WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Mouthwatering aromas waft from a clandestine kitchen in the lower corridors of The Greenbrier. Behind the doors, an intense Richard Rosendale and his assistant chop, simmer and season in precise tandem orchestrated to the trills of nine carefully placed timers.
Timing is everything for Rosendale as he prepares to lead Team USA in the exclusive culinary competition Bocuse d'Or in January. Well, timing and the exquisite food he and his assistant, Corey Siegel, will prepare in a grueling 5 1/2-hour timed competition against teams representing 23 other countries.
Rosendale, 37, has trained for about a year, honing and perfecting dishes and technique in a specially designed kitchen at The Greenbrier, where he continues his duties as executive chef and vice president of food and beverage services. He's the first chef from the resort to win the honor to represent the United States -- quite a feather in The Greenbrier's cap.
An American team has yet to win a bronze, silver or gold at the Bocuse d'Or, held every other year in Lyon, France, and approaching its 26th edition. Teams from France, Norway, Belgium and Sweden tend to grab top honors.
"It's certainly not a reflection of talent; we've had great people," he said of previous Bocuse d'Or USA entrants. "The one thing I have that is different is experience in cooking competitions -- I've competed in over 40 -- coupled with the depth of resources available to me here at The Greenbrier."
His organization, skills and knowledge earned the distinction of Certified Master Chef after an eight-day exam that included 150-plus hours of cooking. Only 66 CMFs exist in the United States; 90 percent of applicants fail the exam.
A kitchen in the bunker of The Greenbrier was designed as an exact replica of the kitchen Rosendale and Siegel will use in Lyon. Every item has its place. Neatly labeled plastic containers of ingredients and cooking tools are stacked precisely in cupboard shelves and in the drawers of rollaway metal tool cases, of the variety that are more commonly seen in mechanic shops.
Bocuse d'Or provides only the oven, tables, coolers and main ingredients. Rosendale ships every other piece of equipment, ingredient, seasoning, tool and the all-important timers. Much of the equipment is donated, but Bocuse d'Or USA foots the hefty bill for the majority of the expenditures.
"I don't know the total costs. I'm sure it's more than I realize. I try to be responsible," he said.
The bunker, designed to secure and shelter members of Congress in case of a nuclear disaster, is an apt location for Rosendale's top-secret activities. He limits opportunities for espionage, which is occasionally seen in the culinary world, especially at this level of competition. A moment captured on a bunker tourist's camera could immediately reveal plans worldwide via social media.
He closes the door to the "war room" when he and Siegel aren't in it so no one sees the white boards detailing the daily work schedule and strategy. He finds comfort in the neatly written, full calendar, and the ambitious pace it sets.
"Most people look at that and get stressed out. It relaxes me. I know what to expect," he said.
Rosendale's discipline and organizational skills leave little wiggle room in the preparation schedule. His days follow a tight and busy routine, except for Sundays, when he relaxes at his home in Lewisburg with his wife, Laura, and their young sons, Laurence, 4, and infant Liam.
"She's my biggest supporter," he said. "With these two little boys in my life, I realize that family is what really counts. It's my secret weapon. I'm less stressed out because of them."
His grueling training schedule includes early-morning physical workout sessions supervised by two professionals. He needs to be in top physical form, not only for the competition, but also to stay strong and healthy for his day job overseeing The Greenbrier's 13 kitchens and the resort's food and beverage department. He credits the resort's smooth operations to competent people who do their jobs well.
"I've always been fortunate to a have a great team with me," he said.
Culinary heavy hitters such as Thomas Keller, of the French Laundry, in Yountville, Calif.; Daniel Boulud, of Daniel, in New York City; and Jerome Bocuse, of Les Chefs de France, at Disney's Epcot theme park in Florida, have given considerable expertise and fundraising weight to Team USA. The coaches travel to The Greenbrier to watch and critique practice runs.
Was it difficult to hear their critiques?
"Oh, no. I enjoy the coaches. It's good to get feedback and other opinions," he said. "I absolutely take their suggestions."
A team of about 25 will accompany Rosendale to Lyon.