A rising young culinary talent has proven that the humble pumpkin can be transformed into an elegantly presented show-stopper with a little Italian flair.

Italian-raised Giada Grilli and her sustainability-focused pumpkin creation have been selected to represent New Zealand and the Pacific region in the prestigious worldwide San Pellegrino Young Chef Competition semi-finals, in Sydney.

Giada, who is one of 10 young chef semi-finalists selected from the Pacific for the competition, has been cultivating her cooking passion since her early teens, growing up in Bologna in Northern Italy. “I’ve always been a chef…for about 10 years now,” says the 29-year-old, who just loves to create and cook. She spent several weeks designing and experimenting with the five components of her environmentally-friendly vegan dish.

Chef Giada Grilli.

Giada chose a sustainability focus because it’s a great platform for an issue that she’s very passionate about. “As chefs I think we have a huge opportunity and power to make people think about sustainability and wastage of food and resources,” she says. By using locally sourced products chefs can lessen the carbon footprint. “We also need to be careful about what we use, whether it was grown sustainably or not, how the animals were fed, and to cook all parts of the animal.”

Giada created a vegan option to challenge herself and enlighten others to how simple vegan dishes were. “You can make a really good dish with no animal components. If you just experiment you can come up with something good,” she says. “The philosophy I want to promote is sustainability, low-carbon eating and environment-friendly.”

Her dish is centred around pumpkin and Giada adds everything else to enlighten the pumpkin to highlight the global issue of climate wastage while incorporating some interesting flavour combinations, accompanied by a vegan broth. Pumpkin is traditionally considered as ‘poor produce’ but Giada says it’s easily sourced locally in most countries.

Giada’s dish slogan, ‘Last night a pumpkin saved my life’, is a take on the 80’s song, ‘Last Night a DJ Saved My Life’.

She’s worked in some prominent fine-dining restaurants in the Bologna region during her career and even spent time working in front-of-house during her hospitality studies. This helped Giada understand all the operating systems in the sections of the restaurant other than the kitchen, she says.

In 2012 she moved to Australia where she spent time learning about local produce and food culture, including a stage at the world-renowned restaurant Attica. She moved to Auckland after a short time back in her hometown. Giada has spent the last five years working in some of the best fine-dining restaurants in the country, including The Grove, Meredith’s, Sidart and Lillius.

“San Pellegrino Young Chef, and the exposure it generates, is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the powerful impact our dietary choices have on the planet, and how we can make the world a healthier, less polluted place,” says Giada.

With three separate awards in the offering in this year’s competition, Giada is hoping to make her mark and secure a slot representing the Pacific region and New Zealand at the Grand Finale of the competition in Milan next year.

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