Meet the winner and finalists of the Young Chef of the Year Award Victoria 2022

The four finalists (from left): Joane Yeoh, Pieter Buijsse, Zackary Furst and George Wintle.
The four finalists (from left): Joane Yeoh, Pieter Buijsse, Zackary Furst and George Wintle. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

 Meet the next generation of culinary talent who are dreaming big for the future. After sifting through dozens of excellent applications from some of Victoria's best young chefs, four professionals were chosen as finalists for the state's Good Food Guide Young Chef of the Year Award 2022.

The formidable panel of judges included inaugural winner Andrew McConnell (Gimlet), star chef Khanh Nguyen (Aru, Sunda), Providoor founder Shane Delia (Maha) and Good Food's restaurant oracle Roslyn Grundy.

"Whittling it down to a final four was a very difficult decision and it was only made harder after meeting them," says Delia. "They are all extremely passionate and highly skilled and I believe the future of our beloved industry is in good hands."

Nguyen knows how much effort is required to reach the judging room, having been shortlisted for the award eight years ago. "Sitting in front of industry leaders can be extremely daunting and nerve-racking, but this year's candidates all sat with confidence and spoke from their hearts."

The Young Chef Award is the ultimate accolade for a committed young cook and likely future leader, and was first awarded in Victoria in 2002. It aims to unearth an ambassador who is not only a fantastic cook, but has a social conscience, works to better the community, lifts up their fellow chefs, is interested in learning and can speak publicly. Applicants may work in any section of the kitchen, at any position.

In a keenly contested field, Zackary Furst – head chef at Fitzroy hotspot Bar Liberty – was named this year's winner.

"Zack is a strong young chef with a bright future ahead of him," says Nguyen. "He clearly has a broad knowledge of technique and the skill to build delicious flavours with simple ingredients. And he's very optimistic about where the industry is heading, which is such a joy to see."

Furst has hospitality in his blood, having grown up in Wodonga in a family of caterers. The 29-year-old has worked with some of the best in the business over a 13-year career, including Michael Ryan at Provenance in Beechworth while still at school, Ben Shewry at Attica and Peter Gunn at Ides.

"Zack brings an obvious intelligence, creativity and interest in sustainability to his cooking, without losing sight of fundamental principles of deliciousness," says Grundy. "He's working towards opening a hyper-seasonal modern bistro of his own within the next two or three years, and I for one am looking forward to it."

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McConnell agrees that Furst is a talent to watch. "We were looking for someone who could not only cook but talk about the future of the industry in the context of where they are right now," he says. "Zack has got the fire in the belly to really go places and I'm excited to see what he'll do."

He joins alumni such as Robin Wickens, Adam D'Sylva and Kylie Millar and receives a $5000 prize from Good Food and The Age. This year's award was held as part of The Good Food Guide 2022 magazine, which features more than 350 restaurant, bar and cafe reviews, free with The Age next Tuesday, November 30.

THE WINNER

Zackary Furst

Age 29

Current role Head chef, Bar Liberty

Career highlight Closing and reopening the kitchen six times in the past 18 months has been heavy, but getting through the thick of it has made me a better chef, leader and person. We managed to keep all staff employed by developing takeaway, as well as cooking 50 meals a day for the Brotherhood of St Laurence homeless shelter.

Favourite Australian chef Daniel Puskas at Sixpenny in Sydney cooks delicious, flavour-driven food that champions the seasons.

Favourite food book I read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain in high school and it inspired me to move to Melbourne and start working in restaurants.

The best dish I've eaten recently A Korean pumpkin congee dish called hobakjuk served by chef Jung Eun-chae (the six-seat restaurant Chae based in the chef's home kitchen). It was not only incredibly delicious, but so well-balanced and texturally striking. What impressed me most was how all the produce had been meticulously sourced or created in-house. It was basically a gift of time, dedication, care and skill.

The challenges facing young chefs While the presence of women in hospitality has never been stronger both front and back of house, a lot more support could be offered to female chefs. Another thing that strikes me is the appropriation of food without recognition. Respect should always be given to the culture a dish originates from, and it's something every hospitality professional should be conscious of.

The future of restaurant food I can see food becoming highly practical and flavour-driven with less style and more substance. Smaller and multi-course menus will become popular as people realise they prefer to graze rather than gorge. Diners will be more inclined to try new foods and support a multitude of restaurants again.

What I'd like to do next I grew up in a hospitality family – my parents owned a catering business where I worked alongside my four siblings, who also all work in hospitality. To be an owner-operator has been my goal for as long as I can remember. I recently lost my mother to cancer and it made me realise that I need to create my own restaurant to be true to the hospitable person she was.

THE FINALISTS

Joane Yeoh

Age 28

Current role Head pastry chef/sous chef, Coda

Career highlight I started my own project, JLdegustation, a dessert pop-up that happens every couple of months in different venues. It taught me about running a small business, and gives me the chance to collaborate with talented chefs. I did a "stage" in Tokyo's top restaurant, Narisawa, and chef Yoshihiro Narisawa inspired me to combine Japanese ingredients with native Australian produce such as Tasmanian pepper and strawberry gum.

Favourite Australian chef Martin Benn (ex-Sepia, Society). His combination of Japanese ingredients, French technique and astonishing plating reveals that he is not just an extraordinary chef, but an amazing food artist.

Favourite food book Bread is Gold by Massimo Bottura reveals the recipes and techniques from more than 50 of the world's best chefs, such as Rene Redzepi, Alain Ducasse and Daniel Humm.

The biggest challenge facing young chefs Reality TV cooking competitions that promote contestants as celebrities are giving our young chefs the wrong impression that cheffing is a way to fame. Considering the workload we have to handle physically and mentally, many chefs are leaving the industry for better job options and salaries. Aspiring chefs should be given more information about how the industry actually works, and be ready to face challenges and hard work.

What I'd like to change about the industry A good dessert completes the dining experience, but most restaurants tend to neglect the importance of pastry chefs. It's harder to find a great dessert, as many savoury head chefs think they are able to create the desserts themselves. This means we're seeing more savoury-style or very simple desserts on menus, such as tarts and creme caramel. What could be worse than having a great savoury meal, and ending with a horrible dessert?

The future of restaurant food Restaurants will focus more on sustainability and better food presentation. There could be an increase in plant-based or farm-to-table concept venues, and more places will provide quality takeaway food, and stay pandemic-ready.

George Wintle

Age 23

Current role Junior sous chef, Attica

Career highlight I was thrilled to be offered a position at Ben Shewry's pop-up, Attica Summer Camp. I was thrown into the deep end, and it was pretty scary running a 400-seat venue alongside one of the biggest names in the restaurant industry. But mostly it was incredibly inspiring and mind-blowing to watch Ben turn up each day, committed to discovering new and better ways of doing things and never settling for mediocrity.

Chef I would love to work with Alain Passard was one of my first inspirations. What captivates me is his focus on vegetables, and it's made me interested in where our food comes from, and the impact our diet can have on the planet.

The biggest challenge facing young chefs Young people put unnecessary pressure on themselves to be successful at an early age. Much of this comes from the speed and ease of how we report things on social media, which can often be dressed up to look a certain way. I've learned to take a deep breath and make time for things to enjoy outside of work – so this year, I took up skateboarding.

What I'd like to change about the industry Self-care. The industry has a reputation for the poor treatment of its workers. The past 18 months have been such a huge challenge for everyone that we could never have seen coming. In between lockdowns, people in the industry were not only dealing with their own challenges, but having to deal with the grief of patrons. I'd like to focus on better supporting the mental health and wellbeing of hospitality workers.

What I'd like to do next I want to travel to regional Italy, where my grandmother – who is one of my greatest food influences – is from. I would like to cook in a small rural space that serves the community and provides families (including children) with unique food experiences that shine a light on produce, locality and seasonality. No Michelin stars, no bullshit. I want to absorb, live and love this kind of hospitality and bring it back to Australia as my trademark.

Pieter Buijsse

Age 28

Current role Senior sous chef, Laura at Pt. Leo Estate

Career highlight Being part of a team at Hof Van Cleve in Belgium in 2013 that achieved the number 25 ranking on the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list. It was my first time working in a Michelin three-star restaurant alongside some incredible chefs and the perfect way to finish a year of hard work, dedication and professional growth.

Favourite Australian chef From a humble background, Tetsuya Wakuda worked his way up in the kitchen to eventually owning his own restaurant(s) and is regarded as one of Australia's most original, creative and successful culinary talents. His story motivates me to continue working hard to achieve my goals.

The chef I'd love to work with Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. After working under Phil Wood (former culinary director of Pt. Leo Estate, who recently opened Ursula's in Sydney), it was evident how much Keller had influenced Phil's style of cooking and leadership – it's something I aspire to learn from Thomas first hand.

Favourite food book I received a copy of Le Repertoire de la Cuisine [the ultimate bible of French cooking, written in 1914] at the age of 13. I was going to culinary school and had just started working as a kitchen porter. As much as food trends change and cooking techniques are forever evolving, I still often fall back on it.

Most memorable dish As a 14-year-old boy, my parents took me to a Michelin two-starred restaurant called De Kromme Watergang near where we lived in the Netherlands. As a main course they served a pigeon cooked rare on the crown with beautifully crisped skin. That night after dinner I asked if I could speak to the chef, and if I could work for him. I worked there as a commis for three years.

The future of restaurant food If there is one positive we can take from life during COVID-19, it would be that more people are supporting local producers and suppliers. Buying local and having that connection with fishermen, butchers, fruit farmers, is going to continue. The days of serving imported strawberries out of season is well and truly over.

▪ Michael Harry is the Victorian editor of The Good Food Guide 2022 magazine.

Previous winners

2002 Andrew and Matthew McConnell, Diningroom 211 (shared)

2003 Emma Mackay and Daniel Wilson, Blakes Cafeteria (shared)

2004 George Calombaris, Reserve

2005 Robin Wickens, Interlude

2006 Tim Saffery, The Courthouse

2007 Dallas Cuddy, Verge

2008 Adam D'Sylva, Pearl

2009 Chris Donnellan, Gingerboy; Justin Wise, The Press Club (shared)

2010 Nicolas Poelaert, Embrasse

2011 Michael Fox, Cecconi's Cantina

2012 Josh Murphy, Cumulus Inc.

2013 Mark Briggs, Sharing House

2014 Oliver Gould, Stokehouse

2015 Joshua Pelham, Estelle; Timothy Martin, European (shared)

2016 George Tomlin, The Town Mouse

2017 Jarrod Di Blasi, Ezard

2018 Kylie Millar, Attica (national)

2019 Jodie Odrowaz, Iki Jime (national)

2020 Anna Ugarte-Carral, Momofuku Seiobo (national)

The Good Food Guide 2022 magazine will be published on November 30 with presenting partners Citi and Vittoria Coffee, and free with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Also on sale from December 7 in newsagents and supermarkets.