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Professional chefs, media personalities to judge the Nugget Rib Cook-Off

By ThisIsReno
Tad Dunbar


As 24 rib cookers from all over the country compete for top honors at the 2012 Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, 13 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 2, 2012. 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 West End Stage on Monday, September 3rd, 2012.

John Ascuaga’s Nugget is pleased to announce this year’s judges. They are a mix of top professional chefs, food critics and media personalities, all of whom share a passion for delicious BBQ.


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. The Z Man has been a judge at the Nugget Rib Cookoff since 1999, and took the reins as Head Judge in 2010. 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!”


Legendary Chef and Restaurateur, Larry Forgione is often referred to as the “Godfather of American Cuisine.” Chef Forgione graduated from The Culinary Institute of America and headed to London to work at the prestigious Connaught Hotel. While there, he experienced the true potential of using farm-fresh ingredients. Upon his return to the U.S. he led the effort to support local farmers, ensuring the success of farmers’ markets, regional products, and culinary artisans in America.  Throughout his career, Chef Forgione has received numerous accolades, including “America’s Best Chef” from the James Beard Foundation and “Chef of the Year” from The Culinary Institute of America. His An American Place Cookbook was the recipient of the James Beard “Best American Cookbook” award in 1996.


Sean Forgione has been in the restaurant business his whole life. He started working for his father, Larry, at the age of 13, bussing tables and stocking the bar. Between then and now he’s had every job you can think of in a restaurant. Forgione didn’t start cooking professionally until the age of 20 and hasn’t looked back since. He says his favorite type of food to cook is home-style comfort food. He always keeps an eye out for flavorful, tender, good ol’ fashioned BBQ with all the fixins. He’s been on two BBQ roadtrips, driving across the country through the South and, needless to say, it changed his culinary life. He has one more planned soon and can’t wait!


“The Goddess of American Cuisine,” Julie Forgione has had a passion for food since attending the Culinary Institute of America in 1974.Meeting and marrying Larry Forgione, Godfather of American Cooking, and raising four children who are all cooking has produced many exciting family food events.  Attending the Rib Cook Off  two years ago was one of the great and tasty pleasures of moving to the West Coast, and she has been fasting in anticipation for this year’s judging table! She joins Larry and son, Sean judging, and is thrilled to make this a Forgione Family tradition!


Albert’s culinary career began more than 40 years ago in metropolitan Washington D.C. in a local seafood restaurant. He found himself in the company of European chefs on a crusade to spread the gospel “Nouvelle Cuisine.” This was the beginning of modern cooking in America as we know it today. After apprenticing at Statler Hilton in Washington D.C. he moved on to the Culinary Institute of America and has held chef positions at prestigious institutions. In 2004, Albert and his wife Lila opened Acacia, a 100 seat contemporary American restaurant in Tucson.


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 six years and has become a household name. You can hear Ron on Wild 102-9 here in Reno, weekday mornings with his side-kick Yaya.


D. Brian Burghart is the editor of the Reno News & Review. He’s been in Reno since Aug. 7, 1984. Desperate for attention, he bartended 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.


Pat Hambright joined News Channel 8 in September of 2005. He is currently anchoring the 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. newscasts. Hambright has compiled a versatile resume over the course of his career spending time as a News Director, Anchor, Reporter, Meteorologist and even Sportscaster during stays at television stations in Colorado and Northern California. The Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off is his FAVORITE event in the Northern Nevada area.


Tad is a fixture in Northern Nevada and at the Nugget Rib Cook-off. A multiple-time judge, he has worked for 40 years as a TV news anchor in Reno with KOLO and KRNV. Tad is now retired and resides in Northern Nevada.


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 SFGate.com.


Matt is the host of On the Menu Live, a radio program that dishes out the latest buzz in the local restaurant, hospitality, and entertainment scene. Matt’s radio career began in 1973 when, at the age of six in his native Washington, D.C. , he and NBC’s Willard Scott joined their voices for several radio commercials. A life-long culinary enthusiast, Matt has interviewed scores of chefs, sommeliers, and restaurateurs from across the country. Matt has also served as a celebrity judge at several food and cocktail competitions.


Beryl Love is executive editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal and RGJ Media, where he led the newsroom’s transformation from a traditional, print-focused operation to a “local information center” that delivers news and information across multiple print and digital platforms. Under his leadership, RGJ.com rose to one of the Top 10 newspaper websites in the nation for local audience reach, according to rankings by Nielsen and Media Audit. Love has been with the Gannett Co., parent of the Reno Gazette-Journal, for 13 years. He’s been a regular at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, and can’t wait to sit on the judge’s panel this year!


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!

John Ascuaga’s Nugget is one of the few family-owned casino resorts left in the country. Founded as a coffee shop with a few slot machines on March 17, 1955, John Ascuaga has built the Nugget into a world-class, full-service gaming resort destination.

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