Chefs Paul Prinsloo and his mentor Gregory Czarnecki tell us about their preparations for the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Grand Finale in Milan, where Paul will be competing against 11 of the top young chefs in the world for the prestigious title.
All around the world the 12 finalists for S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy 2021 are preparing for the Grand Finale which takes place in Milan from the 28th-30th October. Here in South Africa, where he is now sous chef for Gåte Restaurant at Quoin Rock, Africa & Middle East Region finalist Paul Prinsloo has just completed the fifth practise run of his dish, Bouillabaisse 2.0, guided by his mentor Gregory Czarnecki. Perfection, precision, and accurate timing is the aim.
“We’re at 95%,” says Gregory. They have one more practise session before flying to Milan and Paul feels he’s on track. “Since we started practising four weeks ago it’s improved so much, I’m very happy with the end results. There are just a few tweaks I want to fix still.”
Paul’s dish, Bouillabaisse 2.0 is a modern take on a bouillabaisse fish stew, the fishermen’s way of using up unsold fish – it was traditionally made by poaching whatever fish and vegetables were left over that day, in stock made from all the bones and offcuts.
“I’ve looked at it from a modern chef’s perspective,” says Paul, “adding neatness to the plate. The langoustine is not poached it’s wrapped in kataifi pastry and pan-fried in clarified butter that’s been infused with langoustine shell. The lemon juice is a gel.” The bouillabaisse is reduced to a thick puree that is emulsified with butter to a rich intensity. “When you taste it, I want the sauce to make you say, ‘forget about the dish, just give me the sauce!’”
Paul has made one small addition to his dish since the regional finals, adding a slice of poached scallop. “In South Africa we can only get frozen scallops. Whereas in Italy we’ll be able to get fresh langoustines, fresh scallops still in the shell. Flavour-wise it’s going to be even better.”
He’s been working towards zero waste, using every last part of the seafood. “The leftover langoustine that you’re not using on the plating goes in the bouillabaisse. Potato offcuts go in as well. That doesn’t change the flavour profile but helps thicken it, and there’s even less wastage.”
Gregory’s role as a mentor is hands off, he doesn’t do any of the physical cooking. It’s about the mental preparation. “The most important focus is the procedure of the dish and to make sure that he’s comfortable with the timings,” says Gregory. Paul comments that he gets so focussed he is unaware of the time. At the competition they have five hours start to finish. “So I’ll ask Chef to put a timer on, when I put something in the oven. I don’t want to see the time. If I think I have an hour spare I’m going to slow down, and that’s where I could start making mistakes.”
This is the first time in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy competition that finalists have selected their own mentors. “It just made sense to me to pick Chef Gregory as he was my head chef for the four and half years while I was at The Restaurant at Waterkloof.” It’s a year since The Restaurant at Waterkloof closed and Paul moved to Quoin Rock, but Gregory says, “We’re still very close. Young chefs at this stage of their career learn from each chef and mentor, and his dish at the time was influenced by what I made at The Restaurant, so he felt comfortable asking me to mentor.”
The mentor’s role is also about protecting the finalist’s head space, says Gregory. “Here Paul’s in a controlled environment, in his kitchen where he works every day. In Milan he’s going to be at a station, next to perhaps Western Europe, and all these big names around you. You can get very destabilised. The point is for me to keep his head in the game and just focus, make sure that every step is taken in the right order and the right time. I’ve got the easy job!”
The S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy competition
Paul is feeling confident right now, “I’m not really nervous about the actual cooking of the dish. I’m sure on the day there will be nerves, especially because of all the mentors, there are some pretty big names there.”
“The whole competition is a great platform especially for young chefs to meet people,” says Gregory. “Besides the actual cooking, it’s all about connection.” He’s looking forward himself to the opportunity to connect with chefs from around the world, “It’s exciting to see people that you’ve been following, that have inspired you, to all be in the same room.”
Paul agrees, “In South Africa we don’t get the opportunity to work with Michelin star chefs. To compete against young chefs who are working under those top chefs who have massive recognition, is quite an honour.”
Paul has one final practise runs before the Grand Finale and Gregory is confident that he’s ready, “He knows exactly what to do at what time. In terms of flavour today he was spot on, that final 5%, well it can only get better having the fresh seafood in Milan, that should take us to 100%!”
Sanpellegrino wishes Paul and all the S.Pellegrino Young Chef finalists the best of luck with their final preparations, as the countdown to the Grand Finale begins.
For more information on the Young Chef Academy, a further demonstration of S.Pellegrino’s commitment to nurturing the next generation of culinary game-changers, please visit the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy webpage.