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Marco Tognon Wins the 2023 Superyacht Chef Competition in Monaco

Nine of the yachting industry’s most talented chefs pitted their skills against each other in the Superyacht Chef Competition at Yacht Club de Monaco last week.

Organised and hosted by YCM’s La Belle Classe Academy in partnership with Bluewater, excitement mounted as the first three rounds unfolded, featuring three chefs in each from yachts ranging between 30m and 115m cooking a main course from a basket of mystery ingredients in just 40 minutes.

Contestants discovered the contents of their baskets just five minutes before the start and were able to add to their dishes from a dry store and dazzling array of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs as well as incorporating a final mystery ingredient voted for by the audience, to test their adaptability.

Family, friends and industry experts gathered to support them in action in three fully equipped galley-style kitchen set ups provided by Azur Tec’Hotel and Ocean Wave Monaco, assisted by Monaco’s Michelin-starred Joël Garault, as a panel of six experts led by celebrated three Michelin star chef Yannick Alléno avidly watched their progress and tasted the results.

The heat is on

First to compete were Finnbar Dewar (MY Aura), Gjorgi Mitev (MY Coral Ocean) and Marco Tognon (MY Planet Nine), who each produced exquisite dishes made from core ingredients of lamb fillet, pistachios and asparagus.

Gjorgi said straight after his round: “It’s high pressure because we don’t know the galley or the equipment but I was very happy with my grilled lamb fillet served on a puree of caramelised cauliflower, beurre noisette and anchovy.

“I noticed that Yannick went back three times to taste my dish – a good sign! Cooking on a yacht is high pressure but this competition is a different environment and a great way to interact, meet new chefs and get to know new ingredients.”

Gjorgi won the audience vote for best presentation but it was Marco who got the judge’s vote to go through to the final.

Two further rounds saw Charly Raepsaet (MY Ali Baba), Tommaso Santoni (MY Paloma) and Hloni Tlhapuletsa (MY Apho) present equally impressive dishes, with Tommaso emerging victorious with his monkfish, hollandaise and yuzu sauce scattered with borlotti beans while Henrique Antunes (MY Mochafy22) won his round against Peter Barkoczy (MY Da Vinci) and Hungary’s former Masterchef champion Viktoria Fenya (MY Infinity Nine) with a quail, ricotta and white truffled honey creation flavoured with white balsamic lemon vinegar.

Standards of excellence and sustainability

Head judge Yannick Alléno, a two-time three Michelin star chef who has won a slew of awards throughout his career, said: “I’m impressed with the quality – we have had some fantastic plates and we are enjoying them. It’s not easy to cook in 40 minutes - you have to be quick and it’s impressive to see how they move.

“What we’re looking for in the winning plate is the quality of how the product is cooked, the presentation and the coherence…the chef who can make all those things happen on the plate will be the winner.”

As an additional incentive to cooking sustainably, British chef Duncan Biggs judged contestants on their anti-waste efforts, cleanliness and organisation, with penalties incurred if they didn’t use up all their ingredients. 

“The standard is amazing, even better than last year,” he said. “They are marked on minimal wastage, which is key with the price of food now, good time management, how they move around the kitchen and how well they clean up!”

The final flourish

The tension was palpable as the finalists returned to their work stations after lunch to prepare and present a main course and dessert cooked under similar time constraints. With hero ingredients including lobster, caviar, pineapple and liquor de caroba, the chefs raised the bar yet again for the judging panel, which also included chefs Cristina Bowerman, Benoît Nicolas and 2022 winner Nicolas Petit (MY Latitude) as well as owner Susana Perdiguero De Segovia.

Tommaso’s lobster and caviar salad and caramelised pineapple with coconut and almond crumble, chantilly and raspberry coulis looked magnificent while Henrique’s pan-fried lobster with fleur de courgette and parmesan crisp and pineapple, vodka and cinnamon dessert façon sabayon blew the judges away.

However, ultimately it was Marco who reigned supreme, delighting the jury with his Brittany lobster ceviche, caviar and avocado mousse with parmesan, whipped cream, vodka and vanilla bean, following up with Champagne and vanilla poached pineapple with mascarpone.

As Yannick awarded each chef a medal, he told them: “It’s been a huge pleasure to enjoy your food and knowledge. It’s a difficult mission to satisfy your clientele but you have satisfied us today.” 

A royal seal of approval

Arriving to present Marco with a stunning Lalique trophy, YCM President HSH Prince Albert II, himself a huge fan of cookery shows, congratulated all contestants as family and friends celebrated on Port Hercule with Taittinger cocktails in the early evening sunshine.

Bluewater’s founder and CEO Peter Bennett and co-founder John Wyborn agreed that the 2023 edition of the competition has achieved its highest level yet in terms of chef quality and skill.

“We started the competition in Antibes 15 years ago during the Antibes Yacht Show,” recalled Peter. “The Prince is very interested in TV chef competitions - Masterchef is his favourite - so four years ago, we decided to bring the competition to the Yacht Club of Monaco.

“It’s an opportunity for a chef to win a prestigious competition, which brings them great kudos. The quality of contestants is very high. It used to be difficult to encourage chefs to compete because it’s quite stressful and there’s a lot of tension in this situation but now we are getting huge expertise wanting to take part.

“These guys competing today are incredible, they could all be Michelin starred chefs.”

Image credits: @Simone Spada- La Presse; @Mesi-BD

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