EL CAJON, Calif. — An East County shopping center hosted a culinary competition called “Taste For The Space.” Local food trucks, restaurateurs and chefs are competing for a spot at the shopping center. The prize also includes more cash opportunities.

“Today we gave our best, which is what we are known for which is the ribs,” said Carmelita “Tuggamomma” Moore, contestant and the co-owner of the Tuggamomma Smokehouse. “And then we are hitting you with our smacking mac n’ cheese.”

“Fried chicken, wings, fried chicken strips, I’ll have catfish,” said Michael “Chef Budda” Price with Chef Budda’s Blasian Soulfood, also a contestant.

The culinary competition was food festival-style for the whole community.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve had barbeque, we’ve had some Blasian chicken and catfish that’s been amazing, some chimney cakes, a little bit of everything,” said Veronica Delgado, a guest.

“Everyone here is amazing,” said visitors Ron and Susan Haratyk. “It all has been really good, they were outstanding absolutely.”

The prize on the line is a free space of their choice at the Parkway Plaza in El Cajon, plus three months free rent and a $20,000 business investment. It would be a big boost for many of the chefs looking for their own permanent space.

“It would be a big deal, it would be a set location where my customers know that I am going to be there seven days a week,” Price said.

 “Right on, it would mean everything,” Moore said. “We are a family business. This is my husband’s dream. He got me to believe, we have people believing in us.”

First the chefs must go through the critics of visitors and local judges, who vote on their favorites. Winners will be announced by the end of the year, according to Parkway Plaza marketing manager Petra Rich.

“It’s gonna be a tight competition, so it will be interested to see who wins,” Delgado said. “If I had to vote right now it would be for the Blasian food truck.”

Ron & Susan:

“But so far, and I hate to say it, Budda is going to be hard…Budda’s it was amazing…first place we went to and it sealed the deal. That it did,” the Haratyk’s said.

“But we are going to give everyone an open chance,” the couple continued.

Plus the chance to give back. The $10 ticket price to get in goes toward Kitchens For Good,  a local culinary non-profit which offers free programs for people looking to break into the culinary world.

Click here to learn more about Kitchens For Good.

“Wouldn’t matter what the price was, as long as it’s going back to something good to help the community,” Susan Haratyk said.