Community is at the Heart of the Academy
Despite travel restrictions, young and senior chefs are building connections.
As the notion of chefs without borders continues to grow, so too does the international community of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy. While travel restrictions meant finalists from the Greater China and Pacific regions were unable to fly to Milan for the recent Grand Finale, they joined the event via live-streamed video to share the stories behind their signature dishes and words of support for fellow competition finalists.
Acclaimed chef and member of the Grand Jury, Pim Techamuanvivit, was also unable to join the event in-person, but assured the finalists that she was “there in spirit” and encouraged the young chefs from afar via video.
“What an opportunity to showcase your huge talent in a competition like this,” she said. “With what must be enormous pressure as a finalist in an arena like this, I hope that you make time to also have some fun, learn from your friends and colleagues, and share your heritage with them. I hope that you leave this competition having made friends and supporters that will be there for you throughout your career – I’ll definitely be there for you.”
Some mentors were also inhibited by travel restrictions and could not join their mentees for the live cook-off.
Chef Ivan Berezutskiy from Twins Garden in Moscow, Russia replaced chef Adrian Quetglas as Vitalii Savelev’s mentor, the finalist for the Euro Asia region.
Meanwhile, Italian chef Luigi Taglienti stepped in for András Wolf to guide Levente Koppány, finalist for the Central Europe region, through the Grand Finale.
Greater China Finalist: Victor/Zhi Cheng Wang
Based in Shanghai, China, Victor/Zhi Cheng Wang showcased traditional Chinese ingredients with his signature dish, What Is Soy in China? and said the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Competition has not only made him more determined as a chef, but has afforded him precious opportunities to learn from his mentor, chef Zhenxiang Dong.
“[Chef Dong] told me how to leverage cooking methods to target different ingredients, how to fuse Chinese traditional dishes with Western methods, and even helped me discover my own culinary stories and philosophy,” he said.
As well as being a mentor for the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy competition 2019-21, Michelin-starred chef Dong established the DaDong Culinary Academy at the Nanxincang branch of his famous Da Dong Roast Duck restaurants.
“As a mentor, the most important thing for me is not to tell young chefs how to cook, but rather to encourage them to follow their own spirit and inspiration,” Dong said.
“Many of us have lost our way or lost our confidence during the pandemic, and the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy is an important way to remedy that. The Academy gives all of us involved a place to communicate and also helps us to pool our power and resources to help the restaurant industry keep growing in the face of adversity.”
Reflecting on his experience throughout the competition, Wang said the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy can mould a career path for young chefs.
“[The Academy] can help us learn a lot of the latest concepts, not only the process of cooking, but also thinking about produce and the environment, which I think will have an important impact on the future career of every chef,” he said.
Pacific Finalist: Jose Lorenzo Morales
Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Jose Lorenzo Morales said the competition has had an “immense” impact on his career.
“This opportunity has helped me meet so many people and each have shared different concepts that have helped further my perspective towards my craft,” he said.
His signature dish, Analogy, is an expression of pride for both his Filipino heritage and his adopted home of Melbourne, Australia, where he’s found “an overwhelming diversity of cuisines”.
“On my plate, I had the intention to showcase my origin, experience, and gratitude for the people who have helped me gain this opportunity to live my dreams,” he said. “For me, to have a good meal is to be stimulated through flavour and texture and blissful memories… Love and devotion is needed to stimulate and preserve the memory of what was eaten… Through an analogy, what if humanity could observe the same principles?”
Morales also relished the chance to work with one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs, Peter Gilmore, as his mentor in the lead-up to the competition.
“Entering the mind of a chef who has been part of the industry for more than 37 years is pretty overwhelming. The time I was able to spend in his kitchen was very constructive, both in and out of the restaurant, but the biggest value he instilled in me is to simply be considerate about any opportunity because life can be unpredictable,” he said.