At the grand finale of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2022–23, the 15 finalists were joined by some of the food industry’s most influential figures to consider the fine dining of tomorrow. The prestigious event, held in Milan in October, saw the finalists offer signature dishes that showcased their creativity and skill, as well as the diversity of global food culture.
They were joined in discussion by special guests Virgilio Martinez, whose Peruvian eatery Central was named the World’s Best Restaurant 2023; and Massimo Bottura, chef patron of the three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana; and by the grand jury: chefs Riccardo Camanini (Italy), Pía León (Peru), Hélène Darroze (France), Vicky Lau (Hong Kong), and Nancy Silverton (USA).
As the chefs told us, the future of haute cuisine will combine sustainably minded innovation with a respect for tradition and heritage. Using local ingredients, revisiting historic recipes and methods, and working to reduce waste will become ever more vital as we all seek to consume in more responsible ways.
The four pillars of conversation
The winner of the 2022–23 award was Portuguese chef Nelson Freitas, who served up a crispy red mullet with sea urchin and homemade black garlic. “My dish comes from a childhood memory, from a lunch on the beach together with my whole family,” he said. “I used only traditional ingredients to prepare it, albeit with innovative techniques, because I wanted to give the true taste of the ocean.”
“I believe that in order to have a positive impact on the future, every young chef must first of all open himself to comparison and learn from those who have come before, including the great chefs who mentor us and the grand jury of this competition, which is made up of true legends of haute cuisine,” he continued. “Only by collaborating, by sharing our knowledge and skills, can we learn and can we achieve that goal. To collaborate, that is the key to the future.”
Artur Gomes, one of the 15 finalists in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2022–23, is a Portuguese chef who received the S.Pellegrino Social Responsibility Award 2023 for his approach to sustainability. For Gomes, it’s all about taking a holistic view. “You have to talk about [sustainability] at the level of the local community, of finance, of society,” he said. “In this sense, food can become an inspiration to change many other things. Even just bringing in new ingredients from far away, or giving new life to ingredients that are no longer used or were never valued, can generate a virtuous circle that has a positive effect on society as a whole.”
Both Martinez and Bottura also spoke during the grand finale of the importance of looking at the bigger picture. “We are not just chefs, we are guardians of the planet,” Bottura said. “I urge each of us to consider the ethical implications of every ingredient we choose for our dishes.”
Collaboration is the recipe
The S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition, held every two years, is now in its fifth edition. It gives prodigious chefs under the age of 30 an opportunity to test themselves and expand their knowledge. They become part of a group of international alumni who aim to define the future of fine dining.
To compete in the grand finale, a chef must first win one of the 15 regional competitions. They are then matched with a mentor, with whom they embark upon a two-year journey of collaboration, exploration, and innovation. Their resulting signature dish must showcase their creativity, technical skill, and vision for the future.
How can food inspire?
For the 2022–23 edition of the competition, the finalists were tasked with creating a dish using ingredients inspired by their origins. For Ian Goh, recipient of the Fine Dining Lovers Food for Thought Award 2023, this meant being able to tell.
“I was born in Singapore and am of Chinese descent, a fact that I feel is never given the proper importance,” Goh said. “I believe that food can inspire people precisely because it can take them back to the roots of their culture. Food reminds us where we come from, who we really are, and shapes our future.”
Chef He-Sen Liu, from China, agrees. Upon winning the Acqua Panna Connection in Gastronomy Award 2023, for best representing the connection between creativity and food culture, he reflected: “Food is part of every human being’s daily life. The difference I feel I can make as a chef is to choose the ingredients that most belong to my culture and show how they could be used differently to create something new.”
According to grand juror Nancy Silverton, “our role as chefs is to educate—to educate our customers, society as a whole, but also ourselves—about the importance of choosing the most sustainable way in which food is grown, harvested, cooked, and consumed. This is the greatest responsibility we have as exponents of haute cuisine for the future.” One such lesson came from Italian finalist Michele Antonelli, whose zero-waste dish, Spin the Cauliflower, was plated inside 3D-printed, fully compostable containers of his own invention.
Talent, Creativity, and Vision
The chefs’ views of the future of fine dining mirror S.Pellegrino’s own belief in the transformative power of gastronomy. The S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy was designed to discover the great chefs of the future and connect them with one another, generating an exchange of knowledge, skills, and values.
“This edition of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition exceeded our expectations. The impressive participation of young chefs all over the world means a lot to us, and we are proud to see that so many talents share the S.Pellegrino belief in making the world a better place through food—it’s all in their hands to make it possible,” says Stefano Bolognese, international business unit director of the S.Pellegrino Group. But for this vision to be realized, he adds, “we would like to think of it as a new beginning for the young chefs. And our commitment won’t stop here, as more details about the next edition of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition are coming soon.”
The next edition of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition will be presented in 2024.
Find out more about the competition and the chefs on the dedicated website.