Now established in eight countries, this world-renowned Prize is constantly on the lookout wherever today’s cuisine is being created. Both in France and elsewhere.

« The Taittinger is changing, but it was created for chefs and is still very much in their hands. », says Jean-Pierre Redont. As Secretary-General of the Taittinger, he is totally committed to the organisation of the 53rd edition of this now historic International Prize for Signature Cuisine, International Culinary Prize), which will be held on 28 January. It must be said that the Taittinger has played a significant role in gaining widespread popular recognition for chefs who have now become key figures on the culinary scene. When it was created by Claude Taittinger, its aim was to promote and discover young chefs of great talent at a time when the « star » of a restaurant was not yet its chef but its maître d’. The first winner of the award was Michel Comby, and the Prize went on to give many young chefs the opportunity to emerge from the shadows and embark on a successful career. Joël Robuchon, Michel Roth, Régis Marcon… all leading figures of their generation are among the laureates. They were joined later by Charly de Wijs, Lars Van Galen, Christophe Schmitt, Jérémy Desbraux, Kenichiro Sekiya…

Chefs and artists

With an international flavour from the outset, the Taittinger is established today in eight countries, a trend that has a lot to do with the adventures of top French chefs abroad. « The prize is changing, » says Jean-Pierre Redont. « It has become more international, reaching out to countries where the rise of particularly talented young chefs is being confirmed, such as Scandinavia or Peru, soon to be followed by the United States. We couldn’t afford to ignore this globalization of cuisine. France is and remains a world reference, but it has also spread further afield. » Foreign chefs come to France; some of them leave and the transmission of knowledge takes place far from our borders.

Little by little, a new philosophy is emerging for this Culinary Prize, remaining both guardian of its traditions and in tune with the times: « What we are looking for in this new edition of the Prize is an even greater expression of a personality, of a culture. Until now, the dish was served as a whole, based on a list of ingredients from which you couldn’t stray, »  Jean-Pierre Redont states. « Now, the dish is served on a plate, the jury chooses a star product and it is up to the chef to add his own ingredients to enhance it. We are looking for chefs capable of combining exceptional technique with a highly creative edge; chefs who will be able to express their personality using local produce, the produce they enjoy working with. »

Transmission of knowledge

Although the jury always selects the candidate after a round of blind tasting of anonymous dishes, interviews follow the tasting to encourage dialogue and exchange of ideas. Some candidates enter many times, and friendships are born during the course of the contest. Above all, there is a great solidarity among the chefs, and the transmission of knowledge takes place. « That’s the great thing about this prize, which brings together almost three generations of cooks, between the jury, candidates and commis. » explains Jean-Pierre Redont. « It’s an opportunity for some. A young chef was hired by one of the jury members, for instance. »  An initial selection of candidates was carried out in the participating countries and a single candidate from each country was selected to take part in the international final, which will take place in a few days’ time. In the run-up to the big day, videos are released, revealing a little more about the candidates’ personalities by exploring the places where they work, where they live, the cuisine they prepare on a daily basis. With a rich history going back to 1966, the Taittinger is rooted in a certain sense of tradition but does not fail to reinvent itself. With a main focus on creativity and contrast, the Prize aims to discover the artists who take an uncompromising look at their food and who possess the technical prowess to deliver their creative ideas to the table.

Photo : Jean-Pierre Redont © Gérard Rondeau
Text : Cyrille Jouanno
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