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Chef James Kent: Can He Win the Food Olympics?

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Normally, James Kent clocks in 12 hours as the sous chef of the chic New York City restaurant Eleven Madison Park, creating signature dishes such as foie gras with bing cherries or suckling pig. But lately the New York native has been working overtime: Kent, 31, has been training every day for the past 10 months to represent the U.S. at the Bocuse d’Or-the acclaimed international food competition often referred to as the food olympics. “I finish my normal workday around 6 p.m.,” he says, “then I turn into Chef Bocuse.”

It’s an honor he earned last February after wowing a panel of judges that included cooking legends such as Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller with his lamb and salmon creations. Since then Kent and his commis (assistant chef) Tom Allan, 22, have worked more than 2,000 hours to perfect the two dishes-one meat (lamb) and one seafood (monkfish)-that they are required to present to 24 international judges at the cutthroat culinary contest held in Lyon, France, on Jan. 25 and 26. “The competition is fierce,” says Kent, who will face off against 23 cooks from all over the world. “There are teams who have been doing it for years.” But Kent is ready for the challenge. “We want judges to stop focusing on someone else’s food,” says Kent. “We want ours to be a showstopper.”