The Truth About Diego Fernandez From Chopped: Alton's Maniacal Baskets

Although Food Network is correct in listing "Chopped: Alton's Maniacal Baskets" competitor Diego Fernandez's hometown as Dallas, it fails to deliver an accurate representation of how he ended up there. 

When Diego Fernandez arrived in Dallas in April 2019, it was because he had been offered the job of executive chef at the tasting menu restaurant Fauna by its founder, the chef and restaurateur Stephen Pyles. "I'm really looking to set Dallas on a stage where perhaps it has never been before," Fernandez declared to The Dallas Morning News along with his intentions to make the Flora Street Cafe — within which Fauna operates — a national name.

Such enthusiasm for Fauna did not last long. In October 2019, Fernandez had accepted the position of executive chef at the French Room, a restaurant and bar that the Adolphus Hotel had housed for 107 years. The Dallas Morning News explained that his six week tenure ended because there was not enough interest to sustain Fauna for the full week. 

That is Diego Fernandez's entire connection to Dallas, though having grown up in San Antonio, he's no stranger to Texas. Currently, he's still based in Dallas and works with the French Room (though his LinkedIn also lists an Executive Chef position at Montana's Lone Mountain Ranch), but if we keep in mind that one year was wiped due to the worldwide pandemic, Fernandez can only just now be really settling into the city and his position. 

From Mexico City to San Antonio

Covering his new position at the French Room, The Dallas Morning News noted that Diego Fernandez was born in Mexico City and grew up throughout the country as his father, who was a cook, worked for various resorts. Then, when he was 12, they moved to San Antonio where Rene Fernandez, his father, opened Azuca.

At this point, as the San Antonio Express-News put it, life followed the plotline of the film "Chef" in which a father and son open a food truck. According to Diego, his father cried in the theater due to how close the similarities were: "It's the same story — my dad, myself, growing up. It shows you the connection they had because of food, their passion for ingredients, making people happy and creating memories for them." Upon maturing, Fernandez studied at the Culinary Institute of America-San Antonio before earning a degree at the one from Hyde Park.

He worked gigs here and there in New York, New Jersey, and the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando before returning to San Antonio to open his own restaurant Starfish in 2014. In 2015, Texas Monthly lauded Starfish as one of 10 notable places to eat in the state. Though it closed after a few years, Fernandez's career continued to gain steam as he went from acclaimed kitchen to acclaimed kitchen, first to Quince in San Francisco and then to Chicago's Alinea, from which Stephen Pyles seduced him to Dallas. Now, catch him on "Chopped: Alton's Maniacal Baskets," premiering June 22.