Nugget Rib Cook-Off Judges

As 24 rib cookers from all over the world compete for top honors at the 2015 Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, a carefully selected panel of judges will work behind-the-scenes to determine who makes the best ribs! It's not just bragging rights they're competing for - $14,500 in cash is up for grabs for the cookers who impress the judges. As always, the judges are not permitted to sample any ribs from the cookers before the judging takes place on Sunday, September 6, 2015. The judging is double-blind, meaning neither the judges, nor the staff setting up the judging know which ribs belong to which cooker. The judges will eat the same ribs served to customers during the cook-off. The winners will be announced at 2 p.m. on the Floor & Decor West End Stage on Monday, September 7, 2015. This year's judges are a mix of top culinary professionals, food critics and media personalities, all of whom share a passion for delicious BBQ.


Alan Zeman - Head Judge

Rational USA

Chef Zeman graduated first in his class at the Culinary Institute of America. He has earned CEC Certification from the ACF as well as being inducted into the American Academy of Chefs. He has been Executive Chef at Restaurants, Country Clubs and prestigious Resorts throughout the country. Most recently Chef Zeman owned and operated the award winning Fuego Restaurant Bar and Grill in Tucson, Arizona.

Over the years the Z Man or "Fuegodaddy" has been featured with cover stories in Bon Appetit Magazine, the PBS "Great Chefs of the West" Series and hosted live talk radio shows, "The Dinner Hour" and "The Restaurant Corner" in the Arizona market. The Z Man has been a judge at the Nugget Rib Cook-off since 1999, and took the reins as Head Judge in 2012. Several years back he was quoted on air by the legendary commentator, Paul Harvey, saying, "....for a rib to be perfectly cooked, the meat should fall off the bone when you eat it...but not...when you pick it up!"


Allen Pierleoni

Sacramento Bee

Allen Pierleoni is a senior writer for the Sacramento Bee, specializing in food and restaurants, travel, books and authors. His weekly restaurant review column, "Counter Culture," has informed readers for 15 years.


D. Brian Burghart

Reno News & Review

D. Brian Burghart is the editor of the Reno News & Review. He's been in Reno since August 7, 1984. Desperate for attention, he tended bar in Reno casinos and bars until November 1993, when some friends who were starting a newspaper needed someone to do the calendar for $25 a week. The Nevada Weekly introduced Reno to alternative journalism.


Eric Grossman

Travel and Food Writer

Eric Grossman is a food and travel writer who, when he's not on the road, splits his time between New Orleans and his hometown of Boston. He has written about America's best BBQ spots for USA TODAY, edited dozens of Eyewitness Travel guides, and is constantly traveling in search of new and inspiring experiences. Having met with the meat masters of Memphis, Kansas City, North Carolina, and Lockhart, Texas, he knows a thing or two about serious 'cue.


Gerrish Lopez

Travel and Food Writer and Photographer

Gerrish Lopez is a food and travel writer/photographer based in her hometown of New Orleans. A former vegetarian, Gerrish has grown to appreciate carnivorous fare through sampling the best meats in the world, from smoked pork jowl in Thailand to whole hog BBQ in South Carolina. Her assignments for USA TODAY and Eyewitness Travel guides keep her on the road constantly, and she is excited to be making her first-ever visit to the Reno/Tahoe region for the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off.


Joe Eidem

American Culinary Federation and High Sierra Chefs Association

Chef Joe Eidem has been actively involved with the American Culinary Federation for more than 30 years. He is an active board member of the High Sierra Chefs Association and is also the Vice Director of the Western Regional American Academy of Chefs. During his career, Chef Joe has owned an Italian restaurant and hosted a local television cooking show. He has also traveled as a motivational speaker. Most recently, he served as the Foodservice Director at a large Medical Center in Nevada and California.


Kelly Ann Scott

Reno Gazette-Journal

Kelly Ann Scott is the Executive Editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal. She is also a former instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno who taught multimedia reporting. Kelly has been a big part of the Reno community where she is involved in multiple organizations and mentoring programs. Kelly serves on the Board of Directors for the Reno Pops Orchestra and the Nevada Women’s Fund as well.


Ken Wayne


Ken Wayne has anchored the weekend news at KTVU since 2002.  He started his career at KTVU in 1992 and has covered some of the biggest stories in the Bay Area and California since then. He's been on the scene of floods, fires, earthquakes, and almost every major Bay Area story over the past 16 years. He's been honored by the regional Emmy's, Associated Press, and national Telly awards. Wayne's passion for TV is equal to his passion for delicious BBQ, and he says he's excited to be part of this elite group of Nugget Rib Cook-Off judges!


Lara Ritchie

Nothing To It! Culinary Center

Whether cleaning snow peas at her grandmother’s kitchen table or canning the fruit freshly picked from great grandmother’s backyard, Lara’s earliest memories are the food and family connections that shaped the foundation of her culinary career. Lara received her formal culinary training at the New England Culinary Institute in Essex, Vermont. She honed her culinary skills at La Folie in San Francisco, the Flying Fish in Seattle, and the Four Seasons in Seattle and Atlanta where Zagat guide voted her brunch #1 in Atlanta. Lara’s food styling has appeared in such magazines as Art Culinaire and she has had the honor of cooking at the James Beard House in New York on several occasions. Since 2002, Lara has been the culinary director for Nothing to It! Culinary Center in Reno. Lara is the chef/host of the Delicious by Davita television cooking segment series, a contributing chef on FOX TV, and a frequent guest and judge at a variety of food and wine festivals. Lara is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.


Matt Russell

On The Menu...Live!

Matt Russell is host of On the Menu Live, a weekly radio program that dishes out the latest buzz on Arizona’s culinary and cocktail scene. He also serves as the food and beverage correspondent for the Bill Buckmaster Show and John C. Scott Show in Tucson, and writes the weekly food and beverage column for Inside Tucson Business, Southern Arizona’s business journal.

When he's not on the radio, writing his column, or serving as Master of Ceremonies at community events, he's running Russell Public Communications, a public relations agency he founded in 2002. He has been responsible for securing publicity for his clients through such outlets as Larry King Live, Good Morning America, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post.


Mike Alger


Returning to the judges table for the second time is KTVN Chief Meteorologist Mike Alger. Mike served as a Judge during the 2013 Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, but has been eating all his life. He's been a mainstay on KTVN-TV since May of 1989 and has provided northern Nevada with "Weather Coverage You Can Count On."


Mike Peters

Great American BBQ Tour

Since 2008, Mike and his wife Christine have been traveling the country teaching festival attendees and fans about the "Gospel of Q" as the hosts of the Great American BBQ Tour. As tour hosts, they are the Kansas City Barbeque Society's ambassadors to the world. During the past eight years, the Peters have journeyed tens of thousands of miles across the nation and back, acting as the voice of KCBS and promoting BBQ while teaching professional grilling tips and tricks to millions of festival attendees. Mike is also currently serving as the President of KCBS, the world's largest organization of BBQ and Grilling enthusiasts!


Ron James

Wild 102.9

Born and “half raised’ in a small town in Arkansas called McCrory where BBQ is THE way of life, Ron James is no stranger to the art of meat cooked on an open pit. Growing up in the heart of Detroit he landed his first on-air job on the station he grew up listening to working under some his childhood heroes. Traveling the country during his radio career he has tasted hundreds of ribs. And his favorite….. ALL OF THEM. Ron has been here in Reno for the last eightyears and has become a household name. You can hear Ron on Wild 102-9 here in Reno on weekday mornings.


Spud Hilton

San Francisco Chronicle

Spud Hilton is the travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle who during the past 10 years has written about (and been lost in) destinations on 6 continents, from the back alleys of Havana to the shrines of Kyoto to the floor of a hippie bus in Modesto. He also writes the Bad Latitude travel blog at