Following a day of outstanding performances by ten of the region’s most talented rising chefs, John Rivera has been announced the winner of the nation’s S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 local competition, and will advance to the global finals round to take place in June of 2018 in Milan, Italy.

With his Sinigang – Hapuka and tomato, calamansi and taro, John Rivera, who is previously from Auckland and attended St Peter’s College in Grafton, finished ahead of nine other contenders. The local semi-finalists competing for a chance to participate in the Grand Finale were hand-selected by ALMA, the world’s leading international educational and training centre for Italian cuisine.

Australia Pacific’s regional competition took place on September 11 at Tonic in Crown Promenade. A distinguished jury of chefs, including Andrew McConnell, Paul Carmichael, Scott Pickett, Chrsitine Manfield and Jacques Reymond tasted and evaluated each of the semi-finalists who prepared signature dishes based on their adherence to the competition’s five Golden Rules: ingredients, skill, genius, beauty and message.

The judges commented, “We were unified in our decision. The standard has risen from previous years. John was very prepared, focused, and meticulous in his approach. John’s dish showed a depth of flavour and a fully rounded approach, he articulated the cultural heritage of his dish in a precise and warm manner. Every element of the dish was perfect.”

Rivera’s Sinigang is a reinterpretation the traditional hot and sour Filipino soup, with a flavour profile complemented with smoked tamarind and created with incredible Australian produce. The Hapuka was steamed and served with taro that had been cooked in coconut cream and turned into a silky puree. The calamansi (lime leaf) oil brought the dish to life.

“This competition means a lot for young chefs and Filipinos in my generation, who are looking for their heritage and ways to show it in their food,” said Rivera. “We need to go out there and fly our flag – the world is ready for us. There are many South East Asian nations that have recognition, and the Philippines is the final frontier. This opportunity wouldn’t have come to me in the Philippines. That is the great thing about Australia; they have given us all the platform. They are very accommodating, everyone helps everyone along; there is a great sense of camaraderie. Definitely Australia is the place to eat right now, and the place to work, especially for young chefs. As Jacques Reymond said, we are finding our identity and it is possible for our generation to shape our identity: Australia is the platform for that.”

The local global competitions will continue through to December 2017, where semi-finalists from across the world will compete for a chance to move on to the Grand Final in Milan. By the end of December 2017, 21 Young Chefs will be announced as official finalists, who will each be assigned a “Mentor Chef” from their regional jury. The Mentor Chefs will support the young chefs leading up to the Grand Finale, providing them guidance on how to improve their signature dishes.