Claudette Zepeda

Claudette Zepeda is an award-winning Mexican-American chef from San Diego known for her bold culinary style. She was the executive chef and creative force behind the critically acclaimed regional Mexican restaurant, El Jardin. Claudette competed on Top Chef Mexico Season 2 and Top Chef Season 15.


Claudette Zepeda's distinctive culinary style was born out of a life lived on the border of two worlds and two food traditions, Tijuana and San Diego. She first came into prominence working under celebrated chef/restauranteur Javier Plascencia, a master of Baja Mediterranean cuisine and a native of Tijuana. Claudette describes her time at his restaurant, Bracero Cocina de Raiz, as attending "Caesar Academy" and that "it was a practice of discipline and perfection."

When she partnered with Johan Engman's Rise & Shine Restaurant Group to open the upscale El Jardin Cantina in 2018, Claudette put her stamp on regional Mexican cooking. She designed a menu that paid homage to the women in her family who taught her how to cook and the ones she's met through her travels who keep Mexico's culinary traditions alive. Esquire named El Jardin one of the best new restaurants of 2018. In 2019, it was included on the Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand list.

Claudette's work has also been featured in The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Forbes, Thrillist, Munchies, and San Diego Magazine, among others. She parted ways with El Jardin in 2019 and became the consulting executive chef of VAGA at Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas in 2020. In addition to appearances on shows like Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend, Claudette devotes her time to helping women break out of generational poverty. She founded Viva La Vida in 2019, establishing micro-businesses with single mothers throughout Mexico so they can support their families by exporting their heirloom ingredients to the U.S.

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