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The $500,000 that the two men raised for the team didn't hurt either. Money clearly makes a difference in the contest's outcome, as it provides the team who has it with an opportunity to train for months. While well-funded Norway had a team truck equipped with a practice kitchen, the South African team made do with a less grandiose means of getting around. "We bought a couple of trolleys to get our produce in," says team coach Marli Roberts. "And then we took public transportation."
Like other teams, the South Africans strived to put a bit of home on their platter without alienating the judges, in this case by including some South African curry and passionfruit in their marinated cod. The Dutch topped one of their exquisite garnishes with pastry windmills. First-time contestant Uruguay served its oxtails in hand-painted ceramic pots from home. The British team's national touch came in the name they assigned their beef filet: Henry V. "It's a bit of fun," says team coach Roger Hulstone. "Britain beating the French at Agincourt and all that." Adds his son, chef Simon Hulstone: "It's a good thing this contest isn't being held in Germany." (See pictures of what people around the world eat.)
As befits Spain's current reputation for culinary invention, the Spanish team took the most radical approach. Chef Angel Palacios hollowed out whole eggshells, then filled them with spherified scallop coral, made to look like yolks, and gelatinized algae broth that had the slippery, translucent appearance of albumen. "We wanted to pay tribute to Ferran," said coach Paco Roncero in reference to famed molecular gastronomy chef Ferran Adrià. "And we also wanted something transparent to show off the scallops."
But it doesn't pay to get out too far ahead of the classically trained jury. "You have to stay in the comfort zone of the judges," says Roland Henin, the U.S. team’s French-born coach. "They can't be tasting or looking at something they don't know, because you'll lose them." Innovative Copenhagen chef Rene Redzepi, who served on the jury, was a little regretful about that comfort zone. "I was hoping it wouldn't be luxury item upon luxury item, that they would strip away the pretension," he said after tasting his way through 12 plates of beef on the first day, "But that wasn't quite the case. Still, the fact that I'm here means the contest is changing."(See the top 10 food trends of 2008.)
The U.S. team certainly hoped for change. It has never placed higher than sixth place, but this year's degree of preparation as well as its all-star leadership seemed to bode well for Hollingsworth and Guest. Bocuse himself even said he hoped the U.S. would win. As supporters chanted "Yes we can" from the stands, the two chefs remained focused on their cooking, daring to break into smiles only when their platters had been paraded past the judges. In the end, Hollingsworth said he was proud of what his team accomplished, but that he thinks he understands why they didn't place higher. "What we do is more modern. It's not in the style of the Bocuse," he said. "American food is a little more refreshing." As his girlfriend, Kate Laughlin, waited with tears in her eyes, a reporter asked Hollingsworth if he would ever participate in the Bocuse again. "No," he responded with characteristic firmness. "I think I'm a restaurant chef."