From 11-13 May, twenty-one talented young chefs from all over the world will be competing in the S. Pellegrino Young Chef Grand Finale in Milan, Italy. To win the coveted title, each chef presents their dish to an esteemed jury of seven world-renowned chefs – the Seven Sages. Making up the jury panel are Annie Féolde, Virgilio Martínez, Paul Pairet, Brett Graham, Ana Roš, Dominique Crenn and Margarita Forés.

Representing Africa and the Middle East is South African chef Vusumuzi Ndlovu, the head chef of the Marabi Club in Johannesburg. We chatted to the chef about how his preparation is coming along, his dish and what he’s most excited for:

How important is this competition to you as a young chef and your career going forward? How does an association with a fine dining brand such as S. Pellegrino affect you as a chef? This competition has changed the careers of the chefs that have won it before. I firmly believe that if I can achieve a good result in Milan, the competition could open doors I never knew were there before. The networking possibilities are so crazy, so it’s pretty exciting.

How are you training for the S. Pellegrino Young Chef finals and how is it going? I’m not trying to overwork the dish, I am taking it slow and steady. I’ll give it a good push last minute. I’m trying to avoid a situation where I’m bored of the dish before I arrive in Milan. It worked out well in the regionals, so fingers crossed!

Can you tell us a bit about the dish you’ll be preparing for the finals and the inspiration behind it? I don’t like to talk about the details of the dish too much but I can say I have developed some cool things for Milan. Basically, it’s duck, grains and pumpkin; all these ingredients have been elevated with a South African twist like sorghum umqombothi and a buchu Kombucha, to mention a few.

Are there any adjustments you’ve had to make to the recipe’s ingredients and techniques? The best part about the process is learning something new about the dish and unlocking parts of it you didn’t see before so that’s exciting. Also, making the dish I didn’t account for. That’s how I learn.

What are you looking forward to most at the S. Pellegrino Young Chef final? I’m looking forward to meeting all the young guns and the Seven Sages. That’ll be epic. Mostly just to cook the dish in front of an international audience and seeing how they take to it.

How do you feel competitions like the S. Pellegrino Young Chef is impacting the future of young chefs in South Africa? The impact of this competition to South African chefs, I’d say, it makes you more confident and conscious of the food you make. Like, you think about things in a different way. You won’t be rich and famous but your name will be out there and what you do with it is up to you!

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