“I could say that the inspiration for my dishes comes from my roots: my hometown; my region Dolenjska, in southeastern Slovenia; my parents; my grandparents; … My ambition for the future is to create culinary stories on plates in my own restaurant. Stories that are connected to my roots, but with a modern twist,” affirms Špela Kuhel, the finalist who will represent Slovenia, European Region of Gastronomy awarded 2021 at the 6th European Young Chef Award.
Špela Kuhel is a 19-year-old student of Hospitality and Tourism at BIC Ljubljana Vocational College where she enrolled after completing her secondary education at the School for Hospitality and Tourism in Novo Mesto.
“I am very proud of being a student at BIC Ljubljana, because our professors guide us in acquiring new knowledge and experience at the highest levels of gastronomy and cuisine” claims Špela, who is also upgrading her skills in the BIC Ljubljana school restaurant KULT316. The restaurant is open to the public and frequently hosts top chefs from Slovenia and abroad (including Michelin-starred) who come to cook for guests and students.
The joy of discovering the secrets of gastronomy and learning how to cook by doing has been her passion since she was a child. Raised on a farm where they grew all the basic food they needed, Špela was guided into the world of cuisine by her grandmother and mother.
Throughout her education, she has been gaining professional knowledge and got to know Slovenian cuisine: “I believe that it is extremely important for any great chef to firstly know the basics of cooking, the culinary heritage of his/her own country and the local ingredients; and then continue to learn the characteristics of different world cuisines.”
Špela’s passion for cooking competitions grew tremendously after participating in the local contest where she was selected as Slovenia’s finalist to the European Young Chef Award 2022. And she enthusiastically supports the philosophy of IGCAT’s international competition: “I am aware of the importance of our culinary heritage and tradition because my parents and grandparents raised me that way, and I get taught these values at school as well. I am also very aware that it is necessary to act sustainably when cooking, for example by using seasonal and local ingredients, and operating according to the zero-waste principle.
“Despite all the difficulties that burden the field of hospitality, I still strive for new sustainable knowledge and professional experience, because I believe that knowledge, passion and desire are the keys to be a successful and happy chef” concludes Špela.
At the European Young Chef Award 2022, Špela will present an innovative version of Cvičkova obara, a traditional Slovenian stew made with local vegetables, meat, liver and Cviček wine that used to be served at different ceremonies. Historically prepared with dormouse meat, nowadays the obara is most often made with chicken and different soup toppings. It can be served alone or accompanied with žganci (made from buckwheat flour or corn flour or potato) and cracklings (the crisp, fatty skin of roast pork: ocvirki).
About IGCAT’s European Young Chef Award
The European Young Chef Award is an annual competition organised by IGCAT that gathers young culinary talents from the awarded and candidate European Regions of Gastronomy. Selected each year through local contests, finalists to the European Young Chef Award compete by innovating traditional recipes from their regions using local ingredients.
The 6th edition of the European Young Chef Award is organised and promoted by the International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Art and Tourism (IGCAT) and hosted by the Trondheim-Trøndelag, European Region of Gastronomy awarded 2022. The competition will be held at Strinda High School in Trondheim on 11-12 November 2022, with the support of Trondheim Municipality, Trøndelag County Authority, and Innovation Norway.
About the World/European Regions of Gastronomy
Candidate and awarded World/European Regions of Gastronomy, guided by IGCAT, are working together to strengthen food security through the celebration of distinctive food cultures; create employment by stimulating creativity and gastronomic innovation; nourish children and adults through culinary and cultural education; driving environmental sustainability in tourism, hospitality and agricultural sectors; supporting balance and sustainable tourism practices; highlighting and supporting expertise from within rural and urban communities, creating connections and sharing good practices; and contributing to community health and well-being.
IGCAT aims to empower local communities by raising awareness of the importance of protecting and promoting distinct regional food, culture, arts and natural assets as part of sustainable and balanced tourism and development strategies. This is essential to safeguarding our planet, health, wellness and local economies.
IGCAT is a non-profit institute established in 2012, working with regional stakeholder consortiums in the fields of gastronomy, culture, arts and tourism. It counts on the expertise of a worldwide network of experts and works in partnership with specialised intergovernmental organisations.
IGCAT founded the World/European Region of Gastronomy Award and is the official secretariat for the World/European Regions of Gastronomy Platforms. Furthermore, the Institute has developed the European Young Chef Award, the World Food Gift Challenge, the Top Websites for Foodie Travelers Award and the international Food Film Menu.