Judges of Young Chef Young Waiter competition on nurturing local F&B talent

In October 2023, Feste Group brought global hospitality competition Young Chef Young Waiter to Hong Kong for its inaugural edition. Judges Richard Ekkebus, Lindsay Jang, Chili Ma, Shane Osborn, Kristina Snaith-Lense and Yenn Wong talk to Stephenie Gee about nurturing local talent

There’s no doubt that the food and beverage sector was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic. Government mandates like no dine-in service after 6pm, a maximum of four diners per table and 50% seating capacity at restaurants completely transformed the city’s culinary experience. But optimism was the prevailing attitude and, after three years, the industry came out better and stronger. So what’s not to celebrate?

“Our industry suffered so much over the last three years that when we came across the Young Chef Young Waiter competition, it made us really excited for the opportunity to highlight the young talent that had stuck it out through the tough years of protests and COVID. Their passion for F&B hadn’t burnt out and that should be celebrated!” says Tegan Waters, general manager of Feste Group. “What makes our industry so great is exactly that passion and heart for sharing what we love every single day, and it’s about time that we shone the spotlight on that.”

Founded in 1979 in the UK, Young Chef Young Waiter made its move to go global in 2022. The Hong Kong edition, which took place on October 18 in the kitchen of More Good, brought together four chefs and four waiters aged 28 and under who designed and cooked their own menus, set up service, completed interviews and more. At the end of the day, the judging panel – comprising of Shane Osborn of The Arcane Collective, Richard Ekkebus from The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Caleb Ng of Twins Kitchen, JIA Group’s Yenn Wong, Lindsay Jang of Yardbird and Ronin, Kristina Snaith- Lense of The Upper House, and Chili Ma from LPM – crowned Belon’s Ardy Ferguson and The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong’s Teddy Tso as the young chef and young waiter winners, respectively. The winning duo went on to represent Hong Kong in the world finals at the Lycèe Rainier III in Monaco on November 23 and 24.

What motivated you to be a part of YCYW?

Shane Osborn: Competitions like this are an important platform for the stars of tomorrow to develop new skills and build solid relationships that will only help in the future.

Richard Ekkebus: Developing and nurturing young talent is my principal objective at LMO, and we have a true track record to prove that we are very good at that. To be able to deliver this outside our four walls is a true privilege.

Yenn Wong: I think it’s important to encourage new and young people to [join] the industry and [show them] that it is a professional career, not just a job.

Lindsay Jang: I love the opportunity to draw attention to Hong Kong and the talent we have here.

Kristina Snaith-Lense: I was so honoured to be part of the judging panel. It’s incredible that this prestigious competition has now arrived in our city. It was a great chance to meet these young talents across our industry in Hong Kong and just spend time with them. I love that this competition has given them a platform globally to grow, develop and have access to more opportunities.

Chili Ma: I’ve always had a deep love for food and hospitality, and judging this competition allowed me
to showcase my skills and creativity in a competitive environment. Additionally, being part of this competition provided a platform to connect with like-minded individuals who share the same passion and drive.

What were some of the most memorable moments?

Shane Osborn: It was great to see the enthusiasm of all the participants. Putting yourself up for scrutiny is always challenging, so the eight contestants should all be very proud of themselves.

Richard Ekkebus: I loved the fact that there was a perfect gender balance, which shows that more women are pursuing their careers in the kitchen – that is an amazing development.

Yenn Wong: I was very impressed with the standards of the contestants and how they took every aspect seriously and were very professional.

Lindsay Jang: I really enjoyed spending time with other industry people. There’s a camaraderie that naturally exists and, generally, we’re all too busy to sit and spend time together so this was a great chance to do that.

Kristina Snaith-Lense: It was just such an awesome day for me personally. To step away from my day-to-day, to be amongst an incredibly talented group of peers and spend time guiding and observing the next generation of changemakers was incredibly fulfilling.

Chili Ma: I was really impressed by the young chefs and waiters. The most memorable moment was when the waiters poured one bottle of Champagne into six glasses without spilling a single drop. It was fascinating to see how these young people were able to handle their own stress with such grace and professionalism.

Any advice for aspiring chefs and hospitality leaders?

Shane Osborn: Patience is vital; success takes a long time to achieve.

Richard Ekkebus: I think competitions are an incredible way to measure your skill set within your set of peers. They offer an opportunity to improve your adaptability and offer a unique experience that becomes a stepping stone for a successful career. And they create an opportunity to showcase and position yourself. Excelling in competition sets the tone for bigger and greater things to come. Many successful chefs build their careers on active competition participation.

Yenn Wong: I think this industry is a tough one – you need to not just have passion but also a lot of hard work, grit, open-mindedness and understanding of your clientele in order to succeed.

Lindsay Jang: Find a restaurant that you can call home, a place where you will be nurtured to grow, taught new skills and challenged in a positive way.

Kristina Snaith-Lense: It’s the best industry in the world. Keep going!

Chili Ma: The industry demands hard work and long hours, which makes it necessary to be dedicated and passionate to persevere through challenges and fuel growth. Developing strong leadership skills such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving and decision-making is crucial to lead and inspire the team towards success.

Also see: Japanese chefs on making it in Hong Kong

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