THIS YEAR’S TACO JUDGES

JYL BENSON

JYL BENSON

Benson is the Director of Culinary Programming for the Southern Food & Beverage Museum and wrote Galatoire’s Cookbook: Recipes & Family History from the Time-Honored New Orleans Restaurant as well as several cultural, historical, and architectural guides to New Orleans. She served as Editor-In-Chief of Louisiana Cookin’ magazine and founded Louisiana Kitchen & Culture magazine. Jyl is now a dining columnist for St. Charles Avenue, Acadiana Profile and Louisiana Life magazines, a frequent contributor to New Orleans magazine, and the author of Fun Funky, Fabulous: New Orleans Casual Restaurant Recipes and Louisiana’s Tables.

CARRIE BAIRD

CARRIE BAIRD

Chef/partner of Bar Dough, Carrie has made a name for herself leading the kitchens of some of the most highly regarded restaurants in Denver. A native of Idaho, Baird trained in Colorado with an emphasis on classic Mediterranean, Italian and French techniques. Most recently, Carrie was a competitor on Top Chef Colorado, the 15th season of the acclaimed cooking show, where she quickly became a fan-favorite.

ZACHARY ENGEL

ZACHARY ENGEL

Zachary started his career at Domenica on the opening team in 2009. He later worked for Michael Solomonov at Zahav in Philadelphia and after time working in kitchens in Tel Aviv and Sonoma, California returned to New Orleans for the opening of Shaya Restaurant, which garnered a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 2016. Following that, the James Beard Foundation named him the 2017 Rising Star Chef of the Year. He lives Uptown with his wife, Meredith, and daughter, Margalit.

IAN McNULTY

IAN McNULTY

Ian McNulty is a food writer for the New Orleans Advocate, covering the culture, personality and trends behind the city’s famous dining scene. His commentary series Where Y’Eat airs weekly on NPR affiliate WWNO, and he is a frequent contributor to WWL-TV in New Orleans.

CHARLES DIVINS

CHARLES DIVINS

“WDSU News This Morning” anchor Charles Divins comes to New Orleans from Orlando, Fla., where he served as co-host of “The Daily Buzz,” a nationally syndicated news and entertainment morning program. Charles brings a wide range of life experiences to New Orleans. A native of Dallas, Charles got his start in television as an actor of the NBC daytime series, “Passions.” Dallas is also where he got his passion for tacos.

JASON SEITHER

JASON SEITHER

Jason is the chef and owner of Seither’s Seafood, the popular local seafood hub in Harahan. He is a five time winner of the Poboy Festival with five different sandwiches. Louisiana Cooking Magazine named Seither’s the best place to eat crawfish in Louisiana. He makes regular appearances on the local news and has been featured on the food network and travel channel.

MASON HEREFORD

MASON HEREFORD

Chef/Owner at Turkey and the Wolf. Rollerblader. Sweet hair.

JEFF TAYLOR

JEFF TAYLOR

Born and raised east of Los Angeles and starting his passion for tacos early in life, Jeff fell in love with New Orleans 15 years ago. Now he is the Owner/Operator of The Upper Quarter and Pup-n-Taco, a neighborhood bar at the corner of Bienville and Burgundy with a regular food pop-up in the courtyard. His Taco Tuesdays and Thursday Crawfish Boils have become legendary local favorites.

GARLAND HOOVER

GARLAND HOOVER

Garland is a 30 year old Louisiana native and general manager of Sukho Thai New Orleans and owner/operator of Crav Nola. He is also a musician playing in multiple local and touring groups as well as solo ventures. Garland’s favorite thing to do on a day off is explore the endless cocktail and food options with his friends here in New Orleans.

JUAN PADRO

JUAN PADRO

Owner of award-winning Denver restaurants Highland Tap & Burger, Sloan’s Lake Tap and Burger, Bar Dough and Señor Bear.  In 2014, Highland Tap & Burger was named “one of the top 15 burgers in America” by Zagat and has won Denver’s highly competitive Burger Battle and prestigious Top Taco competitions multiple times. In 2015, Bar Dough was named one of Zagat’s “most anticipated restaurant openings” in America and subsequently was named one of 5280 magazine’s top 25 restaurants in Denver.

ARMANDO LUDOC

ARMANDO LUDOC

Armando has lived in Nola since before the storm and calls it home. He is an accomplished television and film actor as well as a singer in the band DATBAND. He loves long walks on the beach and is afraid of heights. I mean really afraid of heights. His body will freeze if you put him too high. He loves tacos and is very happy that he was invited to join you all today.

JAMMER ORINTAS

JAMMER ORINTAS

Jammer Orintas, Co-Owner of Theo’s Neighborhood Pizza, discovered his passion for food at an early age. In addition to operating 5 pizza restaurants in the Metro area, he is a self proclaimed taco expert. Theo’s Neighborhood Pizza has been recognized by The Gambit, New Orleans Magazine and The Times-Picyanue as one of the best pizza joints in the city.

NICK MIDDLETON

NICK MIDDLETON

Nick is an Austin based chef from South Texas that got his start as a featured Taco Restaurant at the New Orleans Food & Wine Experience while living in New Orleans. Since then Nick and his catering company Grita have been featured in several publications and gone on to serve thousands of taco enthusiasts across both Louisiana and Texas.

BETHANY BULTMAN

BETHANY BULTMAN

Bethany Bultman wears many hats. As the co-founding director of the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and Assistance Fdn she is a passionate cultural advocate. In her past life, she was a culinary anthropologist who has written about the impact of the introduction of chicken, beef and pork to the new world in the 16th century and how Europe was slow to embrace hot peppers and the tomato. She is a documentary filmmaker, author of five books, lecturer and journalist.

HELEN FREUND

HELEN FREUND

Helen Freund is a freelance food and features writer based in New Orleans. She is the Food & Dining writer and restaurant critic at Gambit Weekly, and a staff reporter at the New Orleans Advocate.

JAMIE BERNSTEIN

JAMIE BERNSTEIN

Jamie Bernstein is a songwriter, musician, actor and radio personality. His original songs have been featured in multiple films and he appears live throughout New Orleans. He is best known for his role as Caveman in Season 2 of Preacher. Jamie hosts a weekly radio program called The Offer Radio Hour, 2-3pm, on Mondays for 102.3WHIVfm New Orleans.

FREDDIE FUENTES

FREDDIE FUENTES

Freddy is a tried and true New Orleanian who served in the US Marine Corps and was a founding member of FAST (Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team) Company. He currently works at the New Orleans VA Hospital and in his free time, loves riding his Harley-Davidson in search of the best tacos in the land! He is dedicated to his country, the Corp, his girl and his dog.

CARA PETERSON

CARA PETERSON

Cara Peterson will be the Chef de Cuisine of Saba Restaurant opening in spring of 2018 in Uptown New Orleans featuring modern Israeli cuisine with influences from southern Louisiana and its artisans. Originally from a military family, her extensive travel experiences along with a background in both sweet and savory, led her to a holistic approach to the unique cuisine of the Middle East.

WOODY POCHE

WOODY POCHE

Woody is the proprietor of the eponymously named Woody’s Fish Tacos, a fixture on the New Orleans Festival Circuit for several years. Currently enjoying retirement with his new Nepalese sidekick, Rin Poche, he’s excited to make a rare public appearance in support of this “Juan”derful event.

SCOTT MAKI

SCOTT MAKI

Scott Maki has been a chef in new orleans for 15 years at such restaurants as Emerils, Luke, Bayona, Mondo and Feelings Cafe. He has been a Times Picayunne Chef to Watch and a Participant in the ACFNO Best Chefs of Louisiana. Earlier this year Maki opened his own place, Chew Rouge in Arabi.

THIS YEAR’S COCKTAIL JUDGES

EMILY COLEMAN

EMILY COLEMAN

Emily hails from Texas and comes from a long line of margarita lovers. Her mother has a margarita in her namesake at their favorite Mexican joint in Houston.Emily is the Director of Partners for the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. She lives in New Orleans with her husband Jason and puppy Stella Blue.

TRIXIE MINX

TRIXIE MINX

New Orleans’ own burlesque beauty & comedic cutie. Best known for her playful twist on the classic strip tease, she is also recognized as a premiere producer with four New Orleans-based shows in addition to several custom-created productions for special events and parties. She also works as an advocate for affordable performer healthcare. Trixie’s alter ego “Rita” comes out when the tequila does. Judging Margaritas at the Top Taco Fest is like a dream come true.

ALESSANDRA MADRID AND MAGGIE ROBERT

ALESSANDRA MADRID AND MAGGIE ROBERT

Alessandra and Maggie are co-founders of local food, beverage and lifestyle blog Babes & Beignets. Babes & Beignets is the go-to resource for the twenty-something babe living la vida NOLA. For lovers of happy hour, entertaining, brunch, local shopping, the hottest events, the occasional venture outside of the city & more!

MEREDITH HAMMOCK

MEREDITH HAMMOCK

Louisiana born and raised, Meredith has always had a passion for food, drinks and people. Bartender, turned 15 year Corporate Executive, turned bartender. Her large personality, magnetic energy and colorful look has always been her claim to fame as people naturally draw to her. Featured in 1806 Magazine; New Orleans, Volume One, as part of the “Cocktail Culture” of New Orleans. She has lived and been behind the bar in New York, Las Vegas, Dallas and can currently be found shaking cocktails in the Music Hall and Foundation Room of the House of Blues.

LEROY MITCHELL

LEROY MITCHELL

Leroy Mitchell was born and raised in Metairie, LA. On any given Sunday, Leroy can be found antagonizing opposing players at the Superdome dressed in black and gold with a giant whistle attached to his head. When he’s not dressed as the most recognizable Saint Supafan, he can be found holding court at Galatoire’s every Friday after a long work week at Heartland Payment Services. No one loves a great cocktail more than the Whistle Monsta.

STAR HODGSON

STAR HODGSON

Star is a founding member and past President of the New Orleans Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG), Star now serves the bartending community as a Chair of the USBG National Charity Foundation Board. She contributes to several online and print publications, has served as a judge for many esteemed cocktail competitions, teaches seminars at industry conferences, and is a blind tasting spirits judge for the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition.

JESS BOURGEOIS

JESS BOURGEOIS

Jess Bourgeois is the owner of Lula Restaurant Distillery in New Orleans. He has more than 15 years’ experience in high-volume restaurants serving as Executive Chef and General Manager. Jess earned his degree in Food Science/Nutrition at Louisiana State University as well as an Associates Degree from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy in Austin. He is also well-versed in the process of distillation and has completed apprentice courses at some of the most successful micro-distilleries in the country.

DANIEL VICTORY

DANIEL VICTORY

Daniel Victory is the founder and owner of Victory and the New Orleans Drink Lab. His businesses are both in the heart of downtown New Orleans, offering an array of craft cocktails, small gourmet plates and a venue dedicated to teaching the history and art of cocktail making.

AARON WILKINSON

AARON WILKINSON

Aaron Wilkinson is the lead vocalist and a founding member of New Orleans’ own Honey Island Swamp Band.  Begun in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the band has won multiple Offbeat and Big Easy awards, and built a reputation as one of the city’s finest roots rock artists, becoming a regular performer at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  A multi-instrumentalist, Aaron plays guitar, mandolin and harmonica for HISB.

BRYAN DIAS

BRYAN DIAS

Bryan Dias is the founder of NOLADrinks and the host of the “NOLADrinks Show with Bryan Dias,” a New Orleans-based weekly radio program and podcast heard in over 20 countries and more than 30 US states. NOLADrinks “explores the world of drink and food in New Orleans and beyond.” He is a noted beverage educator and presenter with years of experience in the world of wine and cocktails. Visit NOLADrinks.com for more.

SCOTT SNODGRASS

SCOTT SNODGRASS

An Atlanta native, Scott Snodgrass cut his teeth in that city’s up and coming culinary scene from 1990-99. Scott moved to New Orleans in 2000 to join the family at Clancy’s, where he worked until opening a place of his own, One Restaurant, in the Riverbend neighborhood of uptown in early 2005. After selling that business in 2014, Scott is now enjoying a new adventure catering private dinners for friends & former One clientele.

STEVE WATSON

STEVE WATSON

As co owner of The Kingpin and The Midway- I love booze and food, on top of long walks in the park. I’m the only the person to be on jeopardy twice without winning.
AARON NACHLAS

AARON NACHLAS

Aaron Nachlas came to NOLA in 1997, and after falling in love with the city, settled here when he retired from flying for the U.S. Coast Guard. A dedicated consumer and cocktail enthusiast, he has designed tours and assisted in articles highlighting the New Orleans cocktail culture. He is often found behind the bar, creating specialty cocktails for private events. As part of Agave Week, Aaron designed and directed the Industry Tequila Seminar and ‘Farm to Bar’ Panel Discussion, as well as the Top Tequila Competition.

RACHEL KROL

RACHEL KROL

Rachel is a bartender at Muriel’s who has a serious love affair with good food and drinks and the people who create them. Everything that is New Orleans is her… and every ounce of her is completely and utterly in love with New Orleans and everything it has to offer.

CHARLIE COX

CHARLIE COX

Before moving to New Orleans, Charlie spent four years working as a bartender at Bistro Byronz, one of the premier restaurants in the Baton Rouge area. During his time, Charlie was instrumental in creating their specialty cocktail menus. Now Charlie serves as the Director of Youth Engagement for the New Orleans Reform Jewish Community, and is in school at the University of New Orleans working on his degree in Sociology and Disaster Resilience.

ANDREW MARIN

ANDREW MARIN

Andrew Marin writes about food and cocktails for Where Y’at Magazine. He is a former chef and bartender, a very slim percentage of Mexican, and a taco and tequila enthusiast. It’s his second year judging Top Taco. Follow him @ndrewmarin on instagram for photos, and watch his instagram story for live updates from the festival.

DIANE LUNDEEN

DIANE LUNDEEN

Lundeen is Petcetera’s pet pastry chef and baker. She is the lead designer for NOLA Bitch Couture, a doggy style design house, making creative apparel, accessories and toys for pets and people. Lundeen dedicates her spare time to charity and animal rescue, including Bad toThe Bone: Rescued on The Runway, a feast of food and fashion in which dogs from local rescues strut the catwalk in hopes of finding homes.

ASHLEY HOLLIER

ASHLEY HOLLIER

When she’s not on the radio on ALT 92.3, Ashley O loves exploring all the culinary and cocktail concoctions New Orleans has to offer. Since she’s anosmic (your vocabulary word of the day), she prefers her food and drink flavors to be BOLD, just like her music… and lip color.

GREG REGGIO

GREG REGGIO

Chef Greg Reggio is owner and operator of Zea Rotisserie & Bar and Semolina restaurants. A New Orleans native, Reggio’s entire restaurant career has been in Louisiana. He is active with many charitable causes, including serving on the board of the Louisiana Hospitality foundation and is the immediate past Chairman of the Louisiana Restaurant Association.

BRETT PATRON

BRETT PATRON

Brett “Slab” Patron, co-founder of the 610 Stompers, comes from a long line of eaters and dancers. His grandparents are from Merida, located on the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula. Slab spent many Sundays throughout his life, cooking and eating traditional Mexican food, but he believes tacos can cover a diverse range of food from many cultures.