Bartlett Pear Inn Chefs place 3rd in national competition

Posted: Thursday, September 3, 2015 5:45 am | Updated: 1:02 pm, Thu Sep 3, 2015.

EASTON — After placing third in the Young Chef Competition, which took place Aug. 27 at Bouchon, a restaurant in Beverly Hills, Calif., local chef David Kneller is setting his sights on representing the United States in the Bocuse d’Or, the prestigious world culinary competition in Lyon, France.

Kneller, 25, of Greensboro, is the co-executive chef of Bartlett Pear Inn in Easton and has been competing in cooking competitions since he was 13. He won that first competition, a competition centered around barbecue dishes and since then, he has competed in more than 10 culinary contests, he said.

Kneller said the Young Chef Competition centered around which chef prepared the specified protein to the partiality of the judges and received the most points, out of 100 points total. This year’s chosen protein was striped bass. Kneller said the competing chefs found out several weeks in advance.

“You can imagine how excited I was when they announced that ... Maryland, that’s our fish ... have to do good at it,” Kneller said.

He said the striped bass they were required to use during the competition was farm raised, which produced a thinner, wider filet, making it difficult to sear properly.

Kneller said he came up with a dish, prior to attending the competition, which consisted of bass mousse, stuffed with jalapeño and a tomato marmalade, topped with a chorizo and blue cheese cream sauce and placed on a bed of fennel and leek ragout. He said he practiced the dish, featured it for a week at Bartlett Pear Inn and the guests loved it.

“Most people, they’re like, ‘Cheese and fish don’t go together’ ... I’m the kind of chef, if someone says it can’t be done, I want to be the person that tries to do it ... People loved it,” Kneller said.

During the competition, Kneller said the contestants were given one hour to set up their work station and measure spices, then were given two and a half hours in order to cut and cook all ingredients in their dish, as well as make 10 complete plates; one for each of the nine judges, as well as one promotional plate.

Kneller said the competition included 16 chefs from across the U.S. and its intent is to prepare them for Bocuse d’Or, which he calls the “big boy, the Olympics of culinary events.” During Bocuse d’Or, chefs from 24 countries compete.

During the Young Chef Competition, judges award points based on the competing chefs’ techniques, presentations and cleanliness of the work space. Kneller said he ended the competition with 94 points and the second place team received 95 points.

He said he chose Chris Ferrell, who works as his sous chef at Bartlett Pear Inn, as his assistant during the competition. Chefs are allowed to compete in the competition only once and assist only once, he said. Assistants must be under age 24 and competing chefs must be between the ages of 22 and 27.

Kneller said he assisted Edward Cumming, executive chef of Bistro Poplar in Cambridge, at last year’s Young Chefs Competition, and they placed second.

For placing second, Kneller said he was awarded $10,000 to stage at a culinary establishment of his choosing. Staging is an unpaid internship a chef can undertake to enhance his or her culinary knowledge by working under another chef.

Kneller is using that money to travel in November to Norway, where he will intern at the world-renowned restaurant Noma, under head chef René Redzepi, one of Kneller’s biggest influences.

Noma focuses on Nordic cuisine and Kneller said all ingredients are collected by the chefs, including diving for their own scallops and foraging for their own mushrooms. Kneller said he has never experienced the cuisine before, which is one of the reasons he chose it.

The Young Chefs Competition is hosted by Ment’or, a nonproft organization designed to inspire and promote young chefs across the country. The organization is led by top chefs from across the nation and hosts several competitions per year, throughout the United States and also provides grant money to young chefs who wish to continue their education and expand their culinary knowledge.

Kneller said he hopes to open his own restaurant by the time he turns 30. He has been drawing blueprints and designs for his restaurant since he was young, he said, and he intends for the restaurant to bring the fine dining aspect into a family setting. He describes his culinary interests as “new American.”

“I love taking classic techniques and turning them into new-school things that people haven’t seen before,” Kneller said.

After he returns from Noma, Kneller said he hopes to begin training for Bocuse d’Or. He said he is still waiting to hear whether he has been chosen. If picked, he and three other chefs from across the U.S. will attend a 15-day boot camp in Lyon, France and be required to compete against each other Dec. 17 in Las Vegas. The winner of that competition will represent the U.S. at Bocuse d’Or.

Bocuse d’Or is a six-hour competition, held every two years. During the 2015 competition, which was held in January, Chef Philip Tessier, former executive sous chef of The French Laundry in Yountville, Cali., received the Silver Bocuse, which was the first time the United States has reached the podium in the contest’s 28-year history.

Kneller lives in Greensboro with his wife, Zelie, whom he describes as his preschool sweetheart.

Follow me on Twitter @kwillis_stardem.