WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Mouthwatering aromas waft from a clandestine kitchen in the lower corridors of The Greenbrier. Behind the doors, an intense Richard Rosendale and his assistant chop, simmer and season in precise tandem orchestrated to the trills of nine carefully placed timers.
Timing is everything for Rosendale as he prepares to lead Team USA in the exclusive culinary competition Bocuse d'Or in January. Well, timing and the exquisite food he and his assistant, Corey Siegel, will prepare in a grueling 5 1/2-hour timed competition against teams representing 23 other countries.
Rosendale, 37, has trained for about a year, honing and perfecting dishes and technique in a specially designed kitchen at The Greenbrier, where he continues his duties as executive chef and vice president of food and beverage services. He's the first chef from the resort to win the honor to represent the United States -- quite a feather in The Greenbrier's cap.
An American team has yet to win a bronze, silver or gold at the Bocuse d'Or, held every other year in Lyon, France, and approaching its 26th edition. Teams from France, Norway, Belgium and Sweden tend to grab top honors.
"It's certainly not a reflection of talent; we've had great people," he said of previous Bocuse d'Or USA entrants. "The one thing I have that is different is experience in cooking competitions -- I've competed in over 40 -- coupled with the depth of resources available to me here at The Greenbrier."
His organization, skills and knowledge earned the distinction of Certified Master Chef after an eight-day exam that included 150-plus hours of cooking. Only 66 CMFs exist in the United States; 90 percent of applicants fail the exam.
A kitchen in the bunker of The Greenbrier was designed as an exact replica of the kitchen Rosendale and Siegel will use in Lyon. Every item has its place. Neatly labeled plastic containers of ingredients and cooking tools are stacked precisely in cupboard shelves and in the drawers of rollaway metal tool cases, of the variety that are more commonly seen in mechanic shops.
Bocuse d'Or provides only the oven, tables, coolers and main ingredients. Rosendale ships every other piece of equipment, ingredient, seasoning, tool and the all-important timers. Much of the equipment is donated, but Bocuse d'Or USA foots the hefty bill for the majority of the expenditures.
"I don't know the total costs. I'm sure it's more than I realize. I try to be responsible," he said.
The bunker, designed to secure and shelter members of Congress in case of a nuclear disaster, is an apt location for Rosendale's top-secret activities. He limits opportunities for espionage, which is occasionally seen in the culinary world, especially at this level of competition. A moment captured on a bunker tourist's camera could immediately reveal plans worldwide via social media.
He closes the door to the "war room" when he and Siegel aren't in it so no one sees the white boards detailing the daily work schedule and strategy. He finds comfort in the neatly written, full calendar, and the ambitious pace it sets.
"Most people look at that and get stressed out. It relaxes me. I know what to expect," he said.
Rosendale's discipline and organizational skills leave little wiggle room in the preparation schedule. His days follow a tight and busy routine, except for Sundays, when he relaxes at his home in Lewisburg with his wife, Laura, and their young sons, Laurence, 4, and infant Liam.
"She's my biggest supporter," he said. "With these two little boys in my life, I realize that family is what really counts. It's my secret weapon. I'm less stressed out because of them."
His grueling training schedule includes early-morning physical workout sessions supervised by two professionals. He needs to be in top physical form, not only for the competition, but also to stay strong and healthy for his day job overseeing The Greenbrier's 13 kitchens and the resort's food and beverage department. He credits the resort's smooth operations to competent people who do their jobs well.
"I've always been fortunate to a have a great team with me," he said.
Culinary heavy hitters such as Thomas Keller, of the French Laundry, in Yountville, Calif.; Daniel Boulud, of Daniel, in New York City; and Jerome Bocuse, of Les Chefs de France, at Disney's Epcot theme park in Florida, have given considerable expertise and fundraising weight to Team USA. The coaches travel to The Greenbrier to watch and critique practice runs.
Was it difficult to hear their critiques?
"Oh, no. I enjoy the coaches. It's good to get feedback and other opinions," he said. "I absolutely take their suggestions."
A team of about 25 will accompany Rosendale to Lyon.
Bocuse d'Or rules stipulate that the chef's commis, or assistant, must be young and relatively inexperienced. Rosendale chose Siegel, 21, who is an apprentice at The Greenbrier, where Rosendale himself apprenticed in 2005.
They work in a carefully calibrated routine several times a week preparing the secret menu they'll prepare in front of an audience of thousands and a panel of judges.
Greenbrier employees seem to know what days Rosendale and Siegel are cooking. "When we're plating up, people come out of the woodwork. It's pretty funny," he said. "We're pretty popular then."
The energetic Rosendale seems confident as he anticipates his rapidly approaching Jan. 30 competition date. He's placed highly in more than 40 international competitions, but Bocuse d'Or is by far the most prestigious. He will prepare two entrees, one meat served on a platter and one seafood served on individual plates. The main-ingredient meat and seafood are selected and provided by Bocuse d'Or.
They've known for some time that the meat ingredient is Irish beef tenderloin, but didn't know until November what seafood they will be using -- turbot and European blue lobster.
"I had two weeks to develop a recipe that use turbot and lobster in one entree," he said.
Both entrees must be accompanied by three original garnishes and include a mystery ingredient that will be revealed to him on the day before the competition. The inclusion of a mystery ingredient is an element introduced this year to the competition, which otherwise hasn't changed much in 20 years.
"It's a challenge for everyone. They wanted to shake it up and add spontaneity," he said.
He's tried to develop a preparation plan for a wide range of ingredients. "If I get cauliflower, here's what I would do," he said. "If I hadn't given any thought to what I would do, I'd be in trouble."
The atmosphere during the competition is frequently raucous, reminiscent of sporting events, with spectators cheering on their teams. Cowbells and sirens are not unknown. Rosendale blasts recordings of loud crowd noise during his timed trial runs to render him impervious to the background sound that plagues some competitors on the big day.
Rosendale considers control, planning and organization to be his great strengths. The Greenbrier owner Jim Justice inadvertently challenged those skills during a celebrity event.
"One of the most stressful points in my career came when Mr. Justice ordered a birthday cake with sparklers for Jessica Simpson. I could not get those sparklers to light as I tried and tried behind a curtain," he said. Just as it was time for the big reveal, someone showed up with a lighter that did the trick.
Rosendale qualified for the international competition over three other finalists last January at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. The chefs were required to use River & Glen hookers cod and D'Artagnan chicken to create two entrees and to accompany them with three intricate garnishes. The dishes he prepared were influenced by the comfort-food flavors of a childhood in Uniontown, Pa., with an unexpected presentation -- a Mr. Potato Head belonging to one of his sons.
He filled the Potato Head mold with a slow-roasted chicken mixture and cooked it in a vacuum. "It looked like a roasted chicken," he said. Except that the inside held layers of country ham, cornbread stuffing and black truffle butter.
He likens the melding of timeless flavors and contemporary presentations to the job he faced when Justice recruited him to The Greenbrier in 2009 and charged him with reviving the resort's culinary heritage.
"I like to take something familiar and remake it. You don't dilute the history of memorable dishes," he said, and cited the example of The Greenbrier's coconut almond pound cake, which was traditionally griddled and topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge.
His reincarnated version features a ball of vanilla ice cream encased in a chocolate shell sitting on top of a slice of cake. Servers pour warm chocolate sauce over the sphere, which melts the shell and reveals the ice cream inside.
Justice fully supports Rosendale's efforts and has provided hospitality for visiting coaches and team members.
"Jim Justice has been phenomenal. He trusts me to do this and not neglect my responsibilities here. He really wants The Greenbrier and West Virginia to be on the world stage. We'll literally be competing there," he said. "It's great exposure and helps reinforce the culinary tradition at the Greenbrier.
"I really want to bring this home to The Greenbrier."
Reach Julie Robinson at email@example.com or 304-348-1230.