Claudette Zepeda is a San Diego-based chef known for her fearless culinary style and bold approach to regional Mexican cuisine. In her role as Consulting Chef of VAGA located in San Diego’s North County, Zepeda oversees the creative vision, authoring a love letter to her hometown with a menu that celebrates local flavors and influences. Most recently, Zepeda garnered national acclaim for her time as the executive chef & partner behind El Jardín, a regional Mexican restaurant in the area. During her tenure, El Jardín received a glowing review from the New York Times, inclusion on Esquire’s 2018 Best New Restaurants, and recognition from Michelin on their 2019 Bib Gourmand list. Zepeda was named both Eater San Diego and San Diego Union Tribune’s Chef of the Year in 2018, and was a James Beard Best Chef West semifinalist in 2019. Prior to El Jardín, Zepeda was chef de cuisine at Javier Plascencia’s celebrated Bracero, and competed on Top Chef Season 15 and Top Chef Mexico.
In 2019 Zepeda Founded Viva La Vida, LLC., establishing micro businesses with single mothers throughout Mexico’s seven regions to import their heirloom ingredients previously unavailable in the U.S. Through Viva La Vida, Zepeda helps Mexican women support their families without sacrificing their safety. Named for a famous Frida Kahlo quote, the company celebrates the colorful life and death Mexicans lead, with plans to grow into a 501c3 fund dedicated to helping women break from generational poverty in the United States.