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Smuggler Chefs

by Barbara Eldredge (2334 words)

Success in this prestigious international competition depends not only on the chefs’ culinary skills, but also on their smuggling techniques.

In mid-January of 1971, when the legendary chef Paul Bocuse arrived in the US to prepare a dinner for 12 at the Four Seasons Hotel, he waltzed through customs with suitcases brimming with flour, salt, chickens, tarragon, bay leaves, crayfish, petits fours, truffled sausage, tomatoes, green beans, cream, butter, foie gras, woodcocks, a wild duck, sauce base in plastic bags, two kilos of truffles, and fresh pig bladders. These last prized ingredients, according to an account by food critic Gael Greene, were hidden in the sleeves of a jacket deep in his luggage beneath layers of Bocuse’s underwear. The art of the culinary smuggle is as inextricably entwined with the art of French cooking as Bocuse’s ingredients were that day intermingled with his boxers. Years later, when Bocuse founded an international culinary competition, he did more than further the global prestige of fine cuisine: he became the muse of a covert craft—that of spiriting foods from the market or garden of one country and onto the plates of another.

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