In this episode, Ragnar talks with Christian André Pettersen after his big win at Bocuse d’Or Europe 2020, where Team Norway took gold for the second year in a row. He shared what it’s like to be back on the top step of the podium, and the path that got him there.
Chef Christian André Pettersen has been dreaming of this since he was 9 years old. His late father, a chef himself, inspired not only Christian’s passion for gastronomy, but also his ambition to one day win gold at Bocuse d’Or. He’d overheard his father speaking with pride to friends and colleagues when Norway took gold in 1997. “I remembered he was really proud about it and I thought to myself, I’m going to do that one day.”
“My first competition was an apprentice competition here in Sandnes, Norway. It was in 2007; I was 18 years old. I could not imagine I would be on the top, but I pushed really hard and worked a lot and had the full focus on the task. And I won. So from there, it just became an obsession to chase this path.”
By 26, Christian had won 11 gold medals, 8 silvers, and 1 bronze in prestigious regional, national, and continental culinary competitions, including San Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 and Bocuse d’Or Norge 2017. At just 28, he made his Bocuse d’Or debut. He won his first gold in the 2018 European Finals, and bronze in the 2019 world finals.
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This horrendous Covid-situation has been though on all of us. Though times brings out the real character of people. I have experienced that the people that surround me are of the strongest sort. Not a moment has there been any doubt to trace. This has made me safe and secure in my endeavor, and enabled me to focus on my passion; namely cooking and preparing for competitions. This sense of support and friendship, and this love for our profession has kept me going. It has also showed me that ‘caring’ is the most important currency between us. I am eternally grateful for your care and support in making my dreams and goals come true. Thank you🙏🏽 #LiveYourDream @bocusedor
Christian’s commitment shows through in everything he does, no less on his resumé: 🥇2020 Bocuse d’Or, 🥇2019 Chef of the year,🥉2019 Bocuse d’Or,🥇2018 Bocuse d’Or, Forbes 30under30.
Now at 31 this year, he feels he’s matured since his last Bocuse d’Or Final. He and his teammates (commis Even Strandbråten Sørum, coach Gunnar Hvarnes and president Tom Victor Gausdal) have 3,000 training hours each year. Monday to Saturday: a hundred percent committed. “Eyes on the prize,” says Christian.
So what’s on his mind in the training kitchen? “The most important in this competition is the flavor,” he says. “Flavor is double points. So I think to use much more time on finding the techniques and flavors and composition of this, rather than use the time on the design and everything around it.”
Perhaps more importantly is what’s happening collectively during those 3,000 hours in the training kitchen: building trust. “Bocuse d’Or is really complex and a lot of small details. So to manage everything by myself, it’s not reachable. I need to rely on and trust the team around me,” he asserts wisely. “It’s no doubt that I am using more time here at the training kitchen than I do at home. You are gathering people that are your family in the training kitchen.”
“We’re not a team because we work together. We are a team because we respect and take care of each other.”
Christian has his family in the kitchen, and his family at home. But the latter he brings with him to the competition, too. From his Filipino mother, he’s gathered inspiration from Asia – techniques to spices and composition. And from his Norwegian father, he has the indelible mark of a Chef’s son alongside the setting of his youth – the rugged hinterland of Norway’s coast; harvesting seafood and inspiration from the flowers, herbs and sprouts that appear at springtime. “My identity, my person and my food all share the same origins: a perfect blend of east and west, Norway and Asia, the natural and the technical,” he describes.
From his family to his team, mentors, and everyone in between, Christian credits his achievements to those around him. “There have been a lot of people that have been a part of my competition life, from an early age until the person I am today,” he says. “I would never be here today if it hadn’t been for my team, for my coach and for my mentors. Every part and person that I worked for through the years. They have been an impact in my competition life and given me advice for which path I should take and which part I should trust myself to do.”
Pettersen’s humility seems second only to his calm. He fosters this calm, especially in competition. Christian uses music to regulate, and starts the day with a tune to match his morning mood. “If I’m really sharp and really awake, I just listen to some calm music to just calm me down. If I’m a little bit slow in the morning, I put on more heavy music to just kick me up, make me ready.” It seems almost elemental, a tuned-in undercurrent that permeates his approach.
Back in the training kitchen, they use music, too. “We train often with a lot of noise and music to simulate the competition area with a lot of sound around us,” Christian explains. “When we start the competition, when the time is now is your turn to start, we just focus on our cutting board, focus on our task.” It seems this practice served him well even with a now quiet Saku Arena, lacking the typical riotous noise and supporters at the sidelines.
“My focus is really sharp on the produce and products and the essentials of the tastes.”
When asked for the most common mistakes he sees from competition chefs, that singularity and clarity of thought shines through again. “Chefs all over, always underestimates the cleanness and the “less is more,” says Petterson. “To respect the essence of the products and do it a hundred percent perfect, less is more. As long as it’s perfect. You don’t need 15-20 things if the 15-20 things are at 50 or 60%. Make the small things 100% – now I’ll make sure you will succeed.”
Respect and hard work beget perfection in the eyes of this chef. Whether he learned that all the way back, side-by-side at his father’s restaurant in Bodø, or somewhere else along the way, it’s clear he takes every success – and every failure – to heart.
So what is the worst competition experience for someone who’s going for gold in the most prestigious cooking competition in the world? His answer: Bocuse d’Or Europe 2018. “We had eggs for the main ingredients for the first course,” he begins. “I remember we pressure cooked those, how the induction I’d trained with was 2.5 kilowatts. On the competition day, it was 3 kilowatts.” Amid the hectic competition, he smelled something not-quite-right. Inside the pressure cooker was thick smoke. “And then I knew – shit, I fucked it up” – a worthy reaction. “I opened the pressure cooker. There was no more water. It was almost down to frying.”
Petterson’s first dish at Bocuse d’Or Europe 2018 and the center of his worst competition experience: a riff on “Oeuf Mollet“.
Petterson recalls recentering: “I took some steps behind, took good breathing in and just, okay. I have to check how long til this is going to be done? But everything was perfect that day and I don’t know what’s happened, but it just happened.” They still won.
Bocuse d’Or Europe is one of the few events on the international gastronomic calendar to have been held this year, under strict health security conditions. The grand final should be held in Lyon on 2 June 2021. “It’s good,” Christian says of the time that will likely fly by. “There’s a little bit more breathing time. It’s a special time we’re facing with this pandemic. The most important thing now is to take care of each other and follow the restrictions.”
Christian said he’s motivated by the chance to inspire and be a role model for the next generation. He’s already well on his way. No doubt there’s another 9-year-old somewhere, anxious to set out on a path he’s forged.
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Special thanks to Christian André Pettersen for joining us as a guest.
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