South Australian chef Robin Wagner, who turned 30 this year, is set to represent Australia on a global stage next month when he flies to Milan for the prestigious S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy grand finale. This is the last stage of the global culinary contest, which selected its finalists from regional rounds across the globe.
Wagner will be joined by industry veteran Peter Gilmore, who will mentor him throughout the competition. Gilmore was one of the judges who crowned Wagner the regional winner last year, after his signature dish of smoked celeriac, Granny Smith apple and crisp taro impressed the panel of top Australian chefs. "What blew me away was the level of texture and flavour that he achieves essentially from just three ingredients. It's a credit to him and his lateral thinking how these ingredients can be transformed through cooking," says Gilmore. "It will blow out any misconceptions [of vegan cooking] once they have tasted this dish."
Wagner will now present that dish to the international judging panel in Milan, competing against 14 other rising culinary stars from around the world.
Based in the Barossa Valley, Wagner has worked his way through the ranks over the past decade in kitchens across Germany and Australia, including Sepia, Lake House and Magill Estate Restaurant. In December, he stepped into his first head chef role at Artisans of Barossa.
Speaking about his competition dish, Wagner says he wants to make diners consider fruit and vegetables as rightful stars, not supporting acts. "I wanted to create something which has the ability to make guests think — even if they are not vegetarian or vegan — about how amazing it must be to experience a plant-based dish. A dish that could get compared to wagyu, caviar and lobster," says Wagner.
While the dishes will be at the crux of the competition both mentors and young chefs alike are excited for the competition to resume in its full international capacity for the first time since 2019. Gilmore is quietly confident in Wagner's dish and skills. "Robin is an impressive young chef and he's in with a very good chance," says Gilmore. "It doesn't matter what the result is, it's the overall experience. Any time a young professional puts themselves out there, it's immeasurable how much doing something like this can teach you."
Entries for next year's S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy will open in early 2024. For more details, visit sanpellegrinoyoungchefacademy.com