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Chefs Samuel Zien, Josue Gutierrez, and Quinnton Austin Take Home Top Honors During Local Culinary Competitions

Foodies voted, judges judged, and three tastemakers were crowned some of San Diego's most awesome chefs.

San Diego’s largest food and wine experience isn’t just an opportunity for food and beverage enthusiasts to indulge in some of Southern California’s best bites and sips; the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival is host to some serious culinary competitions – Chef of the Fest and Taco TKO. These head-to-head competitions are critiqued by both attendees and hand-selected judges at the Grand Tasting and Grand Fiesta events. Winners get the title, some serious bragging rights, and cash prizes.

From a Braised Italian Beef Ciabatta Sandwich to Pork Belly Pibil Tacos, the 2022 competition was deliciously fierce. The winning tastemakers are dishing out the details from ideation to first bite, and ultimately winning the title.

People’s Choice – Chef of the Fest

Sam the Cooking Guy and the Graze by Sam team took home the People’s Choice award at the Chef of the Fest competition. Grand Tasting attendees were the critics for this competition, and if the line leading to Sam’s mouthwatering Italian Beef Ciabatta Sandwich wasn’t enough to prove to it’s delectability, winning the award confirmed it as fan favorite.

Slow-braised oxtail harmonized with provolone and Sam’s homemade garlic aioli between two toasted ciabatta slices. If that alone doesn’t have your mouth watering, the sandwich was dipped in a decadent jus before hitting plate. Sam describes it best, “It was messy, and it was sloppy, and it was so delicious.”

Known as Sam the Cooking Guy, Sam Zien’s career as a chef started twenty years ago with a two-minute cooking segment and the idea to cook dishes that anyone could enjoy. That exact idea is what brought the award-winning sandwich to fruition. Originally created for YouTube, Sam and the team at Graze by Sam transformed the sandwich recipe into a festival-ready, crave-able dish.

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Judges’ Choice for Most Awesome Taco – Taco TKO

Death by Tequila’s juicy Duck Confit Taco was crowned San Diego’s Most Awesome Taco, with Chef Josue Gutierrez and team receiving the Judges’ Choice award at the Taco TKO competition during the festival’s finale event, Grand Fiesta.

The confit duck was prepared birria-style and perfectly spiced to enhance the flavors of the meat and topped with simple, locally-sourced ingredients like fresnos, chile de árbol, red onion, and cilantro.

What was Chef’s inspiration for this delectable dish? Flavors that remind him of his hometown in Mexico. As he puts it, “I’m inspired by the flavors of Baja-California and the mix of cultures in the region.”

People’s Choice for Most Awesome Taco – Taco TKO

Grand Fiesta attendees put their taste buds to the test and voted for Coco Maya by Miss B’s Pork Belly Pibil Taco as San Diego’s Most Awesome Taco.

Chef Quinnton Austin combined Caribbean flavors with Spanish influence, tapping into traditions from his hometown in New Orleans to create what he calls the perfect taco. He used jerk rub for the pork belly pibil and topped it with mango and pineapple for a touch of island flavor.

Bringing creativity to the competition was Chef Quinnton and the Coco Maya team’s main goal, and winning was the cherry on top. Rising in ranks from third place in the previous year’s competition to taking home top honors, these tastemakers think they finally perfected their Taco TKO recipe. Chef Quinnton Austin says, “We wanted to keep some of the traditions of the basic taco alive but spice it up a little. With this win comes so much pride, especially with Coco Maya being the new kid on the block in Little Italy. “

The San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival returns November 8-12, along with both  culinary competitions. Foodies from near and far will gather as chefs from San Diego and all over Southern California put their best bites forward for a chance at one of the esteemed titles.

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