Award-winning San Diego chef to compete on Top Chef


In a recent announcement for the new season of Bravo’s Top Chef, award-winning chef and San Diego native, Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins, was among the 15 chefs named to be competing.

Zepeda-Wilkins was raised between San Diego and Tijuana. Her penchant for Mexican cuisine and learning to prepare “rich pozole” (traditional soup) helped inspire her at a young age to pursue cooking as a career. From working in an Italian restaurant in San Diego, making baked goods in La Jolla and learning how to cook a whole animal at downtown’s Jsix, Zepeda-Wilkins developed a unique style of cooking.

Her skills lead her to become part of a chefs collective in San Diego and launch a gluten- and grain-free snack company called Cavegirl Confections.

And that’s just in the past 10 years.

Season 15 of Top Chef, which premiers on Dec. 7, ventures a mile high as Zepeda-Wilkins and 14 other chefs from across the country compete in numerous cooking challenges settled in the rocky and cold climates around Colorado. This season sees the competing chefs go on a road trip through Denver, Boulder, Telluride and Aspen.

Throughout the road trip, Zepeda-Wilkins will face challenges like preparing Rocky Mountain Oysters with the Denver Broncos in Denver, campfire cooking in Aspen and challenges from Olympic athletes in Boulder.

In February of this year, on Zepeda-Wilkins also competed in Top Chef Mexico. Zepeda-Wilkens won Chef’s Plate: 9 (a traveling culinary competition from Chef’s Roll) and was nominated along with her team at the former Bracero in Little Italy for “best restaurant” by the James Beard Foundation in 2015.

Zepeda-Wilkins will be serving as executive chef of Rise and Shine Restaurant Group’s (Breakfast Republic) new restaurant, El Jardin, at Liberty Station in early 2018.

The winner of Season 15 will be awarded $125,000, a feature in Food & Wine magazine and a showcase at the annual Food & Wine classic in Aspen.

Season 15 of Top Chef premieres at 10 p.m. on Dec. 7 on Bravo with host Padma Laskshmi and head judge Tom Colicchio returning.

Among Top Chef alumni now in San Diego are Brian Malarkey (Herb & Wood, Searsucker), Richard Blais (Juniper & Ivy, Crack Shack) and Casey Thompson (Morada at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe).