Inaugural Orioles Cook-Off crowns Zaun as best cook in Birdland

The next time you visit the ESPN Zone in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, say for an Oriole player Q&A, you'll notice a special new addition to the restaurant's menu: Orioles Catcher Gregg Zaun's famous Chicken Enchiladas.

As the winner of the Inaugural Orioles Cook-Off at the ESPN Zone this afternoon, Zaun earned a black and orange spatula plaque and his recipe, which includes shredded chicken slow-simmered in taco seasoning, beans, cheese and enchilada sauce, earned a place on the ESPN Zone's menu.

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Before a 30 minute cook-off in which Brian Roberts and Jeremy Guthrie battled close behind Zaun and his enchiladas, each Oriole took a turn explaining why he chose his dish.

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Zaun called enchilada's his "comfort food" born of a childhood spent in California and "west of the Mississippi."

Brian Roberts said his cilantro lime fish tacos started as the beef tacos he loved as kid and evolved into tilapia when he met his wife Diana who doesn't eat beef.

And Jeremy Guthrie picked up a taste for the Spanish omelet he made during the two years he spent in Spain on his Mormon Mission.

During the half an hour of cooking time, emcee Tom Davis, as well as O's fans in attendance, asked the trio questions ranging from fastballs to favorite foods. When asked if any of them had any interest in opening his own restaurant, Guthrie said he'd like to start his own authentic Spanish restaurant; B-Rob said he and Diana would definitely go with a place that served breakfast all day; and Zaun admitted that he'd love to open a restaurant, but wasn't sure it would work out as well on paper as he and his wife might hope.

"We'll just have a good time cooking at home instead," Zaun said of the possibility of opening his own restaurant.

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"I like to sit with my wife and watch her cook, learn things from her while we share how wonderful--or terrible--our days have been," Roberts said of how he and Diana like to share that time of the day together despite the hour it often falls at during the day. "It's a different lifestyle to eat dinner at midnight. A lot of people wouldn't like that, but we also don't eat breakfast until 11 in the morning either," Roberts laughed.

Guthrie confessed that "If I see it, I eat it. It's a problem I have," he said with a rueful smile. His wife, Jenny, confirmed Guthrie's appetite during the judging when she admitted that she loved Brian Roberts' fish tacos, but that "Jeremy would have to eat 15 of them to fill him up!"

As part of the panel of judges, Jenny was joined by the ESPN Zone's Chief Chef, our own Roch Kubatko, the Baltimore Sun's food columnist Rob Kasper, and B-Rob's wife Diana.

Their jobs began after each chef prepared his dish on a platter for the initial presentation to the judges and surrounding fans. Each judge was then given a sample of enchiladas, fish tacos and Spanish omelet, and after high praise for all three dishes, the teammates' entrees were judged on a scale of 1-10 in each of three categories, taste, presentation, and creativity.

In the end, B-Rob came in third and Guthrie in second, just two points shy of winner Gregg Zaun.

So the next time you find yourself eating at the ESPN Zone, give Zaun's enchiladas a try--after all, not only did he win the competition this afternoon, but the word is that Zaun's signature dish is a favorite throughout Major League Baseball, as former teammates often ask the veteran catcher to cook up the dish when he's in town.

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