James Beard Semifinalist Claudette Zepeda Out At San Diego's Vaga Restaurant

February 3, 2024

San Diego native, former Top Chef contestant, and James Beard nominated chef, Claudette Zepeda has parted ways with Vaga restaurant in Encinitas.

Raised on both sides of the border in San Diego and Tijuana, Chef Claudette Zepeda started her career as a pastry chef with stints at Sea180 in Imperial Beach and since-closed Jsix in East Village. She went on to be hired by acclaimed chef Javier Plascencia as the opening chef de cuisine of the now-defunct Bracero Cocina de Raiz in Little Italy in 2015.

In 2017, Claudette competed in the second season of Top Chef Mexico, followed directly by appearing as a contestant on Season 15 of Bravo’s Top Chef. In June 2018, Chef Claudette opened Rise & Shine Breakfast Group's El Jardin modern Mexican restaurant in Liberty Station but she was abruptly ousted when the restaurant rebranded to a more casual concept the following year before closing soon after. 

During her time at El Jardin, Claudette was a semifinalist in the 2019 James Beard Foundation Awards Best Chef: West category. In February 2020, Zepeda was tasked with leading the culinary operations at the Dinner With A View roving, domed pop-up in Liberty Station. Most recently, Zepeda was the Executive Chef at Hyatt's Alila Marea Beach Resort in Encinitas where she opened the property's signature, 4,105 square-foot VAGA restaurant.

This week, Vaga announced that Ananda Bareño has taken over as executive chef of the restaurant and resort. Ananda Bareño earned her culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu Paris and previously worked at Hyatt Maui, Four Seasons Hotel Damascus and Four Seasons Hotel Amman. 

"Alila Marea Beach Resort and Claudette Zepeda have decided to end their partnership as Claudette focuses on her continued success in TV and other projects," commented a representative from the restaurant. "We will always remain grateful for Claudette’s many contributions as Founding Chef and Creative Director of VAGA, and we continue to support her as she furthers her work within the culinary community. Executive Chef Ananda Bareño will lead our day-to-day operations at VAGA alongside our talented culinary team."

Chef Claudette is continuing her television journey following a successful appearance on the Netflix reboot of Iron Chef. This past November, she appeared with Selena Gomez on a Food Network Holiday special and recently competed in Paris as the United States candidate for the 56th annual Champagne Taittinger Prix Culinaire, a globally revered culinary competition that brings together the finest chefs from across the globe, including a single candidate per country. Chef Claudette's next scheduled appearance is cooking at the Los Angeles Wine & Food Festival in March.