The Southeast Asians on the '50 Next' list of young people shaping future of gastronomy

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Louise Mabulo from San Fernando in the Philippines, founder of The Cacao Project, a social venture that helps Filipino farmers make a profit while working sustainably. (Photo from the UN courtesy of 50 Next)
Louise Mabulo from San Fernando in the Philippines, founder of The Cacao Project, a social venture that helps Filipino farmers make a profit while working sustainably. (Photo from the UN courtesy of 50 Next)

SINGAPORE — The organisation behind The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and The World’s 50 Best Bars today unveiled the first edition of 50 Next, a list of young people under 35 years old shaping the future of gastronomy. This first edition of 50 Next features personalities across the globe, identified as the next-generation leaders in the food and beverage industry.

50 Next is divided into seven industry-led categories: Gamechanging Producers; Tech Disruptors; Empowering Educators; Entrepreneurial Creatives; Science Innovators; Hospitality Pioneers (supported by S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy) and Trailblazing Activists.

An open call for applications and nominations for 50 Next was made in late 2020, which broke from the 50 Best's traditional model of anonymous voting.

A total of 700 candidates were considered from direct applications, nominations by third parties and talent scouted by a team of experts at the Basque Culinary Center, 50 Next’s Academic Partner. All finalists were subject to in-depth interviews and robust analysis before being selected.

A list but not a ranking, 50 Next specifically celebrates people, complementing the annual rankings of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Bars.

The class of 2021 includes ground-breaking Australian fish butcher Josh Niland, progressive agriculture advocate Cherrie Atilano from the Philippines, Ghanaian tech innovator Isaac Sesi, Mexican indigenous pioneer Claudia Albertina Ruiz and Jhannel Tomlinson, a Jamaican climate-change champion who empowers women through coffee.

William Drew, Director of Content for 50 Best, says: “As the world of gastronomy strives to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, it is more important than ever for us to support, empower and celebrate those at every level of the food and drink chain. By bringing together this truly diverse list of young people with the support of the Basque Culinary Center, the Biscay region and the wider 50 Best family, we pledge to nurture, uplift and provide a platform for those fighting for a brighter future for gastronomy. 50 Next allows us to connect today’s leaders with the next generation.”

The full list of trailblazers can be found on its website here. These are the honourees from Southeast Asia who made it to the 50 Next list:

Jonathan Ng, 30
Singapore

The upcycling evangelist distilling a new category for the drinks sector

“We aspire to be a pioneer of sustainable food technologies and to promote sustainable food production through the use of food biotechnology.” – Jonathan Ng

Jonathan Ng from Singapore, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)
Jonathan Ng from Singapore, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)

Ever wondered what happens to the by-products of food production? Such curiosity led Jonathan Ng and his team to create Sachi, the first alcoholic beverage in the world made from soy whey, a byproduct from the manufacture of tofu. The drink came about when scientist Chua Jian Yong patented a technique for the biotransformation of soy whey before teaming up with business brain Jonathan to co-found SinFooTech. The company processes by-products and turns them into innovative ingredients and products, promoting the concept of a resource-efficient circular economy within the food production industry. 

Following the departure of his scientist co-founder from the company, Jonathan, a Singaporean business management graduate, is working to launch Sachi, which tastes like Japanese sake, with a fruity undertone and lower alcohol content. He is also using his entrepreneurial nous to develop non-alcoholic and different-flavoured versions of Sachi, as well as other innovative foods made sustainably from by-products. SinFooTech and Jonathan’s work exemplify the impact that can come from combining food science with gastronomic creativity to add value to substances that would otherwise go to waste. 

Kisum Chan, 22; Lincoln Lee, 23; Zheyi Chia, 22; and Jonathan Ong, 24
London, UK and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 

The gamechanging team combating poverty while uplifting Asian rice farmers

“A lot of young people don’t think they have what it takes to thrive in the agriculture sector, just like I never thought I’d be able to raise $1 million in investment when I was 19. My thinking was false,” he says. “Agriculture isn’t as ‘sexy’ as tech in Silicon Valley. We’re changing that.” – Kisum Chan

Kisum Chan from Hong Kong, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)
Kisum Chan from Hong Kong, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)

Hong Kong native Kisum Chan and Malaysia-born Lincoln Lee were students at University College London when they co-founded Rice Inc., a social enterprise with ambitious goals to combat world hunger and alleviate poverty. Later joined by Zheyi Chia and Jonathan Ong, both based in Kuala Lumpur, they strengthened the company into one that is advocating for sustainable rice on a global scale. 

Lincoln Lee from Malaysia, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)
Lincoln Lee from Malaysia, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)

Rice Inc. began when the students learned that up to 26 million tonnes of the grain is wasted during production and that 70% of the world’s rice is produced by smallholder farmers without access to efficient drying equipment. They began providing producers with affordable and revolutionary rice dryers as well as the knowledge to create a sustainable operating model. Rice Inc. also sells rice made by cooperatives around the world, reinvesting profit into its programmes. 

Jonathan Ong from Malaysia, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)
Jonathan Ong from Malaysia, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)

Awarded $1 million by former US President Bill Clinton in the 2018 Hult Prize finals, the project was always destined to go far. With Kisum and Lincoln’s degrees in biomedical sciences, Jonathan’s background in accounting and management and Zheyi’s economics degree, the team have all the tools and knowledge for a successful and far-impacting business. Kisum and his colleagues are passionate about using their achievements to make the agricultural sector a more attractive career option. 

Zheyi Chia from Malaysia, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)
Zheyi Chia from Malaysia, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)

Louise Mabulo, 22
San Fernando, Philippines 

The cacao connoisseur equipping Filipino farmers for sustainable success

“I want to deconstruct the negative stigmas surrounding agriculture in my country and change the narrative for local farmers so that we can make their trade into an art form that is agriculture and food sovereignty in the Philippines.” – Louise Mabulo

Louise Mabulo from the Philippines, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: Kyle Molina)
Louise Mabulo from the Philippines, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: Kyle Molina)

Award-winning chef, entrepreneur, agriculture advocate and public speaker – Louise Mabulo has many strings to her bow, but her most important initiative is The Cacao Project, a social venture that helps farmers make a profit while working sustainably. It came about after a typhoon destroyed crops in her home of San Fernando, Camarines Sur, in 2016, leaving farmers with little or no income. Aged 18 at the time, Louise noticed the cacao plants were somehow still standing, and she happened on an idea to transform local farming by cultivating the resilient and high-value cacao plant along with other short-term crops like bok choy, okra and pumpkins. 

What started as a typhoon relief initiative quickly turned into something permanent, and in the last four years, the project has helped more than 200 farmers to plant 80,000 trees across 70 hectares of land. It equips producers with the best cacao crops as well as an education in how to make a living both responsibly and sustainably. Louise is currently in the research and development phase to create a series of chocolate products that will help tell the story and, in turn, offer renewed hope to farmers. 

Through The Cacao Project, this young entrepreneur has helped revive water sources, combat deforestation and provide a sustainable livelihood for a community. Louise is also the founder of The Culinary Lounge, a laidback farm-to-table kitchen studio that hosts events, workshops, cooking demonstrations and pop-up dinners, and has hosted an online cooking series for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs. 

Cherrie Atilano, 35
Makati City, Philippines

 

The progressive agriculture advocate revolutionising Filipino farming

“Empowering unheard voices, unsung heroes and invisible workers in the sector makes us unique.” – Cherrie Atilano

Cherrie Atilano from the Philippines, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)
Cherrie Atilano from the Philippines, an honouree of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy. (Photo: 50 Next)

“Eco over ego” is Cherrie Atilano’s mantra. Her career as an empowering agricultural educator started at the age of 12, when a book on sustainable farming inspired her to head to the fields and pass her learnings on to local producers. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the Visayas State University, she developed her ‘Ecology of Dignity’ ideology, which she puts into practice as the founding farmer, CEO and president of Agrea. Founded in 2014 in the island province of Marinduque in the Philippines, Agrea is an inclusive enterprise on a mission to build a replicable model for island economies with zero hunger, zero waste and zero insufficiency. “We believe that Filipino farmers are world class” is the company’s premise. 

Through community and organisation-based programmes, Cherrie created a project that puts people at the centre of its activities, empowering all players in the food chain to be sustainably supported and nurtured. Eradicating poverty for farming and fishing families, community-based tourism, alleviating the effects of climate change, quality education and food security are the pillars on which Agrea stands. 

Attuned to women’s struggles, Cherrie implemented the Forward initiative, which puts women at the centre of the movement for better agriculture and rural development. As co-founder of Hatienda Holdings, she is putting Filipino products front and centre on the local and international market. And as the Philippine food security ambassador and a UN Global Food Systems Champion, she is on a mission to prove that farming can be humane, smart, cool and sexy. 

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