A Dose of Reality

When masterful culinary skills meet reality television, gastronomical stars are born.


Whether Top, Master or Iron, several of these cheflebrities, who've converted talent in the kitchen to fame on TV, are now at the helm of America's Finest restaurants. Take a seat - at the table or in front of the nearest flat screen - and see what's cooking.

 

Sam "The Cooking Guy" Zien

Birth city: Vancouver, Canada
Current neighborhood: Carmel Valley

PacificSD: On which TV show(s) have you appeared?
SAM "THE COOKING GUY" ZIEN: My own show, Sam the Cooking Guy, since 2002. I also had a series on Discovery Health called Just Cook This for a year, until Oprah took over the channel and decided I didn't fit into her 'how to live your best life' mantra. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

How has becoming a celebrity chef changed the way you cook?
Hasn't at all. But it has made me lose weight, 'cause I didn't want to look heavy on TV, and the camera really does add at least ten pounds.

How has it chef changed the way you run your business?
My audience is so diverse, from 8-year-old to 80-year-old fans. So, I suppose on some level, I've become slightly more politically correct - maybe not a lot, just a little. You just can't say or do the first thing that comes into your mind anymore, especially when you're on TV.

What will you be doing in 10 years?
Cooking, eating, drinking and playing with grandchildren - though, not necessarily all at the same time.

Who inspires you?
When it comes to chefs, I'm generally inspired by foreign chefs, including many from Baja right now, 'cause they're doing such cool yet casual stuff. But I also get inspired by what everyday people ask me about, because they're my wheelhouse.

What are your favorite San Diego restaurants?
We'd rather eat and drink [at home], and seldom go out. That said, I'm a Hodad's fan; really like Underbelly and their oxtail dumplings; love a good chorizo burrito at almost any taco shop; and give me anything Asian, and I smile... especially a cheap Chinese buffet - can anything really beat that?

What's your favorite food?
Salmon, no question. A super- healthy protein with great fat that you can eat raw, poached, steamed, broiled, grilled, seared, torched and even baked... though don't eat it baked, 'cause it dries out and sucks.

What food do you detest?
Sea cucumber - effing ewww!

Claudia Sandoval

Birth city: National City , San Diego
Current neighborhood: National City and South San Diego

PacificSD: On which TV show(s) have you appeared?
CLAUDIA SANDOVAL: MasterChef Season Six.

How has becoming a celebrity chef changed the way you cook?
I have become a much more efficient and quick chef. I have also continued to push myself to come up with much more complex and advanced recipes and concepts.

How has it changed the way you run your business?
Before going on MasterChef, I didn't have a business. I was working to make other people's businesses successful at a local marketing agency. Now that the show has afforded me the opportunity to start my own business, I am excited to be a business owner and do what I love every day.

What will you be doing in 10 years?
In ten years, I plan to be a successful restaurateur, owning a number of restaurants and maybe even hosting a TV series. I would love to continue to share my family's food and expanding the knowledge of Mexican cuisine.

Who inspires you?
Some of my favorite chefs include the likes of Enrique Olvera out of Mexico City, Drew Deckman in the Valley of Guadalupe and my dear friend chef Flor Franco. In life, my daughter is my biggest source of inspiration. Her gentle nature and humility remind me often why I should never be afraid to step outside my comfort zone.

Which are your favorite San Diego restaurants?
Some of my favorites include Parkhouse Eatery in University Heights for Brunch, Solare at Liberty Station for their traditional Italian, and Kitchen 4140 for their farm-to-table deliciousness. Bracero takes the cake for my favorite Mexican restaurant, their albondigas remind me of home.

What's your favorite food?
Anything that brings back a memory. So much of the experience we have with food is because of sensory recall and how smells, textures and flavors can transport you to another time or place. If we were talking about types of food, then my favorites would have to be Italian and Mexican.

What food do you detest?
There is very little I detest in the food realm, but since I am a fan of lighter proteins, I tend to stay away from iron-rich meats like liver and heart.

Jason Knibb

Restaurant: NINE-TEN, La Jolla
Birth city: Montego Bay, Jamaica
Current neighborhood: Bay Ho

PacificSD: On which TV show(s) have you appeared?
JASON KNIBB: Food Network's Cooking Live with Sara Moulton, Bobby Flay's Food Nation - Best of Utah and Food Network's Iron Chef America.

How has becoming a celebrity chef changed the way you cook?
The spotlight has certainly made me more aware of what I and my team at NINE-TEN are cooking, and I have become much more critical of the dishes that we are putting out. The pressure to perform is also much greater.

How has it changed the way you run your business?
You really have to be ready and on your game at all times, as you never know who may walk through your dining room front door.

What will you be doing in 10 years?
It's hard for me to even predict a year from now. But hopefully I will be enjoying life, enjoying my family and good friends, and still creating amazing food that I am proud of and that people love to eat.

Who inspires you?
For me, inspiration can come from just about anything - shopping at Chino Farms or the local farmers' markets, dining at another restaurant, even surfing. But I can say wholeheartedly that most of the other chefs and young cooks that have passed through my kitchen or even started their careers with me are doing great things in our industry. That inspires me.

Which are your favorite San Diego restaurants?
I don't really have a favorite restaurant in town. My favorite thing to do is visit new restaurants when I go out, and try a variety of different places. I do have some favorite dishes though: the sweet breads at Whisknladle, the Tonkotsu Ramen at Ramen Yamadaya, the carnitas burrito at Porkyland and the lengua taco at La Tiendita Market in Clairemont. I also love the burger at Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant.

What's your favorite food?
It really depends on my mood, but I guess it would have to
be Jamaican food. My favorite is curried goat and Escovitch fish. I also love jerk pork and chicken but I don't order it unless I'm in Jamaica because I'm always disappointed. Nobody can make jerk pork or chicken like they do at home.

What food do you detest?
Easy. Monkfish liver terrine. Hands down.

Brian Malarkey

Restaurant: The Herb Shop, Little Italy (opening March 2016)
Birth city: Portland
Current neighborhood: Point Loma

PacificSD: On which TV show(s) have you appeared?
BRIAN MALARKEY: The major ones are getting to the finale of Top Chef Miami and beating Ludo [Lefebvre], Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson to win The Taste. I'm also a recurring judge on Guy's Grocery Games and I competed in an All-Stars episode with the Raiders' Marcel Reece where we won thirty thousand dollars for charity.

How has becoming a celebrity chef changed the way you cook?
I work with more confidence after having met all of my idols and realizing they are just hard-working, passionate chefs like myself. The abundance of travel has made me more of a long-distance chef, and I have incredible teams that run our incredible restaurants. I also dress nicer.

How has it changed the way you run your business?
I really count on my team to follow the vision to work hard, pass on the good vibes and trust, trust, trust, trust.

What will you be doing in 10 years?
I have an incredible goal. I'm keeping most of it under wraps for now, but it includes taking my wife and kids all the way around the world before they are too cool for me. It will be an epic year off and an epic yearlong adventure. When I get back, I'll dive into the kitchen with more knowledge and passion than ever before.

Who inspires you?
The great chefs that work with me, the great restaurants I'm fortunate enough to eat at, our staffs that work with so much passion, my wife and kids. And, of course, chef Shane McIntyre and the Christopher Puffer, my partners in The Herb Shop, our upcoming restaurant and market in Little Italy.

Which are your favorite San Diego restaurants?
Catania, Ironside, Juniper & Ivy, Puesto, and the classic Cafe? Chloe.

What's your favorite food?
Seafood and shellfish. I can't just pick one, and my love for crab, lobster, clams, sea urchin, abalone, salmon, sea bass, halibut, cod, snapper, caviar, sardines, octopus and shrimp is deep.

What food do you detest?
Pre-cut-and-packed fruits and vegetables. Not all, but most, canned items. And that damn cereal that does such a great job of marketing to my kids. And, yes, I ate Cocoa Pebbles as a kid.

Nathan Odom

Birth city: San Diego
Current neighborhood: Mission Valley

PacificSD: On which TV show(s) have you appeared?
NATHAN ODOM: I was on Season Three of Fox's MasterChef Junior.

How has becoming a celebrity chef changed the way you cook?
I definitely have a lot more personal joy when I cook and I am also much less afraid to be spontaneous.

What will you be doing in 10 years?
In ten years, I'll be in Japan, either preparing to or already operating a French/Japanese pastry cafe. Depending on how I'm feeling, I might serve savory as well.

Who inspires you?
The people who inspire me the most are my family, close friends and several chefs including chef Ricardio Heredia, Gustaf Rooth and, of course, Gordon, Graham, Joe and Christina.

Which are your favorite San Diego restaurants?
My favorite San Diego restaurants are probably Izakaya Masa, Safehouse, Hodads, Santouka and last, but certainly not least, Carnitas.

What's your favorite food?
It's a tough choice, but I'd definitely have to go with ramen, the good stuff. Sushi is, of course, a close second.

What food do you detest?
I absolutely despise natto, the more intimidating kinds of offal and, surprisingly enough, kale.

Maeve Rochford

Restaurant: Sugar and Scribe Bakery and Fine Food, La Jolla
Birth city: Cincinnati, Ohio
Current neighborhood: Pacific Beach

PacificSD: On which TV show(s) have you appeared?
MAEVE ROCHFORD: Food Network Holiday Baking Championship, Season Two.

How has becoming a celebrity chef changed the way you cook?
Becoming a celebrity chef has made me want to try harder, to be better, offer more and elevate everyday.

How has it changed the way you run your business?
It hasn't really changed the way I run my business. I always say, "Offer the best or offer nothing."

What will you be doing in 10 years?
In ten years, I'd like to have several [Sugar and Scribe] locations, including Dublin, Ireland, to have launched a line of sprinkles and have developed a chef-wear line for women.

Who inspires you?
I'm inspired by Darina Allen and all the amazing culinary items she has brought to the table that have changed the way Ireland is viewed as a world culinary force.

Which are you favorite San Diego restaurants?
I love Costa Brava in Pacific Beach and Wine Vault Bistro on India Street.

What's your favorite food?
Pie. I love sweet and savory pie. I could eat pie all day, everyday.

What food do you detest?
Ice cream, sorbet - actually, anything frozen, cold, chilled or iced.

Ricardo Heredia

Birth city: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Current neighborhood: South Park

PacificSD: On which TV show(s) have you appeared?
RICARDO HEREDIA: I have appeared on In Search of Food on Ovation, World Food Championships on FYI, Chuck's Eat the Street on the Cooking Channel, Project: Cook-Off on the Outdoor Cooking Channel and KitchenAid Apple Challenge on the Food Network.

How has becoming a celebrity chef changed the way you cook?
Cooking is my passion, so nothing will alter my journey to always learn and discover new flavors. Winning one hundred thirty thousand dollars in the last year has allowed me to travel through Mexico and Puerto Rico this year.

How has it changed the way you run your business?
Being on television has definitely opened some doors. I started a consulting business and am continuing my Scratch Culinary Education classes for elementary and middle school kids.

What will you be doing in 10 years?
In ten years, I would like to have a restaurant- slash-education center to teach kids from low- income communities and continue to travel the world, experiencing culture through food.

Who inspires you?
Nature, other cultures and, of course, other chefs are inspiring. [From famed Spanish chef ] Ferran Adria? to home cooks, all are inspiring to me.

Which are your favorite San Diego restaurants?
It's hard to choose a favorite restaurant, but I have to say Wa Dining OKAN always makes me smile.

What's your favorite food?
I don't have a favorite food; it's all about the moment that makes a dish special. From street food in Tijuana to a sweet potato roasted over coals with coconut milk in Ton Sai, Thailand... [both] are unique and create memorable eating experiences.

What food do you detest?
I love all foods. What I detest is our culture of poison in most of our foods, especially what we feed to children.

Richard Blais

Restaurants: Juniper & Ivy and The Crack Shack, Little Italy
Birth city: Uniondale, New York
Current neighborhood: Del Mar Uniondale, New York.

PacificSD: On which TV show(s) did you appear?
RICHARD BLAIS: Runner up on Top Chef Season 4; winner of Top Chef Season 8; judge on Top Chef Season 12; judge on Top Chef Season 13; winner of Top Chef All-Stars. Other appearances include Hungry Games, Cutthroat Kitchen and Iron Chef America.

How has becoming a celebrity chef changed the way you cook?
It's widened my audience, so I think I have a better understanding of what people like, but I don't think it's changed my cooking that much.

How has it changed the way you run your business?
It's just made me appreciate people more. I spend more time personally interacting with people, so I see their experience from a wider perspective.

What will you be doing in 10 years?
Hopefully the same thing.

Who inspires you?
Inspiration comes from everywhere and changes often. Right now, maybe Wes Anderson. Bluegrass music, Ramen, Marshawn Lynch. The canyon behind my house, Freakonomics, Colin Cowherd, Chris Hardwick, the Pacific
Ocean, Mexico. Yeah, that's my inspiration... like, right in this exact moment.

What are your favorite San Diego restaurants?
Chipotle, Beaming, Cucina Urbana.

What food do you detest?
Can't say I detest any. I'd pass the insects on a buffet, though.

Rich Sweeney

Restaurant: Waypoint Public, North Park
Birth city: Smithtown, New York (Long Island)
Current neighborhood: Hillcrest

PacificSD: On which TV show(s) have you appeared?
RICH SWEENEY: Top Chef, Season Five (NYC).

How has becoming a celebrity chef changed the way you cook?
There is less looming-overhead stress when something goes wrong or breaks. Once you've gone from crazy challenges and time constraints, it makes even a crazy service seem easier.

How has it changed the way you run your business?
It's made me more involved with mentoring culinary school students and more involved with community and charitable organizations. We manage to get this little spark of fame - why not put it to good use by encouraging the people who want to be chefs, and/or give back to our communities?

What will you be doing in 10 years?
Probably still cooking; it's what I love to do. Working with John [Pani] to help expand Waypoint Public as a brand will be a big undertaking. And hopefully, in ten years, we have a bunch of locations all over the country.

Who inspires you?
I find inspiration in everything, from my staff, who are
always trying different flavor combinations - some amazing, others epic fails - to a tasty new beer we might be pouring at the bar to other chefs around town that are making great food and keeping their standards high.

Which are your favorite San Diego restaurants?
Carnitas Snack Shack, Tajima Ramen Bar, Underbelly, Cafe? Chloe.

What's your favorite food?
I love too many things for different reasons: a tasty hot bowl of spicy ramen, a great piece of bacon, some decadent chocolate truffles, a creamy bowl of butter pecan ice cream.

What food do you detest?
There aren't many foods that I detest and I'm always willing to retry a food and give it another go. But I think raw oysters are up there; it's a texture thing for me.

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