MEET THE CHEFS - SIX FINALISTS NAMED

In the initial round, 12 culinary professionals from across the country submitted dairy-centric to-go recipes in the three culinary categories. The judges selected the top two recipes in each category and the six remaining chefs are competing in head-to-head cook-offs at the Culinary Institute of America – Copia in Napa, Calif. on July 28. The three winners will be awarded $5,000 each, and the three runners-up get $1,500.

CHEESE & MAC FINALISTS

CARRIE BAIRD

WINNER !

Carrie Baird

Denver, CO

 

RECIPE: SKIPJACK & CHEESY MAC

Carrie's entry is a dish inspired by what she cooks for herself with a variety of tastes and textures including four California cheeses, skipjack tuna, charred broccoli, peas and corn, along with togarashi, sriracha, and furikake seasoning. 

Chef Carrie Baird has made a name for herself leading the kitchens of some of the most highly regarded restaurants in Colorado over the last two decades. Carrie’s signature style fuses locally sourced ingredients with healthy twists on both classic and innovative new dishes. Carrie has been a fixture in the Denver restaurant scene for two decades, including stints as executive chef at Brazen and Bar Dough. She opened Rose’s Classic Americana in Boulder in March 2020, but the lockdowns during the pandemic have kept it closed.  

Carrie competed on Season 15 of Bravo’s Top Chef. Filmed entirely in Colorado, she quickly became a fan favorite. She won many challenges and even baked a cake in the snow. Carrie was a Top 4 Finalist. In the spring of 2019. She was a contestant on Food Networks “Beat Bobby Flay” and beat him handily with her Pork Green Chili Huevos Rancheros. Most recently she was an “All Star” judge on Top Chef Season 18, judging eight episodes of the season. 

ALEX SADOWSKY

RUNNER-UP !

Alex Sadowsky

Dallas, TX

 

RECIPE: CALIFORNIA CACIO E PEPE CHEESE & MAC

Alex's creation is a twist on the classic "cheese and pepper" dish using triple cream California brie and a California Manchego.

Alex Sadowsky graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management. Afterward, he moved back to his home state of Minnesota to master his craft in some of St. Paul’s most esteemed kitchens. In 2015, Alex left Minnesota and moved to Dallas, where he was the Chef De Cuisine at Whiskey Cake in Plano. He helped Whiskey Cake develop its menu and thoroughly enjoyed being in a kitchen that takes such great efforts to be locally sourced, innovative, and seasonal.
Alex transitioned to the position of Regional Chef, where he supported openings for multiple new Front Burner Restaurant brands. His primary focus was driving the culinary success of each menu and helping grow the brands.

Alex is currently the Corporate Executive Chef at Twin Peaks Restaurants, which he joined in 2018. Twin Peaks is so much more than the typical sports bar. The entire menu is prepared in-house, to order and in generous portions to satisfy every appetite. Founded in 2005 in the Dallas suburb of Lewisville, Twin Peaks now has 84 locations in 26 states.

CAL-MEX FINALISTS

MARY GRACE VIADO

WINNER !

Mary Grace Viado

Birmingham, AL

 

RECIPE: MEXI-CALI SHRIMP SCAMPI

Mary Grace's entry features cubes of blackened California panela and is served with homemade arepas.

A native of the Philippines, Mary graduated cum laude with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration from the University of the Philippines. She landed an amazing opportunity with the Bistro Restaurant Group in Manila and worked her way up to Corporate Chef in three years.
She moved to the United States to attend the Culinary Institute of America, where she graduated top of her class. Mary continued to fine-tune her culinary reputation by staging at several top New York restaurants, including Restaurant Daniel, Aquavit, Le Cirque 2000, Aureole, Payard Patisserie and Bistro, Café des Artistes and Le Bernadin. Mary has also worked at the Four Seasons in Atlanta before joining the Village Tavern in 2002. She served as the executive chef for the restaurant in Birmingham, AL before being promoted to Corporate Executive Chef in 2008.

Mary continues to hone her culinary knowledge and skills. She is a graduate of the 2014 Culinary Enrichment & Innovation Program of The Culinary Institute of America and Hormel Foods and was the recipient of the 2015 James Beard Foundation’s Jean-Louis Palladin Professional Scholarship.

GINA GALVAN

RUNNER-UP !

Gina Galvan

San Juan Capistrano, CA

 

RECIPE: SURF & TURF TORTA 

Gina's dish brings inspiration from family travels to Ensenada. Her entry is made with California panela cheese and lobster, grilled in adobo butter, skirt steak, chorizo, and California cotija cheese fries.

Gina Galvan is a leading food innovator and thought leader who has led hospitality R&D efforts with large chains Yum Brands Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, BJ’s and Carlton plus many mid-size chains including Quaker Steak, Pick Up Stix, Taco Johns, Del Taco and Rubio’s Coastal Grill. As a chef and development specialist, Gina has a successful track record of creating iconic foods with a global impact of over $2 Billion across 100 countries. Gina launched Mood For Food in 1999, a consulting firm specializing in the launch of new products and menu items, providing hands-on manufacturing and formulation expertise. Gina launched award winning Chomp Chomp Nation, a celebrity food truck that was featured on Diner’s, Drive-In’s and Dives on Food Network and The Cooking Channel.

INNOVATE TO-GO FINALISTS

BRIAN MULLINS

WINNER !

Brian Mullins

Miami, FL

 

RECIPE: FRICO PESTO MELT

Brian's creation marries grilled cheese with fresh California mozzarella, cheesy pesto, and a California Dry Jack cheese frico coating. It’s a partnership of cheesy, gooey, and crunchy.

Brian Mullins was raised in a Long Island gastronomic powerhouse where inspiration wafted from the kitchen when his mother and grandmother were near the stove. He credits the time cooking with them, along with his strong culinary genes, as catalysts for his career.
Before bringing the wildly popular Ms. Cheezious® food truck to Miami in 2010, Brian acquired over 25 years of culinary industry experience, working with some of the most prestigious brands and opening over 30 restaurants throughout North America, South America, Asia and Europe. Since Ms. Cheezious® launch, Brian has made the brand one of Miami’s most loved restaurant and food truck destinations, earning overwhelmingly rave reviews and being featured on several national television shows.

With his creative cooking spirit and flair for business, Brian has expanded the Ms. Cheezious® brand to include three food trucks, a brick-and-mortar location in Miami’s historic MIMO district, and a location at American Airlines Arena.

MARTI LIEBERMAN

RUNNER-UP !

Marti Lieberman

Philadelphia, PA

 

RECIPE: MAC 'N SNAX

Marti presents a Rangoon-inspired entry, which brings portability to her five-cheese, ranch mac and cheese made ready for easy snacking or entertaining.

Marti’s culinary ventures began with Mac Mart, which debuted on the streets of Drexel University’s campus in the winter of 2013. Without much experience running her own business, let alone a food truck, Marti knew there were some kinks to work out, but she was determined to succeed. While her cheese sauce was always a hit, she felt like there was something still missing. Shortly after opening, Marti on two people to complete her team: Her sister, Pamela, and her husband, Garrett Jablonski.

By combining Marti’s background in public relations, Pamela’s love of all things culinary, and utilizing Garrett’s brawn for day-to-day operations, the bright pink truck became an instant hit at private affairs, night markets, and food festivals all over the greater Philadelphia area. With a large social media presence and constantly selling out of the famous Mac and Cheese, Marti figured it was time to open its first flagship store, which debuted in Philly’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood in the spring of 2016. Since then, they continued to pivot during the COVID-19 Pandemic, turning every opportunity into a survival business plan.

VICTORIA ELIZONDO

Victoria Elizondo

 

Like a lot of successful chefs, Victoria Elizondo was initially inspired by her mother’s cooking. She started working as a server in a Peruvian restaurant and with guidance from her mentor, Chef Roberto Castre, she decided to enroll in culinary school in Houston. Since graduating, Victoria has worked for some of Houston’s finest restaurants and eventually, opened Cochinita & co. The restaurant started as a pop-up outside of various coffee shops and bars under a tent and then became a popular restaurant in Houston, known for their signature dish Cochinita Pibil. With the challenges of the pandemic, Victoria closed down her first brick and mortar and started packaging her mom’s tamales and is now operating as a wholesale business that offers made from scratch packaged goods to various local markets. She partnered up with an old chef friend who is now helping her grow and establish their brand. Cochinita & co. is slowly growing into a little, Mexican food empire. From their recently opened Cafe, to food manufacturer, and their upcoming food truck it’s safe to say the they have a prosperous future ahead of them. She’s very proud to be able to continue to grow as a chef and share her creative, culinary inspirations and love for cooking and the Mexican culture with Houstonians.

GINA REALI GENSHLEA

Gina Reali Genshlea

 

Gina Reali Genshlea is the Executive Chef and Owner of Revolution Winery & Kitchen, a Sacramento-based restaurant and winery. The story at Revolution is one that celebrates the diversity of our farms, community, and city. Gina, a first generation American with strong ties to her father’s native country, Italy, was raised on a farm in south Sacramento by her father and grandparents, which is where her culinary journey began.

While growing up on the farm, Gina learned the value of hard work. Her family raised livestock, had an extensive garden where they grew all their own fruits and vegetables Gina’s favorite weekend lunch was fresh out of the oven herbed focaccia topped with Papa Joe’s paper thin sliced prosciutto.
Gina states that working hard (and playing hard) brings people together in amazing ways. The hard work that goes into owning a small business seems a natural fit, given her upbringing. Gina states “The restaurant and winery community is a lot like my family – everyone has a few adorable quirks but we are a strong community built on high standards and a lot of sweat and aching muscles.”

NELSON GERMAN

Nelson German

 

A Dominican-American hailing from New York, chef Nelson German is a contestant on Top Chef season 18 and the chef/owner of alaMar Kitchen & Bar, and Afro-Latin cocktail lounge Sobre Mesa in Oakland, Calif. Nelson received his culinary training at the New York Art Institute, where he learned the foundation of Mediterranean-style cooking incorporating French techniques. He worked his way up to executive chef at Gramercy Park Hotel, Jerry’s Café, and Joseph’s Citarella.

After relocating to his fiancée’s hometown of Oakland, Nelson joined Supper Club SF and adopted an appreciation for California cuisine. His unorthodox culinary style draws from his Dominican heritage and African roots – an embrace of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, and a love of California ingredients. He believes in letting his food tell the stories of his culinary journey. Nelson was named one of Plate’s 2020 Chefs to Watch and is a 2021 Pebble Beach Food & Wine participating chef.

HEIDI GIBSON

Heidi Gibson

 

Heidi Gibson and her husband Nate opened The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco in 2010. The restaurant was born out of Heidi’s long-time hobby of competing in grilled cheese competitions and has become a beloved local institution serving breakfast and lunch. An engineer by training, Heidi is a self-taught cook and is also the author of two successful cookbooks: Grilled Cheese Kitchen and Muffins and Biscuits.

Heidi spits her time between software and cooking, and lives with her husband, toddler and two dogs in Oakland, CA. They all love cheese almost as much as she does.

TAMRA SCROGGINS

Tamra Scroggins

 

An Oregon native and third generation chef, Tamra Scroggins graduated from University of Wisconsin – Stout with a B.S. in Hotel and Restaurant Management, and now resides in Los Angeles. Tamra is the Corporate Executive Chef for Grill Concepts with three brick and mortar concepts. She has developed four virtual restaurant concepts in the last 18 months.

Tamra enjoys spending time with her two human children and one fur baby, creating art pieces. She has been lucky enough to have traveled the world exploring new flavors and trends in food. She sincerely feels that training others how to make amazing food and enjoy doing it is her calling and embedded in her DNA.

MANISH TYAGI

Manish Tyagi

 

Originally from the Indian city of Dehradun at the foothills of the Himalayas, Manish Tyagi launched his culinary career by working in India’s most esteemed hotel restaurants, including Taj Rambagh Palace in Jaipur and Taj Safaris in Madhya Pradesh. He began researching the indigenous foods of Central India and learned firsthand from the locals. In 2009, The Gallivanter’s Guide, an international travel resource, named Manish “Best Chef – Editor’s Choice” for championing the regional cuisine of India and National Geographic included his cooking class among its “10 Great Cooking Classes Around the World.”

In 2012, Manish moved to Washington, D.C., to open Rasika West End and then to San Francisco to work at Amber Dhara. In 2016, he co-founded August 1 Five in San Francisco, where his creative, modern take on Indian food earned a spot on Thrillist’s “24 Best Indian Restaurants in America.” Manish competed on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” in 2018.

Manish Tyagi is currently the Executive Chef at Aurum in Los Altos, CA.