The Asia Regional Final of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2019-2020 concluded on the 10 of September, with ten of the most talented young chefs in Asia showing off their outstanding culinary skills at the competition held at Ecole Tsuji Tokyo, in partnership with the Tsuji Culinary Institute Group.
Kevin Wong from Meta Restaurant, Singapore (pictured above) emerged victorious following the challenging five-hour cook-off meaning he will be tasked with representing Japan (event location), India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand at the Grand Finale in Milan in 2020 with his signature dish "celebration of a duck."
However, the day wasn't solely dedicated to chef Wong, he was also joined on stage by three other young chefs doing great things with gastronomy as highlighted in their signature dishes. Each was given an award in recognition of their creativity and ability to highlight the transformative power of gastronomy and its impact beyond the kitchen, as follows:
S.Pellegrino Award for Social Responsibility
For the dish that best reflects the principles of socially responsible practices
Acqua Panna Award for Connection in Gastronomy
For the chef able to connect several cultures through his dish
Fine Dining Lovers Food for Thoughts Award f
For the young chef best representing his personal beliefs through his dish.
We spoke to each of the four award winners following their individual victories to understand the work behind their dish and their ambitions for the future.
Kevin Wong, S.Pellegrino Young Chef Winner
Sous chef, 'Meta Restaurant" - Singapore
Signature Dish: Celebration of a duck
Why do you think your dish could win the Grand Finale in 2020?
Because I believe that it represents the spirit of this competition which is the voice for a young chef. It consists of the spirit of my roots, which is growing up in a multicultural context and the ideas and memories from the travels as a young chef. Food is a universal language, I strongly think that it brings people together and my dish showcases how harmonious flavours can all come together. This dish highlights the importance of balance, crediting the different craftsmanship and looking at the food system from a different angle.
How will you collaborate with your mentor in order to perfect your dish for the final?
First of all, I would love to further improve the flavours with his opinion, which I believe is the most important factor in the dish. And then further work on the mechanics of the presentation and how we can execute whatever we plan on doing on the global stage. My mentor has been on the jury side and has tasted my dish and I definitely would need his opinion on just about everything at the end of the day. From logistics, sourcing, flavours, and etc.
What are your professional dreams/aspirations?
My dream is to inspire the young chefs out there. Making them believe that there is something for them out there. This for me even at this stage is something I could only dream a year back. And I want to set up a restaurant in the near future of course (every chef's dream) but work in a really different context. Deliciousness will be number one, but I want the restaurant to be a platform like this program to connect people to the food world. Giving them a path to be able to empower their dreams, work together a lot with schools, starting up food education at an early age.
Karan Upmanyu, Fine Dining Lovers Food for Thought Award
Chef de partie, 'Toast And Tonic' - Bangalore, India
Signature dish: Shades of the desert. Braised goat leg, Bajra and Moth bean Khichdi and Kachori, desert berries and string beans, Moth Bean Lace Tuile and goats yoghurt cream
This prize is for the young chef who best represents their personal belief within their dish: how did you
transform your ideas into a dish?
The foundation of any dish is its ingredients. To translate my concept into a dish, I began by choosing ingredients that I felt best represented the Rajasthani desert and its food. I chose resilient ingredients like bajra millet and moth bean that are cultivated, and ker berries and sangri beans, which are foraged from the region. Each of my dish elements took inspiration from the traditional cuisines and foodways, which form the essence of the culinary heritage of my state. For example, the moth bean lace tuile represented a burlap sack in which goat meat was traditionally wrapped, and cooked, covered with coals in a pit in the desert. The tuile was also made from the batter for crisp Bikaneri bhujia, one of the most popular savoury fried snacks in the region. In this way, I tried to use each element to represent the region’s multi-faceted food culture that in the harsh geographical context, has allowed people to sustain and thrive for centuries.
Muhammad Afif Adnanta Nasution, S.Pellegrino Award for Social Responsibility
Commis, Teatro Gastroteque Bali - Bali, Indonesia
Signature dish ‘Smoked Java mackerel with Batak sauce.
Why do you think you won the S.Pellegrino Award for Social Responsibility award?
I believe it's in everybody's interest to try and be socially responsible and maintain a sustainable environment, each in their own way, I think I gained extra points because I showed how my local culture of preserves and maintains a sustainable environment. As a developing nation, my home country struggles to move forward as an advanced nation and industrialize itself and at the same time keep a good balance between modern technology and global influence with our historically rich culture. Through food, as a basic need and which i believe the foundation of any culture, I present an insight of my local community and how I interpret it modernly.
By the platform provided from San Pellegrino Young Chefs, I presented my point of view on how to synchronize the past with the present to reach the future, this is the first step of my journey to share what I believe and my culture to the world. I guess this is what I was awarded for.
Which are the most valuable sustainable practices to adopt as a chef, in your opinion?
In my opinion, a chef should understand the character of their own nature and try to discover and gather resources from it, such as herbs, spices, vegetables and animals and also knowing the cycle of life in the environment. Through this process, chefs may learn how to effectively cultivate the land while efficiently processing it in the kitchen, by knowing how a plant develops and an animal grows, chefs can determine how to plan a sustainable practice. This also might benefit farmers as chefs can cooperate with local farmers to produce only a certain amount as needed or as long as it is able to be processed and wasting minimally.
Tor Aik Chua, Acqua Panna Award for Connection in Gastronomy
Sous chef, Restaurant Zen - Singapore
Signature dish: Whole Kinmedai With Malaysian Elements.
Why do you think you won the Acqua Panna for connection in Gastronomy award?
I used to work at Noma, the idea of nose to tail, how to be more sustainable are in the foundation of my cooking. The idea of my dish was using the whole part of Kinmedai in various forms, including the eyes, which is quite a delicacy from my culture (Chinese style steam fish head).Not to mention as a Malaysian cooking in Singapore currently (restaurant Zen) I used a few Malaysian locally sourced and foraged ingredients, such as turmeric leaves, buah kulim ( jungle garlic from the rain forest) and nutmeg fruit to showcase the nature bounty of my country.
With the help of fermentation that I learnt from my time at Noma, I explored the new flavour profiles by applying different techniques to these ingredients.
How is it possible to create a mix of different cultures creating something new?
My country, Malaysia, is a very good example of a successful country mixing different cultures and creating something new. we have Peranakan culture, which is the marriage between Chinese x Malay x Indian. Peranakan dishes are bold, rich and full of spices, which is exactly the marriage of three races. The trick to being successful is to be open-minded and be more tolerant to flavors you not familiar with. The next tip is to understand the common points among each culture. For instance, people been saying fermentation is the future food, but the truth is its been around since Roman times, as well as the ancient Chinese Shang dynasty. Every culture has their own type/style of fermentation, from Japanese's miso to Korean's kimchi, Chinese Soy sauce to Roman's garum.
So, my approach to creating something new out of different culture is to apply different fermentation methods to different ingredients to create the familiar flavours they are unaccustomed to.