The Contest

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. Several previous winners in the individual category have gone on to start their own hot sauce companies. This year's final judges are:

Jeff Blank

Blank is the chef/owner of Hudson's on the Bend, a renowned Hill Country restaurant famous for its eclectic treatment of native game. Blank and fellow chef Jay Moore are co-authors of the self-published cookbook Cooking Fearlessly.

Mark Bliss

Formerly the chef de cuisine at Biga restaurant in San Antonio, Mark Bliss is now the chef and co-owner of Silo restaurant on Austin Highway in San Antonio, above the former location of Farm to Market.

Jay McCarthy

Formerly the executive chef at Central Market in Austin, Jay is currently preparing to open a restaurant called Trios in San Antonio's Alamo Heights neighborhood. McCarthy grew up in Jamaica and is an expert on Caribbean cuisines and hot sauces. He is the co-author (with Robb Walsh) of Traveling Jamaica With Knife, Fork & Spoon: A Righteous Guide to Jamaican Cookery.

Bruce Auden

A trailblazer of Southwestern cuisine, Bruce Auden is one of the top chefs in Central Texas. In fact, Esquire named him one of the best chefs in the country. Auden's new restaurant on San Antonio's famous Riverwalk is called Biga on the Banks.

David Garrido

David Garrido is the executive chef at Jeffrey's and Cipollina, and executive chef and co-owner of Fresh Planet and O's Campus Cafe (scheduled to open in September). Garrido formerly worked with Stephan Pyles at the Routh Street Cafe in Dallas. He is the co-author (with Robb Walsh) of Nuevo Tex-Mex.

Roberto Santibañez

A Mexico City native, Roberto Santibañez is the executive chef at Fonda San Miguel. A graduate of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris, he was formerly the executive chef of Placido Domingo's Spanish restaurant, Domingo, in Manhattan. Santibañez is also the former chef and owner of La Circumstancia, a fine dining restaurant in the heart of Mexico City.

Grady Spears

The executive chef and co-owner of the Reata Restaurants in Alpine, Ft. Worth, Beverly Hills, Calif., Grady 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, is the co-author of A Cowboy in the Kitchen (with Robb Walsh).

Robb Walsh

(Founder and Head Judge) Former food editor of The Austin Chronicle and editor-in-chief of Chile Pepper magazine, Robb Walsh is currently the restaurant critic for The Houston Press. A two-time James Beard Award winner, Robb Walsh also writes for American Way, Natural History, and is a commentator on NPR.

Preliminary Judges

Preliminary judges open, sort, and screen every single bottle of hot sauce entered in the contest. Then they pass the best-qualified entries on to the finals. As you might imagine, this task sometimes involves the unpleasant experience of being the first to eat a salsa which is too hot for human consumption. For their tireless efforts, we wish to thank these preliminary judges: Carlos Contreras, Henry Alvarado, Fred Alvarado, Dave Walsh, Jim Shahin, Robert Bryce, Pat Earvolino, Joe Nick Patoski, and Pableaux Johnson.

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