SPYCA Competition Winners

What it Means to Win the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition

Previous winners Mark, Mitch and Yasuhiro share memories and experiences.

The S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition can present a brave new world of opportunities to the victor — as this year’s winner, Jerome Ianmark Calayag, will soon discover. Following the excitement of the 2019-21 Grand Finale, we caught up with previous winners Mark Moriarty, Mitch Lienhard and Yasuhiro Fujio, to understand what they did once the dust settled on the Grand Finale, and how the competition has impacted their lives.


In their own words, they reflect on the journey thus far and share their plans for the future.


Mark Moriarty

Winner of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2015


There’s so much going on in the moment when your name is announced, and I remember my phone just kept buzzing… I was the first ever winner of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition so there was no indication of what it would mean or what had been done, so I went in with no expectations.


It’s only in hindsight that I realise how much the competition has changed my life. At the time, I was doing pop-ups in Dublin and thanks to S.Pellegrino was able to take my pop-up on a global tour, visiting 12 cities in 12 months. I travelled the world and cooked with other competitors in their respective cities, ate in some of the world’s best restaurants, and made a global network of connections before handing the title over to Mitch.


I know my career progressed, but I was only 23-years-old when I won so I needed to get back in the kitchen and focus. One of the places I loved most during my travels was Melbourne, Australia, so I spent a year working in the meat section of Cutler & Co., an internationally-renowned restaurant. Then I came back to Ireland, to The Greenhouse, where I trained initially, to be part of the two-Michelin-starred team and continued my profession until the restaurant’s recent closure due to the pandemic.


Now I want to take all that experience and open my own restaurant in Dublin. I’ve learnt there is a massive appetite for top-end dining, but also for really simple food done well, so I’ve taken that idea and am turning it into a business. I’m going to cook delicious, simple dishes with well-sourced ingredients, there’ll be a lovely deli and also a 12-seat kitchen counter where you can have an eight-course menu of the best ingredients from around the world.


This is a hard game we’re in as chefs and if you manage to win a competition like this you can make it a lot better and easier for yourself. The best decision I ever made was taking that year to tour the world and get a sense of what’s happening in global gastronomy because it made my food a lot better when I came back to Ireland.


Mitch Lienhard

Winner of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2016


I felt shock, relief and happiness straight after the competition. My family was watching the livestream so the first person I called was my brother, followed by my boss and mentor David Kinch. At that point I felt a huge sense of accomplishment but didn’t really have any big future plans… Then I started asking myself: “What can I do? Where can I go?”


In the 12 months that followed I returned to my previous job, travelled a lot for work and people started recognising me from the competition. I also started travelling with S.Pellegrino to places like Australia, Singapore, and Ireland to meet new people and experience new cultures through food.


Fast forward to today, I’ve just started a hospitality consulting company with three partners. We work with restaurants, hotels and large tech firms looking to refresh their food programs. What we really want to do, and what we’re working on now, is opening several of our own food concepts — from a butcher shop and market, to a fine dining restaurant in a remote, special location, and even a fast-food restaurant. We have lots of plans that will hopefully come to fruition in 2022.


My advice to Jerome is to dream big, map out what you want to do and S.Pellegrino will support you.


Yasuhiro Fujio

Winner of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2017-18


I couldn’t believe what was going on when I won the competition. I thought I was in some kind of dream, at least for a few days… I didn’t make any immediate plans. I just got on a plane and went back to the restaurant I was working at in Japan. 


But the process of competing in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition really made me think about my identity and how that reflects on my food. I realised it was very important to know who I am and where I come from because that comes out in my food.


After winning the competition, thanks to S.Pellegrino, I had the chance to travel and cook in so many places that I otherwise would never have visited, and I had the pleasure of cooking with many chefs from whom I learned a lot — both in terms of cooking style and culture. All these experiences expanded my view towards life as a chef and I recently opened my own restaurant in Kyoto. It’s a beautiful place. I truly cannot tell what the future holds, but to this year’s winner I say: Enjoy your moment.


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