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Ones to watch: the regional finals for the 2020 S. Pellegrino

The next biennial S. Pellegrino young chef competition is set to take place in Milan in May 2020.

Starting a year earlier and ending this New Year’s Eve, the field of 135 regional contenders who qualified for the international competition have been, and continue to be, going through a series of regional runoffs to whittle the field down to 12 finalists. Eight of these (including from Central Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific) had already been selected. But the one to watch—the North American showdown in New York City between competitors from Canada and the U.S.—had yet to unfold.

Here’s the interesting thing, though. The 10 finalists for S. Pellegrino’s abbreviated, two-nation North American run-off were selected not according to national quotas but to the merit of the individual applications, as assessed by a panel of instructors at ALMA, the legendary Italian cookery school in Colorno, Parma.  

The New York City event could have pitted one Canadian against nine Americans. But instead, Canadian applicants overachieved and are facing off against our far more populous neighbour, five-on-five.  In a further numerical anomaly, two of our five young entrants are chefs from Artur Koczur’s Oakville restaurant group, 7 Enoteca and Hexagon, former employer of our 2018 S. Pellegrino Young Chef finalist Sean MacDonald.

“We’re very fortunate to have such talent in Oakville,” said Koczur. “It would be really quite something if one of them advanced to the final, but we’re already very proud of them for getting this far.”

Marvin Palomo from 7 Enoteca will be hoping to advance on the merits of his chawanmushi with Dungeness crab—the same dish he says he would most liked to have prepared for his culinary inspiration, his grandmother. Rafael Covarrubias from Hexagon will be presenting an example of his signature contemporary Mexican cuisine: mole-spiced Muscovy duck with root vegetables and preserved prune.

Our other candidates include Kathryn Ferries, sous-chef at Ottawa’s Stofa (No. 98 in Canada’s 100 Best in 2019). While she asserts that her best-ever meal was Spanish (tapas at Barcelona’s El Xampanyet) and her favourite restaurant is new American-Italian (Rolf and Daughters in Nashville), Ferries’ dish for the competition runs French: honey-glazed ballotine of rabbit with fennel, chanterelles and mustard greens.

Yoann Therer, chef at Vancouver’s L’Abattoir (No. 22 in 2019) is a professed admirer of Swedish avant-garde chefs Björn Frantzén and Magnus Nilsson. Therer will be cooking a dish he calls le pigeon à papi, relying on the same protein choice that previous S. Pellegrino contestant Paul Moran rode to fifth place in the 2015 finals, Canada’s best finish so far.

Then there’s Garrett Martin, executive chef for Calgary’s Concorde Entertainment Group and a culinary francophile (his favourite restaurant is Ludo Lefebvre’s Petit Trois, and the chef he would most like to cook with is the legendary Alain Passard). Martin’s signature dish is roast loin of spring lamb with black garlic and goat butter.

We wish them all luck.