Next Thursday, 10 young chefs from South-east Asia will face one another in a cook-off to determine who gets to represent the region in the finals of the San Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 competition - a global search for the world's best young chefs under 30.
Half of these semi-finalists come from Singapore, including 25-year-old Elaine Koh - a chef de partie (or station chef) at Jaan, one of Singapore's most prestigious restaurants, and no. 17 on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list. Within the two-hour time limit, she will have to prepare her signature dish - mackerel with sherry, beets and horseradish.
Along with the other nine competitors, Chef Koh will be judged by a panel made up of Bangkok-based Indian chef Gaggan Anand, and two Singapore-based chefs - Andre Chiang of Restaurant Andre and Ryan Clift of Tippling Club.
The winner will go on to represent the South-east Asian region at the grand finals in Milan this June, where they will compete against 19 others from other regions around the world.
San Pellegrino's marketing coordinator for Asia, Elisabetta Ceriani, says: "We decided Singapore was the best option (to host the semi- finals) because it's the most developed country in South-east Asia, and the most centralised. And of course the culinary scene here is growing too."
As one of the South-east Asian judges, Chef Clift is proud of the fact that half the region's semi-finalists come from Singapore. He says: "It shows the calibre of Singapore right now. I'm hoping maybe one of two of the local guys will include some local flavours in their dish - that would be good to see."
The other four chefs from Singapore are Chua Guo Sen from Sky On 57, Kirk Westaway from Jaan, Andrea de Paola from &SONS Bacaro, and Immanuel Tee who runs his own hawker stall Immanuel French Kitchen.
The competition has five main judging criteria (or "golden rules") - ingredients, skills, genius, beauty, and message.
Chef Tee will be making his Kakuni pork belly with Duxelle mushroom, onsen egg and potato foam - a dish he created while working at Keystone restaurant a few years ago. An important criteria for him is his "message", which he explains: "The technique is very Western, but the pork belly flavour is very Asian. The dish represents me that way, and it's important to have your own identity and touch."
When asked which of the criteria was most important to him personally, Chef Clift immediately says: "Ingredients. The fundamentals of all my cooking is ingredients. Everyone thinks maybe it's technology but it's not. If you don't start with good produce, you don't end with a good dish."
That said, he adds: "I think (the young chefs) just need to be true to themselves. Yes, you have to take the competition seriously but you also have to enjoy it. It's an experience."
This article was first published on Jan 31, 2015.
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