S.Pellegrino Young Chef Regional Finalist, Robin Wagner, with his mentor, Quay Executive Chef, Peter Gilmore

Italian mineral water brand S.Pellegrino is investing in the next generation of culinary talent with its S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy competition, which will see 15 regional finalists from around the world compete in the Grand Finale in Milan from October 2-6, 2023.  

Representing the Pacific region as the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Regional Finalist, is Robin Wagner, who has spent nearly a decade honing his skills in several Michelin-starred restaurants across Germany as well as hatted restaurants in Australia including Penfolds’ Magill Estate.  

The Academy serves as a tool to discover and promote talented chefs like Wagner and improve their professional knowledge, experience and contacts in the world of gastronomy. 

“The Academy has helped me to grow professionally in terms of giving me the great chance to connect with other like-minded chefs which I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise,” Wagner said.  

“The competition has helped massively to create awareness around my name, and I am hoping the final gives me the opportunity to connect with potential investors for my own business or a restaurateur that is open to support my cooking style.” 

Wagner says his cooking style is, and always will be, a work in progress, as he strives to continually improve with every dish.  

“I would describe my cooking style as simple. I believe that a dish can be simple but complex at the same time. It is important for me to create a dish which people will remember not only for a few minutes but for a while, or hopefully will never forget,” he said.  

The Pacific finalist has opted to compete with a vegan dish to showcase his thinking on matters like seasonality and sustainability.  

“By producing a plant-based dish that can perform at the same level as dishes which include proteins or luxury ingredients such as caviar, lobster, etc., this is a way to pay more attention to seasonality, consider meat and seafood mindfully and only if seasonally available,” he said.  

“This also helps to pay more attention to the environmental impact, which we as chefs can influence.” 

Peter Gilmore, the renowned Executive Chef of Bennelong and its sister restaurant Quay, is Wagner’s mentor in preparation for the final. Wagner says they are now more focused on presentation rather than the cooking itself. 

“I have cooked the dish multiple times and know that I can cope well under pressure whether it is the setting or the time. I have also met with Peter Gilmore in May to discuss any further details,” he said.  

“For the presentation I have been in contact with different artisans such as carpenters or potters to create a unique way of presentation to underline the statement of my dish.” 

Wagner knows it won’t be easy to wow the Grand Jury, which is made up of seven world-renowned chefs.  

They include Peruvian chef and co-owner of Central restaurant in Lima, Pía León; Basque chef Eneko Atxa who holds a total of five Michelin stars; Hélène Darroze, who runs acclaimed restaurants in France and London; Vicky Lau, one of Asia’s leading chefs; Nancy Silverton, head of the Mozza group of restaurants; Julien Royer chef-owner of the three-Michelin-starred Odette restaurant in Singapore; and Riccardo Camanini, one of the brothers behind Michelin-starred Lido 84 on the shores of Lake Garda. 

Nevertheless, Wagner is looking forward to showcasing his dish and meeting peers in the culinary world.   

“I am just super excited to get the chance to meet more chefs who live and work around the world,” he said.  

“I am also very excited to compete with the only vegan dish within this competition, it is a risk as not everyone enjoys vegan food or understands it. However, this is a great chance to put a focus on sustainability within our industry. 

“A big thank you to the Australian based team of S.Pellegrino. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with them throughout the last year and I hope there will be a few more occasions to do so in the future.” 

Don’t miss all the action from the Grand Finale running October 2-6, 2023. You can follow along on Instagram via @Sanpellegrino_Aus