S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2019-21

Meta chef Kevin Wong in top three of global contest

Head chef Kevin Wong of restaurant Meta clinched a coveted spot in the top three of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2019-21.

The global search for talented young chefs, organised by Italian natural mineral water brand S.Pellegrino, held its grand finals from last Thursday to Saturday in Milan, Italy.

It was originally scheduled for May last year, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Malaysia-born Wong, 27, who is a Singapore permanent resident, helms the one-Michelin-starred Meta in Keong Saik Road. He was also representing Asia in the prestigious cooking competition.

He shared the stage with the competition's winner, Swedish chef Jerome Ianmark Calayag, who represented the United Kingdom and North Europe region.

The other finalist was Italian chef Alessandro Bergamo, who represented Italy and the south-east of Europe.

The three outshone seven other chefs after an intense live-cooking showdown.

It was a close finish for the top spot, said Wong. "After the ceremony, the judges said there was a long discussion to decide the winner. Any one of us in the top three could have won as it was a point difference among us.

"I got so much more out of the competition than the accolade itself - I have found my voice and have grown as both a chef and a man."

Wong impressed the judges with his signature dish, Celebration of a Duck, which also won him the Asian regional finals in 2019.

The dish - first conceptualised in 2018 - featured roasted duck glazed with soya caramel, curry-spiced duck hearts, puree of carrot sansho and sauce made with the bones and kombu. Other elements included tsukune (Japanese-style meatball) made from the duck's legs, liver and skin, and duck broth with jasmine tea infusion.

Inspired by the hawkers in Malaysia and Singapore on their duck-roasting techniques, the dish also highlights Wong's message on nose-to-tail eating and sustainability.

The origami duck served alongside the dish was made from duck feathers, while the ceramic ware used for plating the dish was made by local potters using a composite of clay and duck ashes.

Wong said at the event: "Hawkers are heroes because they spend all their lives mastering one dish, and I wanted to showcase how amazing the culture is to the world."

His mentor - chef Julien Royer of the three-Michelin-starred French restaurant Odette in National Gallery Singapore - said: "The dish is a beautiful and genuine presentation of who he is and where he's from.

"It's a great expression of his humble roots and a good mix of modernity and tradition."

The panel of judges featured six giants of global gastronomy, including chefs of three-Michelin-starred restaurants: Enrico Bartolini of Enrico Bartolini al Mudec in Milan; Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur in Menton, France; and Clare Smyth of Core by Clare Smyth in London.

Other special awards given out included the Acqua Panna Award for Connection in Gastronomy, which went to chef Elissa Abou Tasse, who represented the Africa and Middle East region.

Her signature dish, Adam's Garden, won the award for featuring ingredients that highlighted her cultural background and reflecting the connection among different cultures.

The competition is the key activity of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy project, which was launched by S.Pellegrino last year.

Its aim is to nurture the future of gastronomy by discovering young talents and empowering them with a plan of education, mentoring and experience opportunities.

Previous competition champions include Dublin-based chef Mark Moriarty in 2015 and Japanese chef Yasuhiro Fujio in 2018.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2021, with the headline 'Meta chef Kevin Wong in top three of global contest'. Subscribe