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Haute Plate

The heat is definitely on as San Diego’s next celebrity chef vies for a spot on the Food Network.

Stacey Poon-Kinney at The Trails Eatery, which first appeared on the Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible

You won’t find any clogs in Stacey Poon-Kinney’s kitchen. Then again, she’s not your typical chef. The down-to-earth owner of La Mesa’s The Trails Eatery might just be the next Food Network Star. “I’m definitely not afraid to wear heels in my line,” says Poon-Kinney, a season nine finalist on the popular show, which airs this summer. “It’s not like I can get sued for workman’s comp.”

Despite a penchant for glamour, Poon-Kinney didn’t go looking for fame. It sure found her, though. The chef’s first foray into TV was Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible, a last-ditch effort to save her ailing modern diner. With a spruced-up interior and refined comfort food—Grandma’s famous meatloaf included—The Trails now draws record crowds.

But Poon-Kinney didn’t coast on connections for her latest reality stint, even though a producer encouraged her to audition. “I waited in line at
an open call in L.A. and came in with everyone else like cattle.”

While she can’t dish on the results of the culinary showdown—her lips are sealed until the finale on Aug. 11—she admits she was starstruck meeting celeb judges Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay. “I started watching the Food Network because of Alton Brown,” says Poon-Kinney. “To talk about food with them, to have an opportunity to learn from them—it’s insane!”

Now home, Poon-Kinney is savoring every minute with her husband (Saratoga Sake, one of S.D.’s original graffiti artists) and their two kids. She’s also back in a more familiar kitchen.

The former B-Girl—as in break-dancer, which led to a blown-out knee and a restaurant career—calls her cooking style a modern riff on vintage classics. “If Betty Crocker married a hipster, their baby would be my food!”

As for the chef’s slender physique? “I have a three-bite rule when I’m tasting,” she says.

Luckily, the rest of us needn’t adhere.

Poon-Kinney’s Hots
Our Baja Betty Burger (really, it’s hot), micro-roasted coffee at Dark Horse Coffee, S.D. Museum of Art, vinyl records, Moonlight Beach, urban gardens

Poon-Kinney’s Nots
Clogs in the kitchen, tanning salons, store-bought condiments, white socks