Five chefs from Singapore, including one who operates out of a coffee shop in Bukit Merah, have made it to the semi- finals of the inaugural S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 competition, a global search for the best young chef in the world.
The competition is open to chefs, sous chefs and chefs de partie under the age of 30 across 20 different world regions, with 10 chefs shortlisted per region.
The semi-finalists and judges for the South-east Asia category were revealed at a press briefing yesterday.
The chefs from Singapore are Italian sous chef Andrea De Paola of &Sons Bacaro, chef de partie Chua Guo Sen of Sky On 57, Immanuel Tee of Immanuel French Kitchen, and chef de partie Elaine Koh and British sous chef Kirk Westaway of Jaan.
They will be competing against five other semi-finalists in a cook-off to represent South-east Asia in the finals in June.
The semi-finals will be held on Thursday at At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy in front of a panel of top chef judges comprising Taiwanese Andre Chiang, Briton Ryan Clift and Indian Gaggan Anand.
Chefs Chiang and Clift are based in Singapore and own restaurants here, while chef Anand has a restaurant in Bangkok.
The competition is a collaboration between online food magazine Fine Dining Lovers and Italian beverage brands Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino. Both brands are also known for sponsoring the renowned World's 50 Best Restaurants list, published annually by British food magazine Restaurant.
Applications opened last November. Chefs had to submit their resume and details of their signature dish. Alma, a top international educational and training centre for Italian cuisine, then selected 10 semi-finalists per region.
Chef Tee, 27, who opened Immanuel French Kitchen in a coffee shop in Bukit Merah last year, hopes to impress with his Western-Asian dish of Kakuni pork belly with duxelle mushrooms, potato foam and an onsen (hot spring) egg.
"I wanted to create a dish that uses the Western techniques that I have been taught, but with a flavour that has an Asian touch to represent myself," he says.
"It has always been my dream to be in the San Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants list one day, so I think this is a good start."
Chef De Paola, 24, who helms Italian bar and restaurant &Sons Bacaro after six years of culinary experience in Italy and a stint at Italian fine dining restaurant ilLido, says: "It's so rare for the attention to be on the younger generation and it's a great platform for us young chefs to display our capabilities as proper professionals, instead of simply being known as cooks."
His competition dish, Seven Seas, marries the Italian spirit with Asian ingredients and cooking techniques.
Chef Chua, 25, and chef Westaway, 29, are looking forward to learning from their peers and the more accomplished chefs.
"I feel honoured to be chosen for the semi-finals and this will be an eye-opening experience," says chef Chua, who has been working at Franco-Asian restaurant Sky On 57 at Marina Bay Sands for five years after graduating from Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre (Shatec) with a diploma in Culinary Skills. He will be presenting a duo of pigeon with variations of Granny Smith apples.
Chef Westaway, who has had more than 10 years of culinary experience in top restaurants in London and Brazil before joining modern French restaurant Jaan at Swissotel The Stamford three years ago, says: "Apart from enjoying the process of the competition and focusing on perfecting my dish for the semi-finals, I hope to meet and learn from people who hold the same culinary values and attitude as me."
He hopes to achieve a complex balance of tastes and textures with his signature dish, Forest Pigeon.
His colleague, chef Koh, was surprised but excited at being shortlisted.
"Being relatively new to the industry with only three years of experience, it is my first time participating in such a grand competition," says the 24-year-old, who plans to work on her signature dish of mackerel with sherry, beets and horseradish, tomorrow. Jaan does not open on Sundays.
Chef Koh adds: "I will do my best to deliver my best dish which I hope will highlight the freshness and purity of the produce."
The chefs from Singapore will be going up against Indonesian chef Ruby Febrianty Soekarta, Thai sous chef Patrick Morris and Indian chefs Anahita Dhondy, Angshuman Adhikari and Dhruv Oberoi.
The finals will be held in Milan, Italy, during the Expo Milano 2015.
Finalists will collaborate with young fashion designers, handpicked by fashion magazine Vogue Italia, to present their signature dish with a fashion interpretation.
The S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 and the Best Couple Chef/Designer 2015 will then be awarded by an international jury there.