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Three renowned chefs from across Africa, the Middle East & South Asia region will be evaluating the dishes presented by young chef finalists competing in the regional final of this prestigious competition.

A brand new, sixth edition of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy competition has just kicked off, the first phase is concluded, whereby chefs under 30 years with prior experience in the industry had to submit a main course signature dish via an online application, now each region awaits the list of chef finalists which will be selected by ALMA (International School of Italian Cuisine). It is always the greatest honour to reveal the Jury panel, this year our esteemed chefs span two continents that make up this region, each revered in their own country achieving global recognition in their own careers: Bertus Basson from South Africa, Roaya Saleh from Bahrain and Akmal Anuar from Dubai, the Africa, Middle East & South Asia regional competition will be held in Cape Town later this year.

We asked our three chefs what they will be looking for from the young chefs during the competition cook off, as well as what they are most interested in gaining knowledge on from this competition:

Bertus Basson

South Africa’s Bertus Basson is a household name both for his various TV series (including In Die Sop and The Ultimate Braai Master) and even more so for his family of award-winning restaurants around Stellenbosch and the Cape Winelands (Eike, Spek en Bone, Kantien, Chorus, Clara’s Barn, Geuwels and De Vrije Burger), where his food philosophy is rooted in traditional South African food culture with a twist of contemporary perspective. He was also named Eat Out S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna Chef of the Year in 2019. As a juror on the panel of this competition, he says, “I will look for somebody who represents where they are from, seasonal flavours and authentic cooking in their signature dish. As they cook, I will look for a chef that is organised, methodical, well-thought-out, clean and technical.”

He’s keen to see the heritage and nostalgic flavours of the various regio showcased, “Each area of our region has a distinct, recognisable cuisine with authentic flavours and ingredients, and I am looking forward to seeing young chefs interpreting their heritage, culture (and the ever-changing world of food around them) through their cooking.”

Roaya Saleh

A pioneer in the Bahrain dining scene, self-taught chef Roaya Saleh is on a mission to share the home-grown flavours of Khaleeji and Bahraini cuisine with a global audience. Her original restaurant Villa Mamas started as an extension of her home, diving into the region’s rich history and combining influences from Iran, India, and Europe, together with a touch of nostalgia towards a childhood spent on the family farm. The success of this approach has led to her opening Villa Mamas restaurants in London, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh, with the same food philosophy.

For this competition she says, “I’ll be looking at the potential of each chef and their understanding of working with produce. I want to see passion coming through in each dish.” On the importance of competitions of this standard with the next generation of chefs she says, “I’m always excited to meet young, aspiring chefs. I want to hear stories of young talents. Our role as well-seasoned chefs is to mentor and encourage; to nurture each individual hoping they will become better chefs than we are.”

Akmal Anuar

Raised by parents who were street vendors in Singapore, chef Akmal Anuar pulled himself up the ranks in the professional kitchen from high school onwards, and over the last 20 years has headed up multiple award-winning restaurants in Singapore, the Middle East, Europe, and the USA. He is chef-proprietor of White Rice, a hospitality company specialising in bespoke food-centric experiences, whose portfolio includes MENA’s 50 Best and one Michelin-starred 11 Woodfire, as well as two Michelin Bib Gourmand Japanese restaurants, Goldfish and OTORO.

He says, “Originality, taste, and philosophy is what I would be thrilled to see from the young chefs, it’s a prestigious competition so expectations are high. I would like to sense something I haven’t seen, smelt, or tasted before. I like things to be simple, but the craft in the cooking should be present. Everything should be precise.” It’s the first time he will be taking part in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition and he’s enthusiastic, “It pushes creativity, allows freedom of thought process and most importantly to get together with chefs from all over the world. I am so looking forward to it.”

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