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

Chopped judge Geoffrey Zakarian goads on San Antonio's Jesse Kuykendall on Tuesday's episode. - Instagram / foodnetwork
Instagram / foodnetwork
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 Food Network's mystery basket-based cooking contest.

Jesse Kuykendall — known locally as “Chef Kirk” — whipped three other culinary pros during Tuesday's episode of Chopped by using their knowledge of Mexican and bordertown cuisine to create a peanut butter and jelly-themed meal. Their 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 SA-based confectionery pro to do so.

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

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Nina Rangel

Nina Rangel uses nearly 20 years of experience in the foodservice industry to tell the stories of movers and shakers in the food scene in San Antonio. As the Food + Nightlife Editor for the San Antonio Current, she showcases her passion for the Alamo City’s culinary community by promoting local flavors, uncovering...

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