Meet our panel of judges!


Ryan Fernandez

Southern Junction

Born in Kerala, a state on India’s tropical Malabar Coast, Ryan Fernandez moved to the United States with his mother, Sujath Mathews, as a boy. He grew up in Texas, and fell in love with its most honored barbecue, long-smoked beef brisket.

In Texas, Fernandez abandoned college classrooms for kitchens. After a decade in restaurants, Fernandez took a calculated shot at freedom, by inventing a new cuisine. Fusing his home cooking with his restaurant yearnings, southern Indian and southern barbecue became Southern Junction. He launched it at 27 Chandler St. as a takeout barbecue joint (that also happened to deal in smoked cauliflower manchurian) in January 2020. His cooking drew loyal customers, who kept the operation going through the pandemic.

Fernandez opened his first full restaurant in August 2023 with Lydia Herr, his girlfriend and partner. At 365 Connecticut St., customers queue, order, and find a seat and beverages, in classic barbecue joint fashion. Since Fernandez won national attention with a James Beard nomination in January, you never know who you’ll meet in line.

Andrew Galarneau

Four Bites

Born in Chicago, Andrew grew up in Genesee County. His parents and five siblings built a house in Indian Falls, where Route 77 crosses Tonawanda Creek. He graduated from Pembroke High School in 1983, and attended the University at Buffalo.

In 1988, he parlayed student journalism experience into a reporter position at the Concord (N.H.) Monitor. He covered a felony courthouse for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and was an investigative reporter for the Lowell (Mass.) Sun. Hired by The Buffalo News in 1997, he wrote features, investigative reporting, and reviews for 25 years, finishing with 13 years as food editor and restaurant critic.

On Dec. 1, 2023, Andrew launched Four Bites. It’s a Buffalo-based food magazine plus concierge information service, weekly articles direct to your inbox. Can a food writer make a living just working for their readers? At, he’s trying to give readers information worth paying for. News is free, the whole enchilada costs $50 a year.

Alexa Wajed

Co-founder and Chief Strategy and Operations Officer,
Eat Off Art

Alexa Joan Wajed is co-founder and Chief Strategy and Operations Officer of Eat Off Art, a collaborative of artists, educators, and entrepreneurs working to build a more empathetic community. She is a born entrepreneur, artist, trained chef, jewelry designer, and curator, while also having the capacity to be the manager and momager in the Wajed household of creatives. Alexa received her bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and an associates in both business administration and culinary arts and has studied in Switzerland and Positano, Italy.

Alexa enjoys helping people understand and adopt healthy eating habits through food education and cooking demos. Her catchphrase is “Make Vegetables the Star of your Plate,” encouraging people, especially members of the black and brown communities to add more vegetables to their daily meals. The path to better health is through better eating habits and staying active. She is a mentor to young entrepreneurs and artists, encouraging them to express themselves authentically while gaining all of the tools and business acumen necessary to succeed. As a visual artist, Alexa enjoys creating abstract line art along with unique hand-painted earrings called “Fleathers,” which are sold online and in a few local gift shops and galleries. She is regularly socially engaged through several nonprofit organizations including her own, Cultrue, Inc., which is an art-based nonprofit that makes art accessible as a healing practice for everyone. She is an associate trustee for the Western New York Foundation and a 30-year member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (Xi Epsilon Omega Chapter).


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