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With Chopped appearance, 'Chef Kirk' becomes first San Antonio chef to win a Food Network contest


Chopped judge Geoffrey Zakarian goads on San Antonio's Jesse Kuykendall on Tuesday's episode. - INSTAGRAM / FOODNETWORK
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  • Chopped judge Geoffrey Zakarian goads on San Antonio's Jesse Kuykendall on Tuesday's episode.

The chef behind Hotel Havana’s Ocho restaurant and newly opened Milpa has made San Antonio culinary history by becoming the first local chef to win one of Food Network's myriad cooking contests.

Jesse Kuykendall — known locally as “Chef Kirk” — whipped three other culinary pros during Tuesday's episode of Chopped by using her knowledge of Mexican and bordertown cuisine to create a peanut butter and jelly-themed meal. Her winning dishes included hot dog quesadillas, 30-minute mole and peanut butter churros.

The long-running Food Network show pits four professional chefs against each other as they turn baskets of mystery ingredients into three-course meals for the chance to win $10,000.

“I’m so happy, now I can finally talk about it,” Kuykendall said at a Chopped watch party Tuesday at Milpa at the Yard shopping complex. “I’ve got a great team here at Milpa, we’re opening up Bodega Cats, and of course, Ocho. I wouldn’t be here without my friends, my team, the love from San Antonio and Laredo."

While numerous SA chefs have competed on Food Network shows such as Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, Iron Chef Gauntlet and Next Food Network Star, by our count, Kuykendall is the first classically trained chef to take home a top prize.

In 2018, local chocolatier and baker Nacho Aguirre competed in and won season 4 of Spring Baking Championship, becoming the first confectionery pro to do so in SA.

Kuykendall, a Laredo native, plans to use the winnings on a long vacation for her mother Carmen, the inspiration behind the tacos arabes, asada and carnitas at Milpa.

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