This Montreal chef is vying for a major culinary prize in Milan this week

We spoke to Benjamin Mauroy-Langlais, who’ll face 20 competitors in San Pellegrino’s search for the world’s best chef under 30.

For chefs, San Pellegrino represents far more than just a sparkling water company. Each year, the Italian brand publishes its World’s 50 Best Restaurants list which serves as the de facto benchmark for greatness among the culinary elite, separating the wheat from the chaff, and awarding chefs such as Noma’s René Redzepi, Osteria Francescana’s Massimo Bottura and Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm a year of bragging rights over their peers.

Three years ago, San Pellegrino added a new objective to its to-do list: to find the planet’s best young chef. For this, it created an annual international culinary competition for chefs under 30 years old, holding regional rounds and culminating in a final judged by some of the industry’s foremost culinary minds. On May 12 and 13, Montrealer Benjamin Mauroy-Langlais will represent Canada at this year’s competition in Milan.

Mauroy-Langlais has the pedigree for the task. He’s worked under some of Montreal’s finest chefs including Antonin Mousseau-Rivard of le Mousso, veterans Charles-Antoine Crête and Cheryl Johnson of Montreal Plaza as well as Marc-Alexandre Mercier at Hotel Herman.

However, the battle hasn’t been won and it won’t be an easy one. Mauroy-Langlais will be facing 20 other equally qualified competitors, and Canada has historically never fared well in the Bocuses d’Or — the Olympics of gastronomy — and never made the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. This would be similar to us hoisting a soccer World Cup.

Judging the event is the ever so intimidating panel of the “Seven Sages,” made up of chefs Virgilio Martínez, Margarita Forés, Brett Graham, Annie Féolde, Dominique Crenn, Ana Roš and Paul Pairet, three of which you might have seen featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table.

In order to prepare for the competition, Mauroy-Langlais was paired with Maison Boulud executive chef Riccardo Bertolino, who provided training and advice. “Riccardo helped me plan my practice, push myself and work on details that make this dish way more interesting. It is now going to be served warm instead of cold with a piping hot sauce. He also helped me organize myself better for the plating part,” says Mauroy-Langlais.

Spring in Kamouraska

The dish he speaks of, the one representing Canada at this year’s competition, will be presented as smoked eel and celeriac, entitled “Spring in Kamouraska.” It is a dish of smoked eel glazed with maple syrup, wrapped in pickled celeriac with seaweed, flavoured with marigold and fresh herbs, and accompanied with a seaweed sourdough bread.

“I created the dish around ingredients that are local and relevant to my culture. Eels were traditionally consumed by the First Nations and the Europeans settlers in what is now Quebec. Smoking fish was vital for our ancestors, and so were root vegetables. Seaweed is traditionally eaten in Gaspésie. Bread and the act of sharing it are engraved in our minds,” says Mauroy-Langlais. “It is deeply rooted in the Quebec food culture and yet done with some new ideas. I think it is a very umami dish, but still fresh. The aesthetic is simple and delicate.”

And when asked about what makes Canadian chefs and Canadian gastronomy different than the rest of the world? “It is exciting to be able to put your cooking and culture upfront. I think we are getting more and more confident in our identity,” Mauroy-Langlais explains. “I think every region of Canada is really putting in an effort to discover its past and what defines its identity. It creates a very authentic cuisine that is diverse, young, effervescent and multicultural, that is beautiful and fairly unique.”

No matter the results of Saturday’s showdown, Mauroy-Langlais has a job waiting for him when he gets back as the executive chef of the new incarnation of le Mousso, an à la carte restaurant to be paired with a tasting menu space that will move in next door to the LM’s former comptoir charcuterie, fully renovated and sharing the same entrance.

You can cheer Benjamin on at home by streaming the event live here. ■