A superb chef, and the only woman on the Culinary Olympics team
At her parents' home in Glen Cove, N.Y., and in her own apartment in Hyde Park, Lyde Buctenkirch is not fussy about the food she eats. "I'm very easy to cook for as long as I'm not doing the work," said the 28 -year-old chef, who teachers at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park.
When it comes to entering food shows and the Culinary Olympics this October in Frankfurt, West Germany, however, Lyde Buchtenkirch is a perfectionist. To her, cooking is a business, an art, and a means of selfexpression. And yet, curiously, she has not felt this way.
When she was a high school student on Long Island, Miss Buchtenkirch avoided home economics courses the way James Beard might steer clear of processed sheese wrapped in plastic. She considered home ec "too housewifey" for the career she planned in commercial art. Later, she changed her mind about her occupation and became one of the first women to attend the Culinary Institute, graduating with honors in 1972. Since then, she has been able to rechannel her artistic ability into creating food that is pleasing to the eye as well as the palate.
For a hobby, Lyde makes edible dough sculptures shaped like owls, fish, and birds that are very true to life. Like many fine artists and good cooks, respectively, she doesn't sketch a design first nor does she measure her ingredients. "I just start," she said. "About a month before a food show, I'll work on 10 bread sculptures at once and line them up on the kitchen talbe."
"I enjoy teaching," Miss Buchtenkirch said. Her basic course in skill development covers everything from braising to sauces. Before coming to the institute in September of 1978, she taught at Johnson & Wales College in Providence, R.I. Before that she worked at the Du Pont country Club and the Wilmington Country Club in Delaware.
At one time she had considered becoming a pastry chef, but found that too exacting. "You can't take a cake out of the oven to add more salt," she said. And yet, pastillage remains her first love. In 1978 she received the Long Island Culinary Association's silver medal for her pastry display in the New York Food Show. Then last year, during the regional tyrouts sponsored by the American Culinary Federation, of which she is a member, Lyde won a gold medal in the pastry competition and a silver in the cold foods category. These two medals earned her a place on the 1980 US Culinary Olympics team. She is the only woman on the team.
Miss Buchtenkirch has been preparing for what's affectionately called the "Knife and Fork" Olympics for more than a year. She keeps a notebook to jot down ideas, practices at home at night and has gotten together for weekend rehearsals with the other members of the team. In the past, she has gone out of her way to buy exotic garnishes, such as quail eggs, colossal olives, and fefferling mushrooms, but not this time.
"Truffles aren't practical for the Culinary Olympics," she said. In Frankfurt, imaginative foods that a hotel, restaurant, or country club can serve its customers. As far as she is concerned, the opportunity to learn from other chefs is the best part of the international competition. "If we all cooked the same, it would be boring," she said.
During a practice session in June at Johnson & Wales College, her team mixed cactus with pimento in a tomato shell and kiwi mousse in marzipan eggs. Finding new uses for native ingredients is one purpose of the Culinary Olympics, and participants are encouraged to experiment and even be outrageous in combining ingredients. Of the dozens of cold buffet platters that Lyde and ehr team have developed over the past several months, however, just a handful will make it to the competition. Those that do must pass two informal tests: They must be functional and attractive.
When she wants to take a break from cooking, Lyde goes on long-distance bicycle rides. She used to belong to a bicycle racing club on Long Island, often cycling 40 to 50 miles in one day. if her 10-speed bike breakds down, she repairs it herself. "I love mechanical stuff," she said.
At home in her own apartment Lyde relaxes by not feeling compelled to live up to someone else's notion of how a chef should act. During the school year, she has most of her meals at the Culinary Institute, because it's convenient. Soda and vegetalbes are the few staples she keeps on hand in her refrigerator. When she does dime out it's apt to be on Chinese Sichuan (Szechwan) food. The hotter and spicier it is, the better she likes it. Chinese dry-fried green beans, anyone? That is Lyde Buchtenkirch's favorite dish.