Kiwis Vie for a Place in S.Pellegrino Young Chef Finals

Rising food stars Robert Fairs, Jason Kim and William Mordido talk about their food journey and where they hope it will lead


Robert Fairs, of Roots in Lyttelton, is one of three New Zealanders competing for a place in the S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition final. Picture / Supplied

If all goes to plan for Robert Fairs, Jason Kim and William Mordido, these talented young chefs will eat their way round the world’s cuisines and end up with restaurants of their own to serve up their inspirations.

The trio will compete against each other and seven Australians at the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition in Melbourne on September 11. They comprise a record number of Kiwi finalists in the regional competition, which sees a winner advance to a global final in Milan.

The trio have very different styles, but a shared passion for food. Each will prepare a complex signature dish, designed to showcase their chosen flavours and cooking techniques. For Robert, sous chef at Lyttelton restaurant Roots, his dish, entitled Potatas, is a sophisticated riff on chips, involving fermented potato crackers, sweet potato puree, koji and green sauce. Jason, sous chef at Sidart in Auckland, is drawing on his Korean heritage with a scallop and poussin dish called Yin & Yang. It uses miso, kimchi and a green apple consomme. William, who is developing his own pop-up restaurant, Buko, is looking to his Filipino heritage, with jack mackerel/fe’s umami consomme, complemented with coconut pumpkin puree and tapioca cracker.

The men will prepare these dishes at the Crown Casino kitchens, for S. Pellegrino’s judges drawn from a foodie who’s who. The Italian drinks company supports a number of hospitality industry competitions and is sponsor of the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants and its regional lists. For its global foodie news service, visit Finedininglovers.com

ROBERT FAIRS
I'm 21, I run the kitchen at Roots Restaurant in Lyttleton. I did my apprenticeship at Cook 'n' with Gas, a bistro in central Christchurch. I began cooking professionally at 17, but still consider myself to be in training. I never really thought of it as a career until I did an internship at Amass in Copenhagen. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of cooking.

In five years what would you love to be doing?
Hopefully something similar to what I'm doing now. In a creative environment designing seasonal and sustainable tasting menus. Travelling and learning!

What would you like those who eat your food to experience?
I hope they find it delicious and it can evoke a memory from their past also. I believe whilst taste is subjective good food is good food, hopefully they think it's good haha!

Please tell us a little about your signature dish for the Melbourne competition?
My dish shows a link between my birthplace England with the idea of chips and vinegar and a sense of time and place with my life as it is now in New Zealand, showcasing local and native produce in a modern style.

What do you hope to achieve from attending the S.Pellegrino event?
To meet like-minded people in the industry and to understand myself more as a cook.

What’s your idea of comfort food?
Food that evokes a memory. It doesn't matter if it's a humble stew or a complex tasting menu item, as long as it tells a story and highlights nostalgia.

Your go-to after work snack?
Udon noodles

A dish or type of cuisine you would still love to try?
I would love to visit South America. Restaurants like Central and Borago seem to have an identity that is original and authentic, tapping into native produce and showcasing it in world class style. Also... tacos! 

Is there anything you would not eat?
I enjoy all different types of food, so I tend to eat whatever is edible and tastes good of course!

What would you like to be your last meal?
My mum’s pasta

William Mordido (left) and Jason Kim. Pictures / Supplied

JASON KIM
I’m 30 years old, and trained at AUT. It’s always been my dream [to be a chef] , since I was a kid. In 2006, I started my first job as a chef at Jervois Steak House. I work now at Sidart restaurant, as a sous chef, alongside Sid Sahrawat.

In five years what would you love to be doing?
I would love to have a small eatery place

What would you like those who eat your food to experience?
A moment of encounter, exchange and sharing.

Please tell us about your signature competition dish?
The dish incorporates black and white scallops from Whangamata, kimchi, poussin, miso and samgyetang (chicken consomme in Korean)

What do you hope to achieve from attending the S.Pellegrino event? 
I would like to showcase all around the world what New Zealand can do.

What’s your idea of comfort food?
For me comfort food is no fuss, no analysing. Just enjoy what you have in front of you.

A dish or type of cuisine you would still love to try?
I continue to try Korean cuisine to learn more about my heritage through the food.

Is there anything you would not eat?
I eat everything.

WILLIAM MORDIDO
I’m 25. I did my chef’s apprenticeship with SkyCity when I left high school at 18. I was always curious about what was going on in the kitchen when Mum cooked. At around 8, I would cook for myself as I would be the first to get home. I have recently set up my own company, Will Power Ltd, under which I am working on my pop-up restaurant, Buko. As well as this I offer consultancy and private chef services.

In five years what would you love to be doing?
Ideally, I would be in the early stages of my own hospitality group and close to launching my first book. This has always been an aspiration of mine

What would you like those who eat your food to experience?
Hopefully, a complexity of flavours and well balanced and presented dishes.

Please tell us a little about your signature competition dish?
One day, my mother made a dish to which she still doesn't have a proper name for. I was really taken by the simplicity of the soup, so I decided to use that as the base for my dish. Key ingredients are shimeji, oyster and enoki mushroom, unripe papaya, drief shrimps and jack mackerel

What do you hope to achieve from attending the S.Pellegrino event?
Really just to have fun. I've done enough competitions already so I have little glory to gain from “winning”, so I am taking this opportunity to network with like-minded chefs, make a few friends and hopefully a few would be interested in hosting the Buko pop-up dinner. Of course [if I won] I will be thrilled to represent in Milan hands down, but winning for me isn't everything.

What’s your idea of comfort food?
We have this thing in the Philippines called champorado, which is a rich chocolate rice porridge. I absolutely love it!

Your go-to after work snack?
Properly cooked fries. And I never leave the supermarket without a block of Whittaker's Hazelnut Chocolate. 

A dish or type of cuisine you would still love to try?
Scandinavian.

Is there anything you would not eat?
Anything endangered or to the extreme of anything still moving.

What would you like to be your last meal?
Fish and chips on a warm summer’s day surrounded with friends and family.

Tell us a bit more about Buko?
Buko is a pop-up restaurant. The name means "young coconut" in Tagalog. As a child, I was likened to the coconut for having three cowlicks/crowns on my head, similar to the buko's three dots. Just as like buko, I was very headstrong and very stubborn. This stubbornness translates into my persistence to defy the status quo of food and to constantly push boundaries in my own cuisine.
We do not have a fixed premise, but I’m primarily based in Auckland and my goal is to take a small team of chefs to showcase our food in existing establishments around Auckland, New Zealand, and eventually, the world. Our menus will pay respects to traditional and modern cooking techniques and flavour combinations, with a special nod to my upbringing in New Zealand and the Philippines.
I am really excited as our first Buko event will be in Melbourne 25th October. Visit Willpowernz.com

• Robert, Jason and William compete in the S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition in Melbourne on September 11 alongside seven other semi-finalists from the Pacific region. Their signature dishes will be judged on ingredients, beauty, genius, skill and message. Twenty-one regional winners from around the world will go on to compete for the top honour in Milan, Italy. Read more about the competition at Sanpellegrino.com

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