MILAN, Italy: The famous S. Pellegrino Young Chef Academy 2022-2023 Grand Finale competition took place in Milan recently, gathering the best of the best from around the globe to compete for the coveted title of the Best Young Chef in the World.

It was only fitting the illustrious event took place in a country renowned for its cuisine, with some of the most famous chefs worldwide in attendance to watch the 15 finalists claim their rightful place among the giants of the global culinary community.

In the end, there could only be one winner, with the award going to junior sous chef Nelson Freitas, a young chef from Fifty Seconds restaurant in Lisbon, and representing the Iberian Countries.

 Freitas wowed the grand jury with his stunning signature dish of crispy red mullet with sea urchin and homemade black garlic – ingredients he had sourced from his Portuguese homeland. The jury praised the dish for its “intensity, creativity and perfect balance.” What clinched it for the young chef was the fact there was absolutely no waste, adhering to the new gastronomic principles of reducing the industry’s carbon footprints. Freitas told the crowds his dish was based on “tradition, flavour and home.”

 The S. Pellegrino Young Chef Competition spanned two days of intensive cooking and creating, with each of the finalists accompanied by a special chef mentor. Finished dishes were presented to a stellar grand jury made up of esteemed international chefs, with the overall theme being “Bring Your Future To The Table,” – representing how S. Pellegrino is looking to help mold the next generation of chefs to bring their personal dreams and visions to the global chef community in order to “create a better world through food,” said company officials.

It should be noted the competition was founded back in 2002 as a mentoring program to connect top culinary students with established chefs and influential media. Since then, it has grown and evolved into one of the biggest, most respected culinary events of the industry, and has launched hundreds of successful careers while refining the skills and messaging of new generations of chefs.

This year’s event had more than 4,000 applications with some 720 submissions in total.

Canada’s contribution was a delightful young chef named Pierre-Olivier Pelletier of Quebec, named best young chef in the country earlier in the year by a local panel of award-winning chefs Christine Cushing, Suzanne Barr and Patrick Kriss. 

Pelletier won for his signature dish of “young aged and smoked duck with sweet grass, yellow birch syrup lacquer with crispy cereal, carotene dressing, roasted cereal gravy and ‘verge d’or’” – an ode to his indigenous roots and to pay homage to his family.

 “I invented this dish to pay tribute to the hard work of my parents,” said Pelletier, adding, “to me, this dish also represents the diversity of Canadian gastronomy.”

Sweetgrass played a pivotal role in Pelletier’s dish – a profound ingredient he also gifted to the grand jury – as a testament to Canada’s indigenous heritage. “Sweet grass represents the connection between the past and the future,” he said.

Award-winning chef, author and restaurateur Suzanne Barr accompanied Pelletier to Milan as his personal mentor, and the two worked diligently on a dish that spoke volumes of the young chef’s love of country, identity and passion for sustainability.

All the chefs in attendance created an array of sensational dishes, and each dish was truly spectacular in its own right. Still, the intensity of the competition weighed heavily on everyone, and several chefs were so overwhelmed with emotion that a few of them openly wept.

“This edition of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition exceeded our expectations,” said Stefano Bolognese, the company’s international business unit director, afterwards. “The impressive participation of young chefs all over the world means a lot to us and we are proud to see that so many talents share the S.Pellegrino belief to make the world a better place through food.”

The prestigious award was announced at a glittery gala in Milan’s famous Pirelli Hangar Bicocca art space, in which much revered global chef Massimo Bottura of the three-star Michelin Osteria Francescana restaurant in Modena, spoke passionately about sustainability, food waste and the state of the culinary industry today.

“We are not only cooks we are guardians of our planet, and sustainability must shine the brightest,” said Bottura. “Sustainability is not a buzzword – I urge you to consider (its) ethical applications…celebrate local and seasonal to reduce carbon footprints. Collaboration is the key to a sustainable future of gastronomy.”

His message to all the young chefs was profound: “We are dreamers and visionaries to shape the culinary world of tomorrow. Together we can build a better future. Understand that we are the revolution!”