Grand Finale 2023: As it happened
Discover what happened during the two-day competition in Milan.
The Grand Finale of S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2022-23 took place in Milan on 4 and 5 October, with 15 finalists competing to win the overall prize in front of the Grand Jury of esteemed international chefs: Riccardo Camanini, Hélène Darroze, Vicky Lau, Pía León and Nancy Silverton*.
The theme for the event was 'Bring your future to the table' which represents how S.Pellegrino invites the next generation of chefs to bring their dreams and visions to share with the global chef community to create a better world through food.
The first morning was a busy one in the kitchens as the first seven finalists each had five hours to prepare and present their signature dish, supported by their mentors.
Kicking off the action was chef Grigoris Kikis (South East Europe & Mediterranean) accompanied by his mentor Georgianna Hiliadaki, followed by Yi Zhang (China's Mainland) and her mentor Stefano Bacchelli, then Michele Antonelli (Italy) mentored by chef Andrea Aprea. Next came Raul Garcia (West Europe) with mentor Guy Ravet, then Robin Wagner (Pacific) mentored by Peter Gilmore. Rounding off the first day's action were Erick Bautista (Latin America & Caribbean) with his mentor Lula Martin del Campo, and finally Anton Lebersorger (Central Europe) and mentor Daniel Gottschlich.
As plate after spectacular plate emerged from the kitchens a noticeably impressed Grand Jury voiced their enthusiasm at the quality and diversity of the creations presented. Lau exclaimed: "I feel like I've travelled the world with these dishes," while León added: "It's not going to be easy to choose a winner."
The afternoon saw the young and senior chefs gather together to discuss the values of modern gastronomy at the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Forum. Moderated by Tom Jenkins and Valeria Raimondi, The Forum focused on how chefs can shape the human side of their industry, focusing on the themes of human sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion.
It started with a moving 'open letter' presented by Virgilio Martínez of Central in Lima, Peru, The World’s Best Restaurant 2023. He reminded the young chefs, "This competition is tough, but if you're going to be the future of fine dining, you're going to be competing with yourself every day, competing with the person you were the day before. This can be your motivation in the kitchen."
Next on stage were the former winners of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition, Mark Moriarty (2015), Mitch Lienhard (2016), Yasuhiro Fujio (2018) and Jerome Calayag (2021), who reflected on their personal and professional journeys since winning the competition. All agreed that being a winner had given them an amazing chance to travel, experience different cuisines and make new friends, and that today there are many different paths available for young chefs. They advised the winner to seize the opportunity, without losing sight of their long-term career plan. Asked for one word that represents an important value, Calayag chose "Kindness, as exchanging kindness improves the atmosphere in the kitchen, and therefore the food." Fujio went for "Love," remembering Massimo Bottura's maxim that "Cooking is an act of love." Moriarity, on the other hand, chose "Graft," advising that "It takes about three months of hard work to understand whether a job is for you." Finally, Lienhard opted for "Respect, for your colleagues, your customers and yourself," adding: "If you focus on these areas, respect gets returned to you."
The Forum concluded with an interactive panel session with the Grand Jury, who discussed – among other topics – leading with empathy, listening to staff, and how to ensure longevity in the kitchen, both personally and for the business. On the subject of how to measure excellence in managing people, Silverton pointed to high turnover as an alarm bell. "If people are leaving all the time, most likely you're doing something wrong. The old ways were the wrong ways, but now the restaurateurs who needed to listen are finally waking up."
In a reversal of a common question, the panel was then asked what inspires them about young chefs. "They work not so much to demonstrate skills or techniques, but to make emotional moments," reflected Darroze, adding "They really have a story to tell."
Questions from the audience followed, starting with one about where the panel saw the trend in vegetarian dishes developing. Camanini was first to respond, enthusing: "For my part, it's a great opportunity. Today the value of luxury has changed. Today a carrot or fennel can be a luxury product."
This was followed by the question: "Do you actively seek out female chefs to improve the gender imbalance in the kitchen?" Lau summed up the views of the whole Grand Jury in her response: "Teamwork is the most important thing, so rather than gender I look at personality."
With that answer, the Forum concluded and the first day's activities drew to a close.
The morning of the second and final day of the Grand Finale of S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2022-23 saw the remaining eight young chef finalists take to the kitchens to cook their signature dishes for the Grand Jury in Milan.
The energy was infectious as the young chefs got to work. First up was Nelson Freitas (Iberian Countries) with his mentor Filipe Carvalho, swiftly followed by Camille Saint-M’Leux (France) and mentor Christophe Bacquié, Marcus Clayton (UK) mentored by Lisa Goodwin-Allen, and Ian Goh (Asia) with his mentor Dave Pynt. The list of finalists was completed by Jet Loos (North Europe) accompanied by her mentor Dick Middleweerd, Daniel Garwood (USA) and his mentor Nina Compton, Mythrayie Iyer (Asia, Middle East & South Asia) mentored by Johnson Ebenezer, and finally Pierre-Olivier Pellettier (Canada), supported by mentor Suzanne Barr.
Once again, the senior chefs of the Grand Jury mentioned the extremely high technical and aesthetic standards of the cooking on display. Darroze's comment, "There is a lot of work on the plate," could have applied to any of the dishes, as could Lau's observation that "It's a feast for the eyes." The judges were also delighted with the wide variety of cuisines represented, with León pointing out: "You can feel not just the flavour, but the culture and the history." As on the previous day, the dishes succeeded in transporting the jury around the world. "I can taste the sea," said Silverton, before going on to joke, "I'm grateful that I can't feel the ocean!"
The humility of the Grand Jury in the presence of so much talent was summed up by Camanini when he admitted: "It's not easy to be here as a judge, because discovering and learning so much makes you feel small."
Not only standards but also emotions were running high, with more than one of the young chefs becoming visibly moved while presenting their signature dishes. But, in the words of the Grand Jury, "It's okay to cry. Emotions are closely related to cooking!" – a perfect note on which to reflect while we wait for the conclusion of this emotional rollercoaster with the announcement of the winner of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2022-23.
* For personal reasons, two members of the Grand Jury – Julien Royer and Eneko Atxa – were unable to attend. They recorded special video messages expressing their regret at not being able to make it and wishing the best of luck to all involved.