Kingfisher’s Jon Bautista a James Beard Award semifinalist for California’s best chef

A man smiles, wearing an apron with his arms crossed
Jon Bautista, executive chef at Kingfisher Cocktail Bar & Eatery

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Jon Bautista, the founding executive chef of the year-old, Michelin-recommended Kingfisher Cocktail Bar & Eatery in Golden Hill, has been named a semifinalist for a James Beard Award in the category of Best Chef: California.

He is the only San Diego County chef to make the prestigious California list of 20 semifinalists, which includes some chefs with two and three Michelin stars.

Bautista, 38, is a longtime San Diego chef of Filipino heritage who served as chef de cuisine under chef-owner Trey Foshee at George’s at the Cove in La Jolla from 2013 to 2019. Among his regular diners at George’s were sisters Ky Phan and Kim Phan. With Kim’s husband, Quan Le, they recruited him in 2020 to help open Kingfisher, an upscale modern Vietnamese restaurant.

Bautista told The San Diego Union-Tribune last year that he’d never cooked Vietnamese food before he met the Phans, so he trained in the kitchen with their parents to learn traditional recipes, which he gave an updated and fine-dining twist.

“What I’m cooking now, it’s me,” Bautista said. “I’m classically trained, so that’s the French. Vietnamese food is a lot of herbs and seafood and freshness, and my style of cooking is very light and clean. So what I learned from Trey fit perfectly. I needed to be grounded on what’s going to please the Vietnamese community and traditionalists, but also be approachable enough for the Americans that are coming in here.”

The pared-down list of final nominees will be announced March 29, and the winners will be unveiled June 5.

Kragen writes about restaurants for The San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at