Two years is a long time in a young chef’s career, even more so when the pandemic has caused so much upheaval in the restaurant industry. The four winners, who wowed an international jury of professional chefs at the Africa & Middle East regional final in October 2019, have continued to grow in their careers and have come a long way since then. They are now preparing for the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Grand Finale 2021, which takes place from the 28th to 30th October in Milan, having been postponed from 2020.

Twelve S.Pellegrino Young Chef finalists supported by their mentor chefs will cook their signature dishes in front of a panel of Seven Sages, these renowned chefs from around the world include Pim Techamuanvivit, Mauro Colagreco, Manu Buffara, Gavin Kaysen, Enrico Bartolini, Clare Smyth and Andreas Caminada. Finalists in the other three categories will partake in workshops and forums with further opportunities for learning and creating connections in the world of gastronomy.

We catch up with each of the Africa & Middle East Regional Winners, asking what’s changed in their careers in the last two years, and what they are looking forward to about visiting Italy for the three-day Grand Finale.

Paul Prinsloo – S.Pellegrino Young Chef Regional finalist

Since winning the title of S.Pellegrino Young Chef for his region in 2019, Paul has moved from The Restaurant at Waterkloof, which closed in November last year, to Gåte at Quoin Rock. The last two years have led him to focus much more on the issue of waste in the kitchen and with this in mind he’s adapting his dish for the competition, guided by his mentor Gregory Czarnecki. ”I’m using the whole carcase of the fish, not just the fillets, taking good quality scallops and using the offcuts, making something of it. I want to see how little wastage I can actually have when the dish is completed,” says Paul. He’s feeling confident for the finals and practising his dish weekly to get that muscle memory going again in the lead up to the competition.

Callan Austin – S.Pellegrino Award for Social Responsibility finalist

Callan moved from Le Coin Français to join the new team at Chefs Warehouse Tintswalo in February 2021, to give himself the opportunity to gain wider experience. “I’ve grown a lot as a chef. There are technical elements of my dish that I would update, interesting new ingredients that I’ve discovered, though my concept is still strong and I’m even more dedicated to being sustainable.” He’s excited about going to Milan to meet other chefs and see what’s happening in sustainability elsewhere in the world. “I’m looking forward to bringing back new knowledge and connections and start a new focus on what sustainability is all about in South Africa.”

Marcus Gericke – Fine Dining Lovers Food for Thought finalist

Marcus had just moved from The Saxon Hotel to the Michelangelo in Sandton, Johannesburg when the pandemic hit, and the hotel closed. “I reached out to my chef friends, and Callan Austin, who I’d met in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition, put me in touch with his mentor Darren Badenhorst.” Marcus moved to Franschhoek as sous chef at Le Chêne and is now head chef at Le Coin Français, both Badenhorst’s restaurants. “The friends and connections I made from the competition have given me a chance to rebuild and thrive, and I’m sure meeting more in Italy will only help and guide me as a chef going further.” You can vote for Marcus in the Food for Thought award on the Fine Dining Lovers website.

Elissa Abou Tasse – Acqua Panna Award for Connection in Gastronomy finalist

The S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition has given Elissa inspiration and opportunity to grow, she says, “After the competition, I focused on my weaknesses as a chef, and it made me realise that I want to be more particular in the research and development department, to develop my strengths further.” She says she is super excited to go to Milan for the Grand Finale. “After the pandemic and everything that happened it is exactly what we need. I am sure that I will change even more after the finale and have a more developed perspective.”

Sanpellegrino wishes all the finalists well in their preparations and looks forward to welcoming them in Milan to connect with the gastronomy community at the Grand Finale in October.

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