Bonjour, je suis François Poulain

Interview with the French coach of the Italian team competing in the finals of the Bocuse d'Or, on January 29th and 30th

François Poulain, coach of the Italian team compe

François Poulain, coach of the Italian team competing in the world finals of the Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, on the 29th and 30th of January

The Accademia italiana is well structured and can compete with dignity with France and the countries of Northern Europe, the usual favourites in this competition. Of course we’re referring to the finals of the Bocuse d’Or, which will take place in Lyon on January 29th and 30th.

We had a chat withFrançois Poulain, the French coach of the Italian team, who has Martino Ruggieri as the standard bearer (here’s the interview with him from last June). Often neglected by the news, the coach has in fact a very important role in achieving the goal.

Good morning François, please tell us about you.
I have a classic training. I attended catering school in Paris and then worked in some starred restaurants such as DeanLes Chalêres… up to Cheval Blanc of Le Meurice, with Yannick Alléno. After some experiences in London and Chicago, I returned to Alléno’s Pavillon Ledoyen, where I met Martino Ruggieri. I’m currently working in Switzerland, at restaurant Focus. Being Martino’s coach for the Bocuse d’Or is an honour and a great experience, both professionally and personally.

Poulain with Martino Ruggieri, chef of the Italian team 

Poulain with Martino Ruggieri, chef of the Italian team 

Can you describe the typical day of the team you’re coaching in Alba?
Every day is the same, we follow a precise routine. At 7.30 we shop for groceries, we choose the vegetables, prepare the bases for the various recipes and organise the kitchen. Then we set the goals for the day for chef Martino, for commis Curtis Mulpas and for consultant chef Alessandro Bergamo. At 10.30 we faithfully simulate the competition, starting from the available time, 5 hours and 35 minutes. At 4.30 pm we test the final result and do a de-briefing of the entire execution. At 5.30 pm we prepare the kitchen for the following day, we taste all the dishes made during the simulation and prepare the shopping list and the programme for the following day. At 9.30 pm we eat together and then part.

What are the strengths of Ruggiero and Mulpas and what are the areas of improvement?
Martino’s qualities are his creativity, the instinct of a great chef and his complete freedom from the competition. Curtis is very determined and passionate, a gift for the entire team. As for the areas of improvement, we’re working so as to make the expectations of the jury and the “free” cuisine of Martino compatible: we must find the right compromise between his identity and the rules of the competition. As for Curtis, I can only say he should consider the Bocuse d’Or like a competition, not a raison d’être!

What is your precise role during the training sessions?
It’s rather simple. I follow their movements and try to create the best possible conditions in terms of products, recipes, methods, tools and logistics. When we simulate the competition, I try to create real conditions in the layout, kitchen, timing, noise, stress, clothes and the various needs. Managing the stress after an unforeseen event or a mistake is an important component: we must define the right countermeasures, especially in the way everyone interacts. Every move is studied and interiorised in detail. This is why the training must be fast and constant.

A group photo at the Accademia Bocuse d'Or Italia in Alba (Cuneo). Left to right, Curtis Mulpas, Enrico Crippa, Daniela di Giovanni, Martino Ruggieri, Luciano Tona, François Poulain

A group photo at the Accademia Bocuse d'Or Italia in Alba (Cuneo). Left to right, Curtis MulpasEnrico CrippaDaniela di GiovanniMartino RuggieriLuciano TonaFrançois Poulain

The most important task?
Make sure the team is closely knit. I act as a glue, and a buffer.

What’s your relationship with Enrico Crippa and Luciano Tona, the school’s directors?
Crippa and Tona direct the Accademia, they have an active part in the project. For me it’s a privilege to benefit from the experience and advice of such great chefs.

Is there a special episode in this period of coaching that you recall?
The time when we presented one of our dishes to the jury in the semi-finals in Torino. That instant was the climax after months of work, the concretization of a brave project completed by all the team. A moment impossible to describe.

The training area 

The training area 

If you were to decide a dish for the finals, what would it be?
I’d choose an Italian dish for sure, something everyone knows, like scaloppina alla milanese, served with gremolada sauce.

What do you expect Italy to do in Lyon? Who are the favourites?
There are very well-prepared countries like France, the Scandinavian countries, the United States. We’re a young Academy with limited experience. Being successful at the Bocuse d’Or requires years of work. Participating, acquiring experience will be essential. We must be humble, keep our feet on the ground.

What is the Bocuse D’Or to you?
It’s a cooking competition and an extraordinary human experience. If we approach it like this, we will win no matter what happens, in terms of experience, emotions and strong relationships.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

See also 
10 domande a Martino Ruggieri, finalista italiano al Bocuse d'Or (in Italian)



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