Rising stars: 3 young chefs to watch now and in the future

GT speaks to the next generation of culinary icons.

Brought to you by S.Pellegrino.

The prestigious S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy is known for fostering the next generation of culinary stars.

In 2022, 10 young chefs from across Australia and New Zealand contended in the Pacific region competition, presenting a single dish that expressed their personality and culinary career.

While Robin Wagner took out the top prize of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef and will represent the Pacific region at the Grand Finale in Milan this year, each young chef is a promising sign of things to come.

We sit down with the next generation of chefs to discover how they are shaping the Australian and New Zealand hospitality landscapes.

Tatsuya Fujii

For the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy competition, Tatsuya Fujii (Il Bacaro sous chef) presented his dry-aged yakitori duck, which is inspired by an early memory of dining at a yakitori restaurant with his parents.

“I used native Australian ingredients including finger lime to make a unique yuzu kosho, [and] the Italian approach of combining flavours of land and sea to enhance the dry-aged duck with colatura di alici cured egg yolk,” Fujji says.

“The duck was cooked over charcoal to impart the yakitori flavours one can expect from this Japanese classic,” Fujii says. Image: Kristoffer Paulsen

The young chef cut his teeth at a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant in Japan for four years, where he refined his technique as a junior sous chef. After a stint at Sydney’s LuMi Dining, Fujji moved to Melbourne where he’s currently a sous chef at Il Bacaro.

Fujji creates new dishes for the restaurant in collaboration with executive chef David Dellai, his chef mentor in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Pacific Region Final.

“He always trusts me to follow my vision,” Fujji shares.

As for what’s next, the rising star hopes to open his own restaurant to showcase his food and culinary ethos: “Taste is always my first priority. Plating and presentation can be developed later, but getting the flavours right is paramount.”

Leidy Carolina Maldonado Ramirez

“I’m really passionate about life, and because food is life, I’m entirely in love with it,” says Leidy Ramirez, who trained at Nu Nu Restaurant in Far North Queensland. Now, she’s a chef at Adelaide’s Fishbank Restaurant and Penfolds’ Magill Estate Restaurant.

For her S.Pellegrino competition entry, Ramirez created ensalda de payaso, nicknamed ‘clown salad’ for its colourful composition.

‘It represents both the vibrant Colombian culture and the versatility of our cuisine. The components of the salad can be found in almost every corner of the world, making it relatable and easily replicable.

Chef Leidy Ramirez. Image: Supplied

“The beauty of the clown salad lies in its simplicity. The use of fresh, vibrant ingredients such as crisp vegetables, flavourful herbs, and zesty dressings brings the salad to life, both visually and in terms of taste,” she explains.

Ramirez received the Fine Dining Lovers Food For Thought Award, which celebrates a dish that most upholds the chef’s personal beliefs.

“The S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy has played a vital role in supporting my culinary career, and I am immensely grateful for the opportunities it has provided me.

“The academy offers access to masterclasses conducted by esteemed chefs from around the world, providing me with invaluable exposure to different culinary perspectives, techniques, and innovations,” Ramirez says.

“By utilising what nature has to offer we can begin to envision a better, more sustainable future,” Jackson Mehlhopt says of his award-winning dish. Image: Kristoffer Paulsen

Jackson Mehlhopt

Hailing from New Zealand, Jackson Mehlhopt is quickly climbing the culinary ranks as head chef at family-owned Tussock Hill Cellar Door Restaurant near Christchurch.

A passionate forager and harvester, Mehlhopt aims to highlight issues of food waste and sustainability in his menus.

“My approach to food is focused on maximising the flavour and freshness of each season. Using foraged, hunted, sustainably harvested, and ethically sourced ingredients, I aim to highlight the best of what Canterbury and greater New Zealand has to offer,” he says.

Chef Jackson Mehlhopt. Image: Supplied

This personal ethos underscored his competition dish, the Southern Kiwi Dear and its surroundings, as the chef showcased a South Island animal commonly thought of as a pest.

“Herd numbers of Wapiti need to be controlled because they interfere with the ecology of the national park and are a threat to biodiversity in this region. Without retrieval efforts, this precious meat would simply go to waste,” he explains.

Impressing the judges, Mehlhopt was awarded the Acqua Panna Award for Connection In Gastronomy, which recognises his ability to fuse traditional culinary practices with a modern vision — forging a culinary connection between the past and the future.

The S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy finals will take place in Milan in October 2023.

Brought to you by S.Pellegrino.

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