At the heart of the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival is the contest itself. The blind tasting competition for individuals and restaurants is conducted by some of the top chefs in the state of Texas. They take hot sauce seriously, and so do most of the people who enter. Five previous winners in the individual category have gone on to start their own hot sauce companies. This year's final judges are:

Bruce Auden
A trailblazer of the Southwestern Cuisine, Auden is one of the top chefs in Central Texas; in fact, Esquire Magazine named him one of the best chefs in the country. His restaurant, Biga, in San Antonio, is consistently ranked among the top restaurants in the state.

Jeff Blank
The owner and executive chef of the highly acclaimed Lake Travis restaurant Hudson's on the Bend, Blank has just released a new cookbook titled Cooking Seriously: Recipes and Adventures From Hudson's on the Bend.

David Garrido
Garrido is the executive chef at Jeffrey's. His father was a Mexican diplomat, and he has traveled extensively in Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Europe. Garrido formerly worked with Stephan Pyles at the Routh Street Cafe in Dallas and is the co-author of Nuevo Tex-Mex.

Jay McCarthy
Formerly the executive chef at Central Market and at Cascabel restaurant in San Antonio, McCarthy grew up in Jamaica and is an expert on Caribbean cuisines and hot sauces. He is the co-author of Traveling Jamaica With Knife, Fork, and Spoon from Crossing Press.

Miguel Ravago
The former executive chef of Fonda San Miguel and Bertram's, Ravago has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation as one of the Southwest's top chefs. He is also the co-author with Marilyn Townsend of the Julia Child Award-winning cookbook Comida de la Familia.

Grady Spears
The executive chef and co-owner of the Reata Restaurants in Alpine and Fort Worth, Spears was named one of the Top Five New Chefs of 1998 by Restaurants and Institutions Magazine. Spears, who once worked as a cowhand and cattle broker, combines traditional chuck-wagon cooking with modern Texas ingredients in a style he calls West Texas Cowboy Cuisine. He is the co-author of A Cowboy in the Kitchen.

Robb Walsh (Head Judge)
The founder of the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival is also the former Food editor of the Austin Chronicle, a two-time James Beard Journalism Award winner, and new editor-in-chief of Chile Pepper Magazine. He is also a commentator on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, Sunday, a contributing editor ofAmerican Way, and food columnist for Natural History Magazine.

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