S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016: the 20 Finalists, in their Own Words

As the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 Grand Final enters days two, we take the opportunity to meet the 20 finalists and learn what cooking means to them.

As the competition ramps up on day two, we take the opportunity to remind ourselves of the passion and motivation behind each of the 20 S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 finalists who have battled for the opportunity to represent their regions in the global talent search for the best young chef in the world.

You can follow the day's events on #SPYoungChef where the second group will compete (Benelux, France, Germany-Austria, Mediterranean Countries, Scandinavia, Japan, Eastern Europe, Spain-Portugal, Pacific and Latin America) and follow us on Facebook to find out the three super–finalists who will face off in the Grand Final. You can watch the grand final Livestream on 15 October at 7pm CEST on Fine Dining Lovers.

We spent the past weeks catching up with the 20 young chefs to find out more about the place cooking occupies in their lives, their influences and future ambitions. Here are some of best bits.

Food as Togetherness

Andrea Miacola, Benelux
Every Sunday when I was a child my grandmother would prepare a meal for the whole family with energy, care and attention. She wanted to do this every Sunday, just to keep the whole family together.

Gregoire Berger, Africa and Middle East
On his Moroccan wife's couscous: we eat it at home during family dinners because eating well is supposed to be relaxing and with people that you love. It is prepared in the very traditional way, with the best products from Africa.

Matteo Zonarelli, North East Asia
I always loved to stay in the kitchen with my mother and my grandmother from a young age so I guess my family led me to making this choice.

Shintaro Awa, France
I'm not sure about the best dish I've ever tasted, but I like sharing dishes, like stews or roast chicken on a spit, or just dishes prepared in a big pot that we share. Eating in a friendly atmosphere is the secret to tasty dishes.

The Beauty of Food

Seira Furuya, Japan
I will express the beauty and rich colour of Japan’s four seasons in just one dish ... you will be able to see the remains of summer, the expectation of autumn, the richness of winter and the pleasurable tones and atmosphere of spring. 

Anne-Sophie Taurines, Switzerland
My dish has the taste and texture of a vegetable garden. Like when we walk into a garden, every bite is an emotion. As with a garden, each product is respected, despite the work in the dish the original taste is preserved.

Chang Liu, China
This dish expresses the concept of ‘union’ in Chinese culture. Food materials are from different regions and seasons. The flavours differ from each other and reflect differences between regions. The memories of Chinese in different periods and places may be recalled by different flavours, such as memories of the seasons and home. The charm of traditional food material appears when a novel combination is used, which show Chinese respect and understanding for food, even awe for nature.

Passion for Food

Leslie Hottiaux, Pacific
Quite simply, I love food. I always enjoyed cooking at home but never thought of it as a career. At 14, I did a stage and I was hooked. After that I enrolled in catering school in Toulouse, France and have never really looked back from there.

Hezret Berdiev, Russia, Baltics & CIS
It began as a necessity to make some money and pay for my studies, but finally I fell in love with the art and it became my priority, my passion and my full-time occupation.

Andrea Miacola, Benelux
I was born into the world of cooking and for me it is not a job, but a passion. A way to express myself and my thoughts. 

Daniel Nates, Latin America
It was Daniel's parents' "passion for biology" that inspired him "to do something that would express nature in a different way."


David Andres, Spain and Portugal
My father is a great gastronome and since I was a child he has taught me the importance of eating well, the significance of temporary products, the value of raw material in every territory, to respect the kitchen and the profession of the chef. To have the chance to learn from chefs such as Joan Roca, Pellicer, Neicheland, Jordi Cruz made me fall in love with my profession.

Nikolaj Schmidt Skadborg, Scandinavia 
The main influences in my signature dish are really what people have been eating here since the early days. The raw ingredients, the preservation methods and cooking.

Natural Style of Food

Tarun Bhatia, South East Asia
The main influence in my dish is the local and popular ingredients from the Bengal region, which inspired me to do this, where seafood is mainly enjoyed amongst locals.

Seira Furuya, Japan
I want to feel and transmit the magnificence and natural splendour of my country through the beautiful change of the seasons of Japan.

Alessandro Rapisarda, Italy
The influence of my signature dish is definitely where I come from, my land ... and the smell of the sea engraved in my head. And then my last impressionable experience from Mr. Crippa, where I realised the cohesion between the beautiful and the good.

Authenticity in the Kitchen

Sean MacDonald, Canada
My grandpa is important to me, so I wanted to create a dish inspired by him. For my whole life, he has kept candies in his pocket and will always offer them to me when we’re together. He usually has caramel and liquorish candies in his stash. I decided to create a dish based off of those flavour profiles. 

Mitch Lienhard, USA
I was sort of baptised into the kitchen as a baby. I got burnt by some hot water that was on the counter while my mum was cooking. Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be a chef. I believe it is my true calling as an individual.

Nicolaos Billis, Mediterranean Countries
My dish is unique because… it is made up from a plethora of ingredients, which combine to bring out the versatility of Greek nature and ultimately form a balanced taste. A taste so intensely emotional that it reminds me of the land I grew up in.

Rodrigo Sandor, East Europe
When I created this dish the most important idea for me was that I would like to present Hungarian flavours.

Young Chef Future Ambitions

George Kataras, UK and Ireland 
I would like to open my own restaurant on an ideal land (sea + mountain) which will allow me to use products only sourced from the area.

Gregoire Berger, Africa & Middle East
I would like use this opportunity to train with San Pellegrino's best chefs (from the 50 Best) to improve my knowledge and to create my own fine dining concept. I would like also to build a food charity concept, kind of charity street food/truck. I would like to open pop-up restaurants all around the world.

Nicolaos Billis, Mediterranean Countries
My vision is to create an organic farm in the mountain areas of central Greece and more specifically on the mountain of Centaurs where I grew up and where all the tastes of my childhood lie. A place where visitors may be taught the ancient Greek philosophy, mark the changes of seasons on Greek soil and explore its ingredients through meals that will express the land's legacy. They may get a Greek cuisine experience. I would like to do my part in saving and advertising Greek gastronomy all over the world.

Matthias Walter, Germany & Austria
I would like to create my own culinary concept. The concept should arouse the interest of young people who would like to enjoy ecological food and appealing presentation.

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