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BY WINNING THE S. PELLEGRINO YOUNG CHEF COMPETITION REGIONAL FINALS IN NEW YORK CITY, RAFAEL COVARRUBIAS, the 25-year-old chef at Oakville’s Hexagon restaurant, earned a coveted spot as one of only 12 chefs invited to compete in the international finals in Milan. While a certain global pandemic resulted in that competition being delayed until May 2021, Covarrubias is safely back in the kitchen at Hexagon keeping his knives and skills sharp.

He perfected his winning signature dish, “mole negro spiced Muscovy duck, preserved prune, and winter roots,” over his entire cooking career. When it came time to cook it in a competitive situation, he turned to his friend Antonin Mousseau-Rivard of Le Mousso in Montreal to act as mentor—an essential supporting role in such competitions.

“We share a lot of the same ideas about food and cooking,” Covarrubias says, “and when picking someone as a mentor I knew I didn’t want someone who would act like a teacher or anyone who would be bossing me around. I’ve been cooking for a long enough time that I wasn’t really looking for tips on how to cook my own dish, or technique or anything. With Antonin it’s more like a friend that I can talk to and be like, ‘What do you think of this,’ or ‘How do I manage the time or the stress of competition?’”

For the international competition, he’s been assigned celebrity chef Connie DeSousa to act as his mentor. A regular on Top Chef Canada, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars and a judge for the Food Networks’ Fire Masters, DeSousa is very familiar with the pressures of cooking for an audience. “Connie’s been a great resource on how to present with the judges and prepare myself for being on camera,” Covarrubias says. “She has a lot of experience in TV and videos and all that media stuff and she’s actually been a great person to practise with because of that side of it.”

“At the end of the day, I think it’s as much about giving that mental support. Knowing these chefs are there to push me and give me the confidence to win.”

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