Event report: S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016

The events and trends being followed by young chefs and industry greats alike

The S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 was held in Milan.
The S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 was held in Milan.

Being a chef is not an easy job. It can mean long hours, burnt and/or cut fingers, and not much pay — at least to start with. But it’s also a career with a lot of responsibility — towards your colleagues, guests, and the environment.

Those who choose to make this their career take it seriously. In the F&B industry, there is always the need for innovation, as well as keeping an eye on the latest trends.

Caterer Middle East was in Milan for the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016, and through interviews with chefs, and viewing the dishes on offer from the young 20 finalists, uncovered the top concerns for chefs in the industry, and the advice they have for others planning to make this their career.

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Vegetarianism

Concerns about sustainability when it comes to the beef production value chain have long since been discussed. Issues around greenhouse gas emissions, efficient use of land and water when it comes to rearing livestock, and the environmental footprint have been in the news. The chefs at the event were all keen to emphasise the importance of thinking about vegetarian ingredients in a creative way — from a health, as well as environmental, standpoint.

French national Dominique Crenn is the restaurateur-chef behind Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, and also won the title of ‘The World’s Best Female Chef 2016’. At S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016, she was mentor to the winner, USA representative Mitch Lienhard. She touches on the issue of serving vegan and vegetarian food, and says: “I am neither [vegan nor vegetarian] but I love that aspect [of food]. Chefs need to understand that there needs to be a change in the way that we’re producing meat and fishing.

“I believe in climate change and we need to go with a different way of looking at things. I have a restaurant that just does vegetables and fish. I believe I was one of the first to serve a vegan tasting menu if someone wanted it. We need to be open with diversity and embrace it. It’s a challenging way of looking at ingredients and being more open minded. Look at what’s going on in the world and what we’re producing. We have been very narrow minded in that we have had to have meat and fish on our dishes.

“I think meat is not better than vegetable, I think a vegetable is the rock star. Nature gave us incredible ingredients so let's use it.”

On the vegetarian trend, Chantal Dartnall agrees. She is the head chef at Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient in South Africa, and was the mentor for Africa & Middle East’s representative, Grégoire Berger from Atlantis the Palm.

She tells Caterer: “I became a vegetarian when I was quite young and the rest of my family weren’t, so I started cooking for myself. And through that I discovered a lot of different vegetables and how to incorporate them into my dishes, and then incorporating herbs and flowers — not just from a visual point of view, but how these influenced your health. Because with limiting meat and protein out of your diet, you need to look at alternative sources of energy. And that’s where my journey began.

“That’s how I ended up being a botanical chef and even today I don’t use flowers and herbs just for the visual appeal but from a holistic approach.”

When I ask Vladimir Mukhin, the chef of White Rabbit (the only Russian restaurant to make it to the list of World’s 50 Best), about ingredients he would identify with Russian food, he mentions black bread, sour, fermented drinks like kvass, berries, pickles, cucumbers, watermelon and honey — not meat. He comments briefly: “I am not a big fan of meat, I prefer vegetables — but in our country it’s cold, and sometimes we need it!”

Sourcing and sustainability

In the Middle East, sourcing ingredients and sustainability is a major talking point, and the region’s industry is still growing towards achieving more sustainability in its practices.

And sourcing locally remains a subject close to chefs’ hearts, according to the results of the Caterer Head Chef Survey 2016. This year 22.7% said that 20-30% of what they source is procured locally. The Croft head chef Darren Velvick told Caterer earlier this year: “At The Croft we try to buy 80% of our produce locally and organic, using the local farmers.”

He added that owing to this approach, The Croft builds its menu around what is available in the region at the time, which helps to keep its prices down. However, as ensuring quality of ingredients remains top notch is high on chefs’ priority lists, it is not always possible for chefs to buy locally.

On that note, local sourcing — and organic in some cases as well — is definitely on the mind of most of the chefs we spoke to. Christian Puglisi is the man behind Relæ, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the world to be certified organic, and he also runs a wine bar called Manfreds, an Italian charcuterie and pizza restaurant called Bæst, and coffee-bar-cum-bakery called Mirabelle.

Puglisi remarks: “It’s important to understand that you need to think sustainably — in every sense, not only in terms of raw material. But also in the way of thinking that you need to be nice to someone — because you never know the way things turn. We meet people again and I think it’s very important to keep core values like respect and be kind to everyone around you.

“And to understand the basics, not just technically but culturally: what is food? What is alcohol? Why do we eat the food that we eat? When you cook, we represent many more things than the technical way of transforming something, it’s much more than that.”

Puglisi established a farm this spring where he sources ingredients for his restaurant, including raw milk. “It’s extremely interesting to try and prove as an example that this is totally doable, it’s not dangerous and it’s good quality. There’s a big need for innovation in the overlap between agriculture and gastronomy that I think as a chef, as a restaurateur, you can contribute.”

Similarly, Yoshihiro Narisawa agrees with the concept of being closer to nature. Narisawa is a Japanese chef and owner of the two-Michelin star restaurant Les Créations de Narisawa in Minato, Tokyo, Japan. As mentor for Seira Furuya in the competition, he says sustainability figures high on his list of priorities: “Eating is directly connected to nature. To take care of the nature is the most important thing as a chef. It’s an indispensable attitude as a chef.”

Atlantis the Palm’s Ossiano restaurant chef de cuisine Grégoire Berger says that sustainability in ingredient sourcing is important, and it is something he is conscious about in his daily operations.

He tells Caterer: “All our products [in Dubai] are coming from all around the world. It’s good because [it means] we have good products but there can be a lot of wastage, there can be a lot of energy that we spend to get a kilo of vegetables.”

He says that in Ossiano, he educates his chefs and front-of-house team on the importance and meaning of good food.

He comments: “I try to meet the suppliers, I try to meet the producer. I explain to my team, to the waiter for example, that he should respect the plating because we spend a long time on it in the kitchen, but also because there are a lot of people working on the product before we get it.”

Berger continues: “I try to use less products but better products, like they do in Japan. I try to avoid wastage to create something to serve to the guest. Not as trimmings, but to be really creative with it.”

Advice for the future

With the setting of the interviews in an environment fostering young chefs and their careers, it was inevitable that talk turned to what the next generation of chefs needed to do to move forward in their journey in the F&B industry.

Dartnall comments: “If your aspiration is to have your own kitchen and become a prominent chef, you need to be individual and it’s hard with so much happening around you. You almost get brainwashed by new images and plates — so discover who you are and what you want to tell people. What is your story and what do you want to reflect? And how can you be true to yourself?”

Sticking to the theme of ‘telling a story’, Crenn says: “It's quite inspiring to have an array of such great young chefs from everywhere in the world, so there are different points of view and flavours. When I look at someone’s dish, I want them to tell me a story. I want them to showcase who they are as a chef and as people, and also understand the richness and beauty of the ingredient where they cook from. I don't want someone to cook something that doesn't mean anything.”

Mukhin tells Caterer: “Young chefs need to think about the tastes and the combination of tastes — and it’s very important not to be an international taste. It needs to be the taste of his or her culture; for example, when people close their eyes and try my food, they think, ‘it’s the taste of Russia’.” He says that while being global is one way forward, it’s important to stay true to the roots of where one comes from.

Continuing to give advice, Narisawa says: “Young chefs have to think about the future. If we can continue eating [well] for 50 years from now, they have to think about the environment.”

Dartnall concludes with some practical advice: “You need to expose yourself to as many opportunities as possible. A lot of young chefs generally want to go into a kitchen and stay there. But before you settle, travel as much as possible. Go and work in as many different types of kitchens as possible. Work in a hotel, work in a bistro, work in a pâtisserie, work in a fine dining establishment, get that experience with as many possible chefs because then you will know which style best appeals to you.”

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