“We brought home a silver but it should have been gold,” lamented Joseph Leonardi, executive chef of the Somerset Club in Boston. The competitor was reflecting on a successful performance, but the memory of finishing second overrode his triumph. Leonardi was back at his alma mater, Johnson & Wales University, on Jan. 16 to be honored as a distinguished visiting chef. But what everyone wanted to talk to Leonardi about was his stint as captain of Team USA. The team competed in the Culinary Olympics last summer in Erfurt, Germany, that was held just after those London athletic games, which received just a bit more media coverage.
Team USA won double silver, placing second in both the Hot Food and Cold Platter events. Sweden was the gold-medal winner in the competition, officially known as the International Culinary Exhibition.
“The team executed everything they needed to do. I think that the team performed,” said Leonardi. For these culinary games, qualities that an Olympian competing in London would have needed, such as endurance, were every bit as essential. For one event, called “The Restaurant of Nations,” the team had to cook a three-course meal with 110 servings per course. The time limit was six hours to complete preparation, cooking and service.
Chef Leonardi, as the captain, was tasked with filleting all the seafood for Team USA’s entry, the culinary equivalent of being the anchorman. It was a role that the chef was most comfortable in. After his knife-work was completed, he took on the role of player-coach, assisting the team to execute the preparation of the rest of the meal.
“And in the end we did do pretty well,” said Leonardi. Overall, Team USA finished sixth out of 32 competing countries. This team has tasted victory in the past in these games. In 2010, Leonardi was captain of Team USA in another international culinary competition, the Culinary World Cup. That time, Team USA brought home two gold medals.