Gold medal chefs |

Gold medal chefs

Cassie Pence
Daily File Photo Executive Chef at the Sonnenalp Resort in Vail Jean-Luc Voegele puts the finishing touches on his slow roasted baby beet salad. He anchored the Sonnenalp team that won first at the American Culinary Federation's Knoebel Cup competition.

VAIL – It’s no surprise the Sonnenalp team ranked first over all in the Knoebel Culinary Cup competition. The majority of its members have been cooking their entire lives.Three out of the four team members grew up learning to cook in family restaurants. Sonnenalp Executive Chef Jean-Luc Voegele of France, who anchored the team, Swiss Chalet’s Bernie Oswald and Sandria Winter of Austria started out in their grandparents’ kitchens. Mike Winston of Durango, who is an apprentice at Sonnenalp through the Colorado Mountain College (CMC) culinary program, was chosen to fill the team’s student requirement. He’s no stranger to culinary competitions, either, cooking in several already, including winning state with CMC’s junior team.”It’s like, if you were in Europe, winning a soccer game. It’s pretty huge,” said Voegele of the first-place win at the Knoebel Cup. “It’s the only culinary competition which is recognized and judged by the American Culinary Federation. For the Colorado Chef’s Association or the American Culinary Federation team, it’s the biggest thing you can win.” Each team member was assigned to compete in one of the following categories: Colorado lamb grilling, Colorado beef saute, one pot seafood or plated dessert.

Oswald, who also won Beaver Creek’s Fantasy Gingerbread House competition earlier this month, earned the gold with his lamb, and Winston took the gold, as well, with his sautéed tornado filet.”I’ve never grilled lamb, I usually saute; it and then finish it in the oven. It’s juicier and the flavors are way better when you cook it on the grill, you brush it constantly with olive oil and herb, garlic mixture,” Oswald said.Voegele said Winston performed well because he has the perfect demeanor for competitions like this – laid back. He had practiced the dish six times before the contest and was very confidant.”You can be the best chef in the world, but if you’re stressed or not relaxed, than you can’t produce something nice,” said Voegele.Voegele won the silver for his one-pot seafood. The dish had to be cooked entirely in one single cooking vessel and plated out of the same pot. Voegele prepared seafood bouillabaisse, a Southern France recipe with braised vegetables and seafood, presented it in a soup bowl and garnished the dish with fennel.”I don’t feel too bad about the silver, because the guy who took the gold in this category is a certified master chef, and there is only 15 in the whole country,” Voegele said.

Although Winter didn’t place for a medal, she feels proud of her pastry creation: raspberry vanilla mouse covered in chocolate with raspberry sauce.”It is different here in American because they look at different criteria,” said Winter, who feels judges in Europe look for more innovation in cooking. Winter is in Vail working on a student exchange with the Wise Foundation. She is a lead cook at the Swiss Chalet and Ludwigs. “I tried to make something new, but I think the judges wanted to have some old-traditional dessert with chocolate garnish on the plate. I made something stylish, very simple, but it looked really good.” Contest organizers recommend preparing your dish 10 times before the competition, which is extremely ambitious considering most of the chefs have a job to do or a restaurant to run. The judges consider the dish’s presentation, its taste and while the chef cooks, judges are grading sanitation, organization and cooking techniques. Sonnenalp’s team spent about two months preparing for the contest.”The professional chefs who look at you, they are really picky. No matter how good you do it, they still critique you. It’s very tough judging going on and really discriminating,” Voegele said. “I always tell my team that it just takes a lot of guts to show up and to be there because the stress is really intense.”When competing, the team tries to remember the basics of cooking, guidelines their grandparents taught them.”Some chefs overload the plate with too many flavors going on. In the end, your palate gets confused. We try to work on the product. Showcase the salmon, for example. Work on what matches well with it, flavor wise, and then you work on presentation and the color,” Voegele said.

“My grandma always told me simple is sometimes more,” Oswald said.For information on the Sonnenalp Resort restaurants, call (970) 479-5487.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 618, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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