2016 marks an exciting year for Chef Ben Grupe of St. Louis restaurants Elaia and Olio, who as Team Captain, lead the American Culinary Federation (ACF) Culinary National Team USA to rank fourth in the world overall and take home three gold medals in the 24th Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung (IKA) International Culinary Exhibition, known as the “culinary Olympics.” Taking place October 22-25 in Erfurt, Germany, team USA showcased amazing talent under Grupe’s leadership, Executive Chef of the Bengelina Hospitality Group sister restaurants.
ACF Culinary National Team USA achieved three gold medals during this year’s "culinary Olympics," including one gold medal in the Hot Kitchen Programme, one gold medal in the Culinary Art (cold food) Programme, and an additional gold medal for earning the top score in the world in the Culinary Art Programme. Out of 30 teams competing during the global competition, Grupe and the entire Team USA is honored to have placed fourth in the world during the rigorous three-day event.
This is the second "culinary Olympic" term for Grupe, having participated on Team USA in 2012 and then receiving the honorable position of Team Captain for 2016. Grupe set his sights on the "culinary Olympics" early on in his career, where mentoring chefs during his time in The Greenbrier Culinary Apprenticeship Program were involved and encouraged him to do the same. Greenbrier fostered a healthy competitive environment, preparing Grupe for the rigorous selection process when the time came to try out for Team USA 2012. During Grupe’s first term, he was eager to raise the bar for excellence and as Team Captain in 2016, he embraced his responsibilities including liaising between the team and the coaches and ensuring the team’s operation ran smoothly.
“Acting as Team Captain in the culinary Olympics is equivalent to the role of Executive Chef in a restaurant,” says Grupe. “When running a kitchen, you hold yourself to a certain standard, and the Olympics tests your strengths, and every chef’s on the team, to make sure each action goes above and beyond. The competition is both stressful and exhilarating, pushing you to maximize your discipline, time management, and creativity. As the underdogs, we came to win and beat obstacles while abroad, and we rallied together.”
Grupe held positions as Executive Sous Chef of Old Warson Country Club (St. Louis, MO) and Executive Chef of Meadowbrook Country Club (Ballwin, MO) prior to arriving at Elaia and Olio. Overseeing culinary operations as Executive Chef for the celebrated St. Louis sister restaurants, Grupe focuses on familiar flavors and classically rooted compositions with contemporary presentations. His philosophy when it comes to food is quite simple, with taste being the number one priority. Grupe started from the ground up in the culinary industry, first washing dishes and moving up the ranks, all the while falling in the love with the energy and comradery of the kitchen.
It’s within this spirit that Grupe plans to challenge himself with the Master Chef exam down the road, and to continue his involvement in the ACF "culinary Olympics," giving back to mentors who have spent time with his team over the years. Diners can discover Grupe’s leadership and cooking by visiting Elaia and Olio in St. Louis.