San Diego's Former Top Chef Contestant Rich Sweeney Joins Tocaya Organica

May 29, 2019

After a short tenure helming the kitchen at Fox Restaurant Concepts North Italia restaurant in Fashion Valley Mall, former Top Chef contestant, Rich Sweeney, has taken the position of Area Culinary Director for Los Angeles-based Tocaya Organica, which operates 2 locations in San Diego with a third on the way.

Chef Rich Sweeney was raised in the restaurant business, having parents who owned bakeries and managed eateries in his native Long Island. After relocating to America's Finest City and graduating from the San Diego Culinary Institute, Sweeney accepted a position as line cook at Harrah’s Rincon Resort & Casino. Through several months learning the ins and outs of the back-of-the-house line, he was offered the opportunity to apprentice under prominent local chef, Chris Walsh, one of the originators of the ‘small-plates’ dining movement in San Diego, at a then-downtown dining hot-spot, Confidential Restaurant + Loft. Starting at the bottom, Sweeney quickly worked his way up the chain, eventually becoming Walsh’s Executive Sous Chef. Sweeney went on to compete as a Season 5 contestant on Bravo TV's Emmy-winning hit reality show, Top Chef.

After Top Chef, Sweeney opened his own restaurant R Gang Eatery in San Diego's Hillcrest neighborhood, but the restaurant closed in May 2015. Chef Sweeney also won the coveted "Chef of the Fest" title at the 10th Annual San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival in 2013 and was the Executive Chef of the Gaslamp's Florent Restaurant & Lounge for a short time before joining North Park's Waypoint Public as Executive Chef from September 2015 until March 2018. Last year, Sweeney joined Fox Restaurant Concepts to spearhead the opening of the Fashion Valley Mall location of North Italia, which will debut a second area outpost at One Paseo next week.

Sweeney is now working for LA-based The Madera Group hospitality company to oversee three San Diego locations of Tocaya Organica, which opened its first branch in the Gaslamp Quarter in June 2018. A second location launched earlier this year as part of the Westfield UTC overhaul and a third outpost is expected to unveil this summer at the new One Paseo development in Del Mar. Tocaya Organica offers a modern take on Mexican cuisine, using all organic, locally-sourced ingredients. Its menu offers a unique vegan-first approach to its salads, tacos, bowls and burritos, while giving non-vegans the ability to opt in with their choice of grass-fed meat, free-range chicken and fresh fish.

For more information on Tocaya Organica, visit