just as I followed those before me.”

Chef Recher says the current team’s dynamic is incredibly supportive. “We are all of one single mind, trying to do the best we possibly can and really represent all of us to the best of our abilities. Our personalities all mesh really well, and the leadership the coaches and management provide for us is absolutely top-notch. It’s such an incredible learning experience, and at the same time, a great responsibility. We know what we have been entrusted with and intend to really showcase the great chefs of the United States. I can say without a doubt, we are all 100% committed to that — chefs and coaches alike.”

At press time, ACF Culinary Team USA’s main sponsor was Jones Dairy Farm, with a few additional sponsor contracts in the works. “The opportunity to help the national team is a source of pride for our company,” says Philip Jones, Jones Dairy Farm chairman and CEO and a 2020 honorary American Academy of Chefs® inductee. “The members and coaches of Team USA represent the highest degree of personal dedication, excellence, passion and sacrifice all for the chance to represent the United States in the field of culinary arts. As a company, we are dedicated to helping support foodservice students and professionals achieve their goal of representing the USA and showcasing the culinary excellence of America through an internationally recognized competition.”