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 finals judges are:
Co-author (with Chronicle Food Editor Virginia B. Wood) of the upcoming cookbook Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art, Executive Chef Miguel Ravago had been recognized by the James Beard Foundation as one of the Southwest's top chefs.
A resident of Austin, Jean Andrews is the author of Peppers: The Domesticated Capsicums. Published in 1984, with watercolor illustrations by the author, the book served as one of the first field guides to chile-pepper identification. Her new book is titled The Peppers Cookbook: 200 Recipes From the Pepper Lady's Kitchen.
Author of The Pastry Queen: Royally Good Recipes From the Texas Hill Country's Rather Sweet Bakery & Cafe, Rebecca Rather is the chef and owner of Rather Sweet Bakery & Cafe in Fredericksburg, former dessert chef for Tony's restaurant in Houston, and head baker of Bread Alone bakery in Austin.
David Garrido is the executive chef at Jeffrey's and executive chef and co-owner of O's Campus Cafe. Garrido formerly worked with Stephan Pyles at the Routh Street Cafe in Dallas. Garrido is the co-author (with Robb Walsh) of Nuevo Tex-Mex.
The executive chef at the Headliner's Club for more than 20 years, chef Donny Hungerford has been a hot sauce lover since shortly after birth. A longtime veteran of the Austin restaurant scene, he got his start cooking at the venerable Mike & Charlie's. He now cooks at St. Stephen's school.
Chef and co-owner of the highly acclaimed Vespaio restaurant on South Congress and the new Enoteca Vespaio, a deli, pizzeria, and wine bar that has just opened next door. Alan Lazarus has long been considered one of Austin's top toques. His previous Austin restaurants include Basil's and Tortugas. Lazarus also spent several years serving as the executive chef for Whole Foods.
Executive chef at La Mansión del Rio in San Antonio, Scott Cohen is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and apprenticed under such chefs as Wolfgang Puck, Georges Blanc, and Roger Verger. His menu at Las Canarias restaurant showcases ingredients from the fields and farms of South Texas.
Formerly the executive chef at Central Market in Austin and currently working in catering, 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 from Crossing Press.
Currently the restaurant critic of the Houston Press, Robb Walsh is the former Food editor of The Austin Chronicle and former editor in chief of Chile Pepper magazine. The winner of the 2005 Bert Greene Award for Food Journalism and 11-time nominee for the James Beard Award, Walsh is also the author of Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook and Are You Really Going to Eat That?
Robb Walsh (founder and head judge)
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