As 23 rib cookers from all over the world compete for top honors at the 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 4, 2016. 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. at the West End Stage on Monday, September 5, 2016. This year’s judges are a mix of top culinary professionals, food critics and media personalities who share a passion for delicious BBQ.
2016 Rib Judging Team:
Head Judge Alan Zeman
Chef Alan 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.
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.
Peggy Santoro, content strategist with the Reno Gazette-Journal, is a longtime Northern Nevada journalist who’s been a features editor overseeing stories on local food and drink, and Reno’s many special events. She currently manages news operations, working with Northern Nevada’s largest, most experienced news-gathering team. A native Kansan, Peggy was born and raised in serious barbecue country, in a family that raised cattle and kept a professional-grade smoker going in the backyard. Her idea of comfort food is a rack of ribs with sides of coleslaw, smoked beans and black bread. She and her husband, Joe, have raised three children in Reno.
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, the Associated Press and national Telly awards. Wayne’s passion for TV is equal to his passion for delicious barbecue, and he says he’s excited to be part of this elite group of Nugget Rib Cook-Off judges!
On the Menu…Live!
Matt Russell is the 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.
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 serving on the board of Kansas City Barbecue Society, the world’s largest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts, where he was a past president!
San Francisco Chronicle
Spud Hilton is the travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and SFChronicle.com who, during the past 15 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 writes a biweekly column about travel and great journeys.
Ray Lampe grew up in Chicago and after high school, spent 25 years in the family trucking business. In 2000, the trucking business had run its course, and it was time for Ray to try something new. He had been participating in BBQ cookoffs as a hobby since 1982, so he decided to take a leap and turn his hobby into a career. In 2000, Ray moved to Florida and began his career as an outdoor cooking expert.
Ray has written seven cookbooks and is currently working on his eighth. The most recent being “Pork Chop” published by Chronicle Books. Ray was inducted into the BBQ Hall of Fame in 2014.
Nothing To It! Culinary Center
Lara received her formal culinary training at the New England Culinary Institute in Essex, Vermont and 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.
KOLO 8 News Now
Jeff Thompson has forecasted weather for northern Nevada and the Sierra for more than a decade and is KOLO 8 News Now’s Chief Meteorologist. He holds the Certified Broadcast Meteorologist designation from the American Meteorological Society and has the National Weather Association Seal of Approval. Studying our weather is a passion for Jeff, from the strongest of storms to our many beautiful, sunny days, there is always something exciting to talk about!
Bill and Connie and RJ in the Morning, Alice 96.5, Reno Media Group
A Wisconsin native, where he began his radio career, Bill has lived in Reno for two decades. He moved here to become half of the morning show on Reno Media Group station KODS, now called “The River” but then known as “Oldies 103.7.” He roots for the Wolf Pack but also remains a diehard Green Bay Packers fan. CHEESE HEAD!
Bill is part of Reno’s popular “Bill and Connie and RJ” morning show on Alice 96.5, and he also oversees programming and operations for all of Reno Media Group’s stations. He’s continually out in the community, enjoys meeting new people and loves Ribs from The Best In The West Nugget Rib Cook-off!
Rob, Anybody, and Dawn
Rob Williams owns and hosts the wildly popular Rob, Anybody, and Dawn show heard locally in the Reno/Sparks area every weekday morning from 5-10AM on ROCK 104.5, as well as multiple other stations in the Northern and Central California areas and online at radradio.com. Broadcasting to Northern Nevada since 1990, Rob is a well-known voice in the community and has attended The Nugget Rib cook-off more times than he can count (or remember, which may have to do with the beer garden). The RAD show mixes everything from politics to personal to entertainment to even food. Yes, even food. The show has published multiple cook books, Rob has saved thousands of listeners from Thanksgiving dinner disasters and there’s even an entire line of RAD food products, including Rob’s very own BBQ rub and sauce, making him thrilled to be judging this year’s event.
Gary Trock is a senior news producer at TMZ and TMZ Live … and a lover of all things BBQ. In between covering the Kardashians and Justin Bieber … Gary loves to golf and fire up his smoker in the backyard to feed family and friends. During his time at TMZ, Gary has been a key player in breaking huge stories, including the death of Michael Jackson. Gary graduated from Cal State Northridge with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts. He currently lives in L.A. with his wife Cat, daughter Zoey, and dog Vinny.