Baby-faced Skylar Stover has been in tough cooking competitions before. Not Gordon Ramsay tough, but the real thing. He was part of the American team that took home a silver medal at this year's Bocuse d'Or international cooking competition in Lyon, France.
So it probably wasn't a big surprise that the 23-year-old sailed through the Los Angeles event of the ment'or BKB Young Chef Competition Thursday night at Bouchon Beverly Hills, winning the $10,000 first place.
Stover, formerly of the French Laundry in Yountville and currently with Hestan Commercial, the Anaheim-based professional kitchen appliance manufacturer, will use that money to live on while he's spending six months working at two of the most heralded restaurants in the world: Spain's el Celler de Can Roca and Copenhagen's Amass.
"This will make that a lot easier," Stover said. Short internships at top restaurants — called stages — are notoriously difficult to come by, with talented young cooks competing to work for free in order to improve their craft.
"I've been saving, saving, saving for my stages. Then when Phil [Philip Tessier, this year's Bocuse d'Or lead chef and Stover's boss at Hestan] recommended that I try this, I did."
"This will help keep me going while I'm working, and that will help keep me going where I want to be as an artist."
The Young Chef Competition is a spinoff of the Bocuse d'Or that is devoted to developing young kitchen talent. It is headed by chefs Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Jerome Bocuse, son of Paul Bocuse.
Besides Los Angeles, competitions will be held in Chicago, New York and Houston.
Four young chefs from around the country were selected for the competition, which was judged by a panel of chefs, including Melisse's Josiah Citrin, Barrel & Ashes' Tim Hollingsworth, Republique's Walter Manzke, Hawaiian chef Alan Wong, Traci des Jardins from San Francisco's Jardinière and William Bradley from San Diego's Addison.
Stover says his winning dish — pavé of striped bass with charred eggplant mousse, squash blossoms, artichoke boudin, brandade croustillante, garden carrots, and Niçoise olive and spinach puree with brown butter emulsion— was based on the classic artichokes barigoule.
"The big thing in these competitions is first temperature, then technique and originality," he said. "Temperature is the biggest thing; as long as the plates are hot, you're OK. Then if you show some original technique, that's a plus."