Although the ACF Culinary Team USA won the silver medal at the 2022 Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg last November, there has been no time for these distinguished chefs to rest on their laurels. With only a month off after their win, the team has gotten back to work in order to prepare for the 2024 IKA Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, Germany. We spoke to ACF Chef Dan Holtgrave, CEC, the team’s captain, to find out what the team is doing to prepare for next year’s competition, as well as the lessons they learned last year.
Q: How are your monthly practices for the Culinary Olympics going?
A: We began after our December break and went to Middleby Innovation Kitchens in Dallas, which was wonderful for our first practice session of the year. We’re just really working on our R&D, so it’s going great. We’ve had a lot of progress and food from the team members, so I think we’re off to a great start.
Q: What are you working towards right now to gear up for the Culinary Olympics?
A: We’re just setting our standards higher. We learned a lot when we were in Luxembourg for the Culinary World Cup and the team received two silver medals. It was an honor to be there and to achieve that. So we just set our sights higher, and we kind of know the direction we need to go to win a gold medal.
Q: In addition to monthly sessions, what else is the team doing to prepare?
A: In between each session, we’ll be Zooming weekly to show work progress from each team member. That way, when we go to practice, it’s not a practice, it’s a competition run and we’re moving higher and higher. It’s one of those things where you have to work at it 24/7, even if it’s not physically working. It’s working it into your mental plan of work, your physical plan of work, and you need to have balance because you have a job and a family as well. But we never stop keeping our eyes on the prize.
Q: How many hours do you put in every week?
A: Probably about 25 to 30, but again, it’s not always physically working on it. It could be researching through the Internet or books or having phone calls and things like that. Especially in these beginning stages, it’s a lot about research and seeing what sounds good on paper, and then you start putting it into a plan in the kitchen. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But really where you find your motivation is by making those mistakes, learning from them, and moving forward.
Q: What lessons did you learn during your Culinary World Cup experience?
A: That’s a good question. We went in with the hopes, as anybody does competing, to earn the gold. We missed the mark a little bit, so we learned what the judges are looking for and what the expectations are. It’s just a different level than we were used to competing. We also learned how to come together more as a team. I thought we were tight throughout the year, but the team really came together in Luxembourg, where you’re on your own—your coaches aren’t there to work with you inside the kitchen. It’s literally the six chefs leaning on one another. You depend on one another more than you ever thought you really would. So I think some of the biggest lessons were really just that team building and how much you rely on one another because it’s not a one-man team.
Q: What are you working on as a team to address any challenges or weaknesses?
A: We look at it as constructive criticism, so if there’s something we feel is a weakness, we immediately address it. We work it out, whether it be the dish or anything like that. As far as teammates go, we’ve always gotten along. We’re another extended family, if you will. We’ve respected one another, which is something that’s quite difficult to do because there’s obviously big egos involved. We really try to leave ego aside when we enter the kitchen because it’s not going to get you anywhere.
Q: What are some other strengths about the team?
A: We’re true to our word. We’re a team that sticks together, we work together, we all finish the line at the same time, and we listen. It’s not like, “Hey, we’re going to do this dish.” We all put food up to see what is the strength, the weakness and which one moves forward. It’s kind of a funny way to say it, but we form like Voltron, and we kind of go forward with our eyes on the prize. We’ve all put so much into it and there’s so much passion involved. One of the chef’s strengths is another’s weakness, and that’s what makes us strong. We pull each other along and get the job done.
Learn more about ACF Culinary Team USA here.