OFFICIAL HEALTHCARE PARTNER
MEET OUR 2022 - 2023 CULINARY TALENT
Leland Avellino started Avellino Family Barbecue in his driveway in 2020, during the peak of the pandemic, after closing the Stamford location of Dinosaur BBQ. He had been with Dino as Pit Boss and partner for 10 years, and has been a chef across fine dining and barbecue throughout Fairfield County and New York City for his entire career.
Chef Carlos Baez began his journey in the kitchens of his father’s many taquerias in Mexico City. It is there that Carlos realized his destiny of bringing fine food to the masses with a vast global influence. Through years of hard work and an expansive culinary journey, Baez now holds the title of Executive Chef at The Spread in Norwalk. The Spread, known for its inventive dishes of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, is the culmination of four life-long friends partnering to make their dream come true. The award-winning destination highlights Chef Carlos’s worldly influence and aptitude for seasonal, creative cuisine in an elevated setting. The accessibility and comfort of Baez’s early taco career is evident in his second venture, El Segundo, a casual eatery focused on global street food. Still focusing on fresh, local, and seasonal- El Segundo offers the comfort of hand-held food combined with the worldly know-how of a seasoned traveler. Chef Carlos’s most recent foray is The Magic 5 Pie Co. offering gourmet pizza, a raw bar, and inventive salads to the patrons of Norwalk.
Jes Bengtson grew up in Westerly RI, beginning her cooking career at the age of 16 at a small take out seafood shack in Stonington. With no formal culinary education, she worked odd jobs working up the chain in the kitchen, from dishwasher to line cook to sous chef, chef, and regional chef. After years of short stints at various restaurants, Jes opened the Granola bar. Since then, she’s spent six years at Terrain Cafe, and has more recently added Amis Trattoria to her ranks. Jes has worked with Greenwich Food and Wine as a 2016 innovative chef, and now as an ambassador and advisor. In 2018, Jes had the opportunity to cook for a dinner at the esteemed James Beard Foundation. Passionate about fighting food insecurity and food waste, she serves her community on the Food Rescue US Board of Directors. In her personal life, Jes lives with her wife and baby, likes playing music and the Red Soxs
After moving to NYC in 2007 with degrees in both business and art Samantha needed a creative outlet to put her artistic talents to use. With lack of space she opted to use her kitchen as a studio by using cake, cookies and other desserts as her medium. She discovered the fun and excitement in making edible art and it quickly became her passion. Her love of art and baking helped turn her dreams into a reality and with that she launched her company THE DESSERTIST.
THE DESSERTIST has since then become a well-recognized name and Samantha has become a notable Artistic Pastry Chef with a growing list of cliental across the country. Her ability to create customized, one-of-a-kind desserts have captured the eye of many giving her the privilege to create pieces for notable chefs and celebrities. As the brand expanded, Samantha has become a voice within the culinary industry and not only inspires but also educates her followers. As an ambassador for working mothers she takes part in many parent organizations and her daughter, Charley, is constantly featured as part of THE DESSERTIST brand. In June 2019, the Dessertist family welcomed their daughter Laney to the kitchen crew!
THE DESSERTIST was a successful retail bakery in Croton on Hudson for 5 years. Then during the pandemic Sam and Matt (Mr. Dessertist) saw a massive growth in the wholesale side of the business and decide to make that their focus, along with catering large events such as weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. In the Fall of 2021 they closed their store front and built out a brand new production facility and dessert studio. THE DESSERTIST is now a fully wholesale and dessert catering company.
Maneet Chauhan is an award-winning chef, author, television personality and founding partner and president of Morph Hospitality Group in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a recipient of the 2012 James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Award for her role as a permanent judge on Food Network’s “Chopped.” In addition to judging roles on Food Network, Maneet also competes at the highest level and most recently won Guy Fieri's Tournament of Champions II, where she was able to donate winnings of $40,000 to help different restaurants survive the pandemic. Born in Punjab, India, chef Chauhan worked in some of the country’s finest hotels before moving to the U.S. to study at the Culinary Institute of America. She went on to work as executive chef in some of New York City and Chicago’s top restaurants, which received national acclaim under her leadership. After relocating to Nashville, Tennessee, Chauhan and her husband, Vivek Deora, co-founded Morph Hospitality Group, opening their first restaurant, Chauhan Ale & Masala House in 2014. With the goal of filling gaps in Nashville’s culinary landscape, the group opened Tansuo, a Chinese concept, and The Mockingbird, a global diner, in 2017, and Chaatable, a nostalgic Indian street food concept in 2018. Chef Chauhan is also a co-founder of Hop Springs, home to the state’s largest craft brewery and a fun-filled 84 acre beer park located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Chauhan is the author of two cookbooks, Flavors of My World and her most recent, Chaat: The Best Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India, which was released in October 2020. Published by Clarkson Potter, the book was inspired by Maneet's epic cross-country railroad expedition that brought her to local markets, street vendors and the homes of family & friends. Chaat has been recognized as one of Fall 2020’s most anticipated cookbooks and has appeared in the New York Times, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Food Network Magazine, and more. And, received the IACP Cookbook Award in October 2021. A leader in the Nashville community, Chauhan has been honored as one of the Nashville Business Journal’s “40 under 40”, which highlights young, successful business leaders and was recognized in Nashville Lifestyles’ Women in Business, which showcases local women who are at the top of their respective industries. In March 2020, Chauhan founded Hospitality Strong, a nonprofit benefitting hospitality workers in need and currently serves as an advisory board member for Nashville's COVID-19 Response Fund, founded to assist individuals, families and nonprofits experiencing financial hardship due to the virus. When she’s not in the kitchen or traveling, chef Chauhan can be found at home in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband, Vivek Deora, their daughter, Shagun, and their son, Karma.
Chef Steven Chen relocated to New York from the south of mainland China when he was 18 years old. For almost three decades he's been working with family and friends in the hospitality industry. During the last decade, he's opened three unique restaurant concepts featuring top-quality Japanese food in Westchester and Fairfield County with his business partner, K Dong. Chef Steve and his team have also launched a successful catering business and built partnerships with top restaurants and chefs in the tri-state area. Food wasn't Chef Steve's first passion, modern interior design was. As a youth, he studied design trends and today he incorporates his passion for interiors with each individual restaurant concept. In addition to creating unique experiences for his clients and customers, Chef Steve also works directly with farmers and fishermen through his seafood distribution company to select the best ingredients for his award-winning dishes. When he wants to relax he spends time with his wife, Ann, and their 8-year-old son at their Greenwich, Connecticut home -- which he also designed with his keen eye for detail. The home includes entertaining areas like a karaoke room, indoor swimming pool, and outdoor kitchen area for family-style barbeques. Chef Steve is currently working on his fourth restaurant concept, new wholesale deals, and opening two new locations for his existing brands.
Evans Corrales is a seventeen year veteran at the Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood, in Rowayton, Connecticut. Evans started his career in his home community in Costa Rica working in the family business. Cooking along side his dad he started to learn the art of cooking at the young age of twelve! His passion for cooking started here and took him to the United States a decade later to continue to pursue his career. Evans started in the Rowayton Seafood kitchen preparing the salads, moving to a line cook and eventually Executive Sous Chef. Working under various Executive Chefs he continued to develop his personal style. Simple, Fresh seafood (from the Rowayton Fish Market) beautifully presented. As Executive Chef, Evans has curated a devoted team in the kitchen. Some of the staff have been working with Evans from the beginning. The father of two knows about family. “We are all family here,” my team, front of the house and the owner as well.
KEVIN DES CHENES
Chef Kev D has become one of the most sought after Chef's & event producer's in the industry. Having been Chef Expert for Gordon Ramsey and appearing as a Featured Chef on Food Network's Chef Wanted, Great Food Truck Race (Finalist) & Beat Bobby Flay, as well as NBC's Today Show, Nationally Syndicated Better Show, CT Style, Pickler & Ben, Fox Morning Show & The Rhode Show among others. He was also named "Top Chef" by Las Vegas Food & Wine and the winner of "Top Celebrity Chef Showdown". Chef Kev D is an advocate for such charities as Boston Children's Hospital & The Light Foundation. His creativity in the kitchen & on the screen has not gone unnoticed. Having served as Executive Chef at such New England landmarks as 156 Bistro, Centro Martini & Washington Square Tavern, He has since launched a successful Event Production, Consultant & Private Chef Company working with some heavyweights & VIP's in Professional Sports, Music & Movie industries including; Garth Brooks, John Legend, Tommy Lee Jones, Tyler Florence, Peter Frampton, Giuliana Rancic, Kathie Lee & Hoda, Isiah Thomas, Gavin DeGraw, Jim Courier, Little Big Town, Various New England Patriots, Red Sox players and coaches, among others. You never know what he'll do next so keep your eyes peeled for this seasoned Chef, and if you find him in a city near you take your taste buds on an Epic Journey with Chef Kev D.
Experience: Culinary Institute of America Graduate 1986 AOS degree in Occupational Studies
Sous Chef, Christian Delouvrier, Maurice Restaurant , Parker Meridien Hotel, Manhattan NY
Stagiere, Restaurant Gerard Besson, Paris France, Hotel Le Goyen, Audierne, France
Sous Chef, Edward Brown, Tropica Restaurant, Restaurant Associates, Manhattan, NY
Chef, Restaurant Chez Josephine, Manhattan, NY
Chef, Restaurant Taliesin, Hotel Millenium, Manhattan, NY
Executive Chef/ Partner, Z Hospitality Group, Fairfield and Westchester Counties
Restaurants: Mediterraneo, Greenwich, Terra, Greenwich and Danbury Sole , New Canaan Aurora, Rye Eastend, Greenwich
In 2017 I stopped lots of bad habits. Became a competitive triathlete, fitness/health nut .Very interested in healthier cooking. Completed and finished my first Ironman 70.3 in Geneva N.Y. this past July.
Rocco Dispirito is a James Beard award-winning, pioneering Food Network chef and number one New York bestselling author who is known for his unique approach to flavor as well as his dedication to proving that healthy and delicious are not mutually exclusive. Most recently, DiSpirito appeared as both judge and competitor on Food Network's Tournament of Champions, Guys Grocery Games, Guys Ranch Kitchen and his own Restaurant Divided. He was recently featured in the New York Times “Sunday Routine”. In 2019 he brought his creative vision and culinary talents to the iconic Standard Grill restaurant at The Standard, High Line. As Chef, he reimagined the menu, led a redesign of the dining room and elevated the kitchen with an expanded raw bar and new Binchotan-fired Josper grill from Spain. Offering exquisite, fresh, organic, locally sourced meals. His celebrated return to a restaurant kitchen earned high praise, including a notable 2-star New York Times review. Rocco also delighted customers by featuring his signature Peconic Bay Scallops & Uni dish first served at his critically acclaimed 3- star restaurant, Union Pacific, which was a culinary landmark in NYC for many years. Growing up in Queens, New York, DiSpirito's love of food began at a young age, where his mother taught him how to make simple, magnificent meals using only a handful of real foods. His passion for cooking led him from Cathedral Prep Seminary to study at the Culinary Institute of America and Boston University, where he graduated Cum Laude. By the time he turned 24, he was working in the kitchens of legendary chefs around the globe. In his early thirties he was named Food & Wine magazine's “Best New Chef,” People magazine's “Sexiest Chef” and was the first chef to appear on Gourmet magazine's cover as “America's Most Exciting Young Chef.” He is the author of thirteen books, which have been translated into multiple languages and sold all over the world. His first book, Flavor, earned DiSpirito a James Beard award and showed readers how to create bold, sophisticated yet surprisingly easy meals. His bestselling cookbook series, Now Eat This, inspired DiSpirito's syndicated television show, Now Eat This! With Rocco DiSpirito, which he also executive produced. Additionally in 2012, DiSpirito founded his production house, Savory Place Media, whose first project for AOL Originals, Now Eat This! Italy, became an instant Top 10 series and received millions of views. A global #1 bestselling phenomenon, The Pound A Day Diet book led DiSpirito to create a bespoke meal delivery service, which he currently runs in New York City. He prepares fresh, delicious, ready-to-eat meals that are delivered to clients across the country. After this runaway hit, DiSpirito introduced The Negative Calorie Diet, which also debuted as a New York Times bestseller, followed by newest cookbook, Rocco's Keto Comfort Food Diet, shows readers how to eat the foods you miss and still lose up to a pound a day. He frequently appears as a special guest judge on television shows such as ABC's Good Morning America, CBS's The Talk, ABC's The View, Extra, E! News and The Dr. Oz Show, The Tamron Hall Show, The Wendy Show, The Good Dish as well as many others. He has guided life-changing transformations as the Healthy Food Coach on ABC's Extreme Weight Loss, hosted the cooking competition show Restaurant Divided on Food Network and has starred in Rocco's Dinner Party on Bravo. His remarkable weight loss journey has played a significant role in his cooking philosophy as well as his charitable efforts for over a decade now. To that end, he serves as an Ambassador for Health Corps, inspiring students at schools across the country to build healthier habits. Dr. Mehmet Oz, Health Corps Chairman, presented DiSpirito with the organization's highest honor, the Golden Heart Award. Additionally, in September 2017, he earned the champion title of the hit Food Network series, Guy's Grocery Games: Superstars, and donated the $40,000 grand prize to Health Corps. Advocating on behalf of food issues has been one of the most rewarding experiences of DiSpirito's life. He is an Entertainment Council member for Feeding America, advisor with Wellness in the Schools (WITS), as well as City Harvest, and frequent volunteer at food banks throughout NYC. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, DiSpirito donated 500 warm meals a day for two months from his Now Eat This food truck. He is hailed as a leading health expert and is often called upon to speak at events, including the Partnership for a Healthier America summit in Washington, D.C. In Rocco's free time, he enjoys bicycling and participating in triathlons
Executive Chef for Geronimo Tequila Bar and Southwest Grill, Shell & Bones Oyster Bar and Grill and Camacho Garage, Arturo Franco-Camacho (Franco) is a veteran of the Connecticut food scene whose extensive repertoire spans from 5 years as Chef de cuisine on the prestigious QE2 to opening several of his own successful restaurants (Roomba, Bespoke, and Suburban) in New Haven and Branford, CT. He has also served as Guest Chef at the Director’s Dinner at the Sundance Film Festival. Chef Franco’s cuisine has been recognized as “Excellent” in the New York Times, and has received accolades from Connecticut Magazine, Yankee Magazine, Zagat and on Food Network’s “Food Nation with Bobby Flay.” He has been nominated for Chef of the Year by the Connecticut Restaurant Association and has been recognized as an Ambassador Chef by the annual Greenwich Wine + Food Festival. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
Paul Failla joined the Fortina Restaurant Group in 2019, heading the culinary operations. Since then, Chef Paul has brought creative twists on new menu additions, guided Fortina through the pandemic, and created sufficient and sustainable protocols to strengthen the Fortina brand. Chef Paul is a strong believer in providing to the communities in which Fortina serves, as well as working with charitable organizations such as The Make a Wish Foundation and Paulie Strong. Prior to Fortina, Paul studied at the Culinary Institute of America then gained hands-on experience working in facilities dedicated to culinary research and development. His passion to both feed and give back to his community is what has helped make Fortina the establishment it is today. Fortina is proud to ring in their 10 year anniversary with Chef Paul leading the culinary team. .
Scott Fratangelo is the creative mind behind Freebird, a fast-casual eatery offering a variety of chef-crated chicken sandwiches, salads, and breakfast offerings in Greenwich, CT. As the Executive Chef and co-owner (with his wife, Heather) of L'inizio in Ardsley, he received Michelin recognition in addition to local awards and accolades. Before opening L'inizio, he was executive chef/owner at the award-winning Spigolo in New York City. Prior to that, he made his mark at some of New York's most celebrated restaurants including Union Square Café (as sous chef), Gramercy Tavern, Capsouto Frères Café Centro and Estia. Scott is a graduate of the NY Institute of Technology's culinary program. He currently serves on the board of the Restaurant Alliance of Westchester.
My name is Will Friedman. I'm 27 and from Westchester, New York. I studied culinary arts. at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. While I was in school, I worked at Bistro du Midi in Boston and Ken’s Ramen in Providence. After college, I joined Mecha Noodle Bar group as Corporate Back of House Manager and Assistant to the Culinary Director Brian Reilly, who is also one of my mentors to this day. After Mecha, I went to work under Bill Taibe at The Whelk in Westport, CT as Chef de Cuisine. My time at The Whelk taught me how to cook with the seasons, not overcomplicate dishes and let the main ingredient shine. After around a year and a half at The Whelk, I got the opportunity to be Chef de Cuisine at our sister restaurant, Kawa Ni. At Kawa Ni, I’m able to use all of my experience and training to help lead my team to success every service cooking a cuisine I love.
Chef Julio Genao has come up the ranks of some of New York’s top kitchens, having an early passion for food and growing up in a family where cooking played a major role, in a city that has historically prioritized, romanticized, and idolized its culinary culture. Taking his homegrown passion to the next level, Chef Julio majored in Culinary Arts at the New York Restaurant School in Manhattan. After Culinary school, Julio spent time staging at numerous restaurants and in 2000 joined Alex Garcia’s nuevo latino mecca, Calle Ochowhere he became skilled at preparing Ceviches and South American and Cuban Cuisines. As Executive Chef at Prime, An American Chophouse in Stamford, Chef Julio continues to creatively push the boundaries of modern world class cuisine.
Mary Giuliani, Author, Party and Lifestyle expert, founder and CEO of Mary Giuliani Catering has appeared on The Barefoot Contessa, The Chew, The Today Show, Good Morning America and is a regularly featured guest on The Rachael Ray Show. Mary’s first book, “The Cocktail Party (Eat, Drink, Play, Recover)” premiered in 2015. Her second book, “Tiny Hot Dogs and Other True Stories” was released in April 2019. A graduate of Georgetown University, Mary resides in New York City with her husband and daughter Gala.
Born during the pandemic and created by longtime Fairfield County resident Adam Goldberg, PopUpBagels has quickly become a go-to breakfast must have in the NY Metropolitan area. Winning back-to-back “Best Bagel” awards at the Brooklyn Bagel Festival and a feature story in the NY Times, Adam Goldberg has fast grown his home kitchen hobby into a multi store operation with big plans. Music, food and entertainment have always been at the core of Adam’s heart, and he is super excited to join those all together for this event!
A native of Sharon, Connecticut, Evan Kalogiannis found his calling to cuisine while watching his father cook in their family restaurant, which served up Greek favorites. From a young age. Evan worked with his father in the kitchen learning the basics of cooking and the restaurant business. He enrolled in Lincoln Tech to begin his professional training in the culinary world, while working summers at 41 North in Newport, Rhode Island. After two years, he wanted more of a hands on experience and was looking for change. He moved to New Orleans, working in restaurants that served up Cajun and Southern cuisines. After 5 years of working at a variety of restaurant s including Cochon and the Link Restaurant Group in New Orleans, he got the urge to travel the world and learn about food and the different styles and flavors of cooking. Chef Evan spent four months traveling and eating his way through Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq, Greece, and Turkey, satisfying his need to learn about food and different cultures. Returning back to the United States in 2016, he landed in New York as the Sous Chef at Purdy's Farmer and the Fish in North Salem, New York. When the restaurant expanded to Sleepy Hollow, New York he was promoted to Chef de Cuisine at the new location. In 2018 he was approached to be the Executive Chef at The Bit in Dobbs Ferry. In 2022, he became Executive Chef at Milton Point Provisions in Rye, NY, helping the team launch a new dinner menu focused around their wood-fired oven. As Executive Chef, he is able to bring his vast knowledge of different cooking styles to life, creating a menu that caters to everyone's palate.
Bun Lai pioneered the sustainable sushi movement at Miya’s, is a White House Champions of Change recipient, a James Beard nominee, and the Director of Culinary Innovations for ActualFood, a nonprofit that creates technologies that prevent and reverse chronic disease, as well as aging. Bun Lai has written for Scientific American, The Hill, and Harvard Design Magazine and has been featured in Time, National Geographic, Prevention, Food and Wine, Eating Well, Outside, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, the New Yorker, CNN, PBS, NPR, Saturday Night Live, among other national and international media. Bun Lai lives on a farm in Woodbridge, Connecticut, where grows and forages plants that are nutritional power houses. For those who'd like to learn more, Bun Lai shares his knowledge—of food as it relates to the environment and health—on social media:.
Geoff Lazlo Food was born as a natural expression of Chef Lazlo’s core philosophies. Lazlo found culinary direction early in his career while cooking at Chez Panisse. He learned that cooking seasonally and sourcing local, sustainable ingredients created not only a delicious final product, but also one which helped to build awareness and support for local food producers. The cornerstone of Geoff Lazlo Food’s philosophy is to provide an exceptional experience for every person the company touches. This is a direct nod to Danny Meyer’s ‘Enlightened Hospitality’ model, which was engrained in Lazlo early-on through his experience with the Union Square Hospitality Group.
For more than two decades, Chef Stephen Lewandowski has been using a palette of food to please the appetites of patrons. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Lewandowski has presided over some of the country’s top kitchens, traveling the world and discovering new ingredients, recipes, cooking techniques, and traditions to bring home to wow guests. As Chef/Proprietor of Townhouse, he has become a fixture in Greenwich’s vibrant restaurant scene. His cuisine showcases the finest ingredients with a razor-sharp balance of deference to the ingredients and innovation in style. The menu highlights the best ingredients of season, enhanced by skillful technique and an eye toward varied textures and flavors. Lewandowski has delighted palates throughout the country, most recently at The Harlan’s - Harlan Social in Stamford, Harlan Publick in Norwalk, Harlan Hause in Bridgeport and Harlan Brasserie in Hartford, where he served as Executive Chef/Restauranteur. His impressive culinary background includes positions at such prestigious addresses as Tribeca Grill, the Peabody Orlando, Boston’s five-star Ritz Carlton, New York City’s Fantino and Gotham Bar & Grill.
Whether sprinting across a cluttered rugby pitch in Europe or with his wife and 3 children on the lawn of their Fairfield County home, Nick has always approached life with passion and energy. It should come as no surprise that he treats cooking the same way. Growing up, Nick was raised by a diverse, food-loving family. Surrounded by the delicious smells and tastes of traditional Italian and Ukrainian dishes from the kitchens of his two grandmothers, Nick’s appreciation for cuisine was early and powerful. After circling the globe with his rugby team – enjoying the variety of flavors and culinary offerings along the way – Nick decided to tackle his next adventure, attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After graduating in 1998, he joined forces with two-time James Beard Award winner Melissa Kelly at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Inn and Restaurantin upstate New York and Primoin Rockland, Maine. Nick next received an offer to work alongside Chef/Owner Tom Colicchio at the famed Gramercy Tavernin New York City where he quickly advanced to Executive Sous Chef. With years of experience cooking side-by-side with well-respected members of the culinary world, Nick became Executive Chef at i Trulliin New York City and Solaiain Connecticut and, from 2009 to 2012, he transformed Winged Foot Golf Club’sdining program into one of the premiere club experiences in the country. Over the past two years, Nick has poured his heart and soul into South End in New Canaan, Connecticut as its Chef/Owner. A comfortable and lively modern tavern, South End’s food is approachable, flavor-filled and delicious. Fueled by Nick’s unrelenting passion and energy, the New York Times gave South Enda “Very Good” rating in a March 2014 review for delivering a “stimulating gustatory experience.”
From chef and restaurateur to television personality, food policy advocate and entrepreneur, Spike Mendelsohn is a force to be reckoned with in the culinary world. Spike has several restaurant concepts in the Washington DC area including PLNT Burger, Vim & Victor and We, The Pizza. Leveraging his close proximity to our nation’s capital, Spike combined his passion for food equity and education by working with organizations like CARE, DC Central Kitchen and Food Rescue US. He also serves as the chairman of DC’s Food Policy Council. Spike’s desire to make a positive impact on our food system led to the founding of Eat The Change with friend and fellow entrepreneur, Seth Goldman. After collaborating on PLNT Burger, the two decided to launch a snack brand focused on chef-crafted, nutrient dense snacks that are kind to the planet. Spike lives in the DC area with his wife, Cody, and their son. You can catch Spike surfing any river or ocean that has a wave or hanging out in the metaverse, buying NFTs and launching his latest project with Tom Colicchio, CHFTY Pizzas. From metaverse integration to pizza parties hosted around the globe, holders will be able to grab a virtual slice and connect with their favorite chefs and foods.”
Acclaimed chef and cookbook author George Mendes is executive chef and partner at Veranda in downtown New York City. Mendes first introduced New York to elevated Portuguese cuisine in 2009 when he opened Aldea, a Michelin-starred fixture in the city's Flatiron District for over a decade. A first-generation American born to Portuguese immigrants, the Danbury, Connecticut native graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and worked for his mentor, David Bouley, at the chef's original namesake restaurant in Tribeca before honing his talent further at Alain Passard's Arpege in Paris. After more than three years running the kitchen at Toqueville near Union Square, Mendes left to chart his own course by opening Aldea to critical acclaim, which he followed with the opening of his popular Portuguese spot, Lupulo, in 2015. Mendes published his first cookbook, My Portugal: Recipes & Stories (Abrams) in 2014.
Michel Nischan is a four-time James Beard Award winning chef with over 40 years of leadership advocating for a more healthful, sustainable food system. He is Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Wholesome Wave, Founder and CEO of Wholesome Crave, and Founder and Partner with the late actor Paul Newman of the former Dressing Room Restaurant. Nischan, whose parents were farmers, began his career at 19, cooking breakfast at a truck stop. He quickly realized that the ingredients coming in the back door of the restaurants he was working at fell far short of the farm-fresh harvests he’d grown up on. Because of the cooking and butchering skills he learned while growing up farming, Nischan became Executive Chef at the Fleur de Lis restaurant in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Since that moment, Nischan has led a life-long career championing the farm-to-table concept, decades before it had a name. Inspired by his son’s journey with Type-1 Diabetes and the food he would need to thrive, he founded Wholesome Wave, his national non-profit built to address food and nutrition insecurity in vulnerable populations. Nischan, along with his late partner Gus Schumacher and their field partners, was instrumental in securing $100M for Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants for the food equity field in the 2014 Federal Farm Bill. In 2018, FINI was expanded to $250M in the 2018 Farm Bill to become a permanent part of all future farm bills. The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program permanently expands affordable access to fruits and vegetables for low-income Americans, while creating a legacy for Wholesome Wave and Gus Schumacher. Nischan has regularly presented and testified to multiple committees in both houses of Congress, and was a White House guest during the Bush and Obama administrations. He was also a stakeholder member of the Biden-Harris Transition team, and is currently working with Members of Congress to imbed Produce Prescriptions into health policy. Inspired by Paul Newman’s philanthropic impact through the Newman’s Own business model, Nischan created Wholesome Crave in 2018 as a for-profit plant-based food business designed to provide top-line sustaining revenues to Wholesome Wave. Wholesome Crave sells plant-based soups into scaled food service environments in the corporate, higher-education, and healthcare sectors. A percentage of gross revenues go to support Wholesome Wave’s ground breaking approach towards meaningful systems change. He's also the author of three cookbooks on sustainable food systems and social equity through food. A lifetime Ashoka fellow, he serves as a director on the board of the Jacques Pepin Foundation and on the advisory boards of Chef’s Collaborative, Modern Farmer, Good Food Media Network and The Culinary Institute of America. Nischan co-founded the James Beard Boot Camp for Policy and Change. The James Beard Foundation honored Nischan as the 2015 Humanitarian of The Year for his ground-breaking work with Wholesome Wave.
Emily’s introduction to culinary world began in her teens, while working for her father’s catering business in Branford, CT. Under the tutelage of her CIA trained dad, she discovered her passion for food and the desire to create unforgettable experiences for clients, friends and family. Upon graduating from culinary school in 2009, Emily began her career working under Chef Denise Appel at Zinc Restaurant in New Haven where she honed her skills and began thinking more creatively about food and hospitality. From there Emily became an apprentice at Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport so she could best learn the art of butchery, and moved forward with the company to open their flagship restaurant concept as the head chef of Craft Kitchen. From there she moved on to South Norwalk to work with Matt Storch as Chef de Cuisine at Match Restaurant, and most recently she worked as Chef de Cuisine at Jesup Hall in Westport with Bill Taibe. She has now planted roots in New Haven, where she had lived and worked for many years, with her first restaurant Tavern on State, which opened June 2019. Throughout all of these experiences, Emily’s philosophy remains the same: source fresh and responsibly raised ingredients, treat them simply and with respect, season it well, and you’ll have a great meal.
Tim Passaro Jr.
Tim Passaro Jr is, and has been, the O. G. executive chef of Little Pub’s entire operation since its inception in 2009. His passion to meld cuisines into fun, flavor forward, creations has been instrumental to Little Pub’s success and created the need for bigger pants across CT and the tri state area. In his spare time Timmy likes to chop Volkswagens into low rider hot rods, get* and give tattoos, collect sneakers, and design naughty t-shirts under his renowned Illstatic Brand. *(That’s another reason we keep him busy in the kitchen. He’s running out of room for tattoos).
Born and raised in Western Connecticut, Chef Pasternack’s love of fresh ingredients developed at an early age. His childhood included picking vegetables in his family’s garden, fishing the waters of Nantucket Sound, and digging clams in Chatham, Mass.: all to enjoy at family dinner. This passion was both enhanced and refined when he graduated with honors from the Culinary Institute of America. Post-graduation he sharpened his culinary skills at some of New York’s finest restaurants, including Zoe with Chef David Honeysett, the BLT Restaurant Group, Eats on Lexington with Chef Jeremy Spector, Employee’s Only and The Brindle Room. His passion for the farm-to-table movement inspired his menus at The SOHO Grand Hotel in lower Manhattan. He has since been featured by Best Chefs America and has been opening new exciting restaurants such as The Spotted Horse in Shelton, CT and working with breweries such as Captain Lawrence to open their newest restaurant and tap room location in Mount Kisco, NY. As Executive Chef of Baileys Backyard he gone back to his roots in Ridgefield, CT where he grew up. He has since dazzled diners with his bold flavors and creative combinations since 2013 when he took over the Executive Chef role from Sal Bagliavio the owner of the restaurant. Chef Forrest utilizes local ingredients on his menus from The Hickories in Ridgefield, CT, Holbrook Farm in Bethel, CT, Snow Hill Farm in North Salem, CT and Horseshoe Farm located in Ridgefield, CT.
Claudine Pépin is the only daughter of Jacques Pépin and co-founder and president of the Jacques Pépin Foundation. For many years, Claudine has worked with her father, preparing delicious meals and sharing cooking techniques. With PBS at the KQED studios, the father daughter duo filmed, “Jacques Pepin’s Kitchen: Cooking with Claudine,” “Jacques Pepin’s Kitchen: Encore With Claudine,” and “Jacques Pépin Celebrates.” All three series received James Beard Awards. In 2015, Claudine starred with her father on “Jacques Pépin Heart & Soul in The Kitchen.” With an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Philosophy, and graduate work in International Relations from Boston University, Claudine spent a great deal of time in the wine industry. She spent three years working for Kendall-Jackson wineries and an additional two year as the Brand Ambassador for Moet & Chandon and Dom Perignon Champagne in New York while also teaching food and wine pairing for both the French Culinary Institute and the Sommelier Society in New York. In 2002, Claudine was named “Woman of the Year” by the Academie Culinaire de France – Filiale des Etas Unis. Claudine’s first book, Let’s Cook French, published in the spring of 2015, is a collection of thirty favorite, simple, classic French recipes in both English and French, illustrated by her father Jacques and daughter Shorey. In 2016, Claudine was named the Godmother of Oceania Cruises’ ship Sirena. She has toured the country, and the world with Oceania Cruises, demonstrating recipes and culinary techniques with her father and her chef husband, Rollie Wesen. In 2016, together the three formed the Jacques Pépin Foundation (JPF) to provide culinary education and training to many communities, and individuals, especially those with barriers to employment. During the COVID pandemic, Claudine worked through the JPF to develop a video production company for her father’s home videos, and many other renowned chefs. She is the executive producer of the Jacques Pépin Cooking at Home series, published through social media. She is also co-owner of the Artistry of Jacques Pépin, a retail outlet for her father’s paintings. Claudine, her husband Rollie, daughter Shorey, and mischievous puppy Bisous, live happily Rhode Island. Her philosophy for food is closely tied to family. Claudine cooks at home almost every day, believing that sharing a meal with family and friends, eating, laughing and spending time together at the table is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things in life. “Food doesn’t have to be complicated. It needs to be wholesome, nutritious and preferably well-seasoned. And, it’s always best when shared with those you love.”
Chef David Perez has spent his career working in French, Italian and Greek restaurants, and has a keen sense of preserving ingredients’ most distinctive flavors without manipulating or altering them. After graduating from the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY, Perez spent nearly two decades in the kitchens of some of New York City’s most famed restaurants, including Café des Artistes, Cipriani, and Estiatorio Milos. Now, as Culinary Director of Pickle Hospitality, his ethos of handling ingredients with care and love, and preparing them in the subtlest possible way, has brought a new perspective to the cuisine of Jacob’s Pickles, Maison Pickle and Tiki Chick.
Chalermrat (Kook) Pongngarmsanga
Chef Chalermrat (Kook) Pongngarmsanga has loved cooking since he was a kid in Bangkok, Thailand. From his mom, he learned at a young age how to balance the complex Thai flavors of sweet, sour, spicy, and salty. Chef Kook had spent most of his professional life working in fitness and nutrition in Thailand, giving him a deep appreciation and understanding of how the quality of food we consume affects everything in our lives which is why he cooks with organic, whole ingredients whenever possible. Though he has no formal training, he always seemed to find himself in the kitchens of his clients and friends whenever he had free time. From street-side Bangkok noodle carts to award-winning establishments, chef Kook’s network knew they could rely on him in a pinch when they needed help in their restaurants. After getting married and moving to America in 2021, he had the opportunity to pursue his lifetime passion and, with his wife, started Grumpy Dumpling Co. in 2022 – a real-life American Dream. In his personal life, he loves to travel (and try all the foods), is an avid rugby player, and is expecting his first baby in early 2022.
Debra Ponzek graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1984. After cooking in top New Jersey restaurants, Debra was hired by Drew Nieporent as sous chef at the then fledgling Montrachet. Ten months later, Debra was promoted to Chef, a position she held for seven years and where she earned three consecutive three-star reviews from the New York Times. Debra’s cooking quickly received wide acclaim in culinary circles. At the age of 28, she was selected one of the “Ten Best New American Chefs” by Food & Wine magazine. In 1990, Debra was named “Chef of the Year” by the Chefs of America Association, and a year later was the recipient of the coveted “Rising Chef of the Year” award by the James Beard Foundation. Debra was also the first American to receive the prestigious “Moreau Award” for culinary excellence from the Frederick Wildman and Sons Company. Debra left Montrachet in June 1994 to move to Connecticut with her husband to open Aux Délices, a gourmet prepared food shop, café and catering business in Greenwich, Connecticut. Aux Délices Events, a full-service catering and event planning division, handles parties of all sizes, from corporate galas, fancy balls, grand openings and fund raisers to weddings, and private dinner parties. A second retail store was opened in downtown Greenwich in the fall of 2000. In 2004 a store was opened in Darien, Ct and in 2012 a store was opened in Westport Ct. Debra’s first cookbook, French Food, American Accent: Debra Ponzek’s Spirited Cuisine, was published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, in the Spring of 1996. Her second book, The Summer House Cookbook, was released in May 2003 to glowing reviews (“However gloomy or rainy the weather, a peek into ‘The Summer House Cookbook’…is like a ray of sunshine.” – Barbara Albright, Associated Press). Her third book The Family Kitchen was published in 2006 by Clarkson Potter. Her most recent book The Dinnertime Survival Cookbookwas published by Running press in 2013. Debra Ponzek has been the subject of articles in the New York Times, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Fine Cooking, Elle, Metropolitan Home, Nation’s Restaurant News, Greenwich Magazine, Victoria Magazine, Food & Wine, Parenting, O, The Oprah Magazine, as well as numerous local and regional magazines and newspapers. Debra’s television credits include appearances on Late Night with David Letterman, The Today Show, the CBS Morning Show, The Food Network with Sarah Moulton, PBS, Lifetime Televisionand others. She previously hosted a weekly radio show along with her colleague Lynn Manheim on 1490 WGCH in Greenwich called Two Hungry Women.
Chef Jared Sippel has spent over two decades honing his craft & distinct culinary style in some of the most highly regarded kitchens across the US & Europe. Originally from Iowa, Jared was raised with strong connections through his family to food & farming. Jared received his bachelor's degree at the University of Iowa & then attended culinary school in Colorado while working at the James Beard Award winning Frasca Food & Wine under renowned chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson & Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey. He then moved to France where he spent a year living & working in Provence at three star Michelin L’Oustau de Baumanière. He also spent several months staging across Italy at Michelin starred restaurants in Friuli & the Veneto. Jared returned for a second tour at Frasca Food & Wine before moving to San Francisco to serve as sous chef at the three Michelin starred Relais & Chateau restaurant Quince under Chef Michael Tusk. After two years, he was called back to Frasca once again to assume the role of Chef-de-Cuisine. Later in 2013, Jared was recruited to New York City to open the highly anticipated Manhattan location of three Michelin starred Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. Delays led Jared to begin the pursuit of building his own restaurant—with a vision, concept & name that had long been close to his heart. Italienne, which opened in 2016, represented the culmination of his career training in the distinct regional cuisines of Northern Italy & Southern France. After closing in March 2020 due to covid, Jared & his wife Lindsey came back to her home of Connecticut where they bought their house in Darien, had their first daughter Lennon, as well as finding a new location for Restaurant L'Ostal. A restaurant rooted in Southern French tradition.
Ellen Sledge is a proud New York native, having lived in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Long Island, and now Westchester. She is an alum of Rutgers University and French Culinary Institute (now ICC). She is also an alum of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program and actively advocates with 10000 Voices. She currently also serves on the board of the Restaurant Alliance of Westchester. Ellen previously worked the pastry line in some of NYC's finest restaurants, but always wanted her business. In 2013, she took the leap with Penny Lick Ice Cream Company. Penny Lick ice cream, sorbets, ice cream cakes, and more are made in Westchester County with all-natural ingredients. Inspired by friends and family, Ellen adopted a policy of no nuts or products with any nut contamination, so all items are also peanut, tree nut, and sesame free. In her spare time, she volunteers with the NYC public school system, local foster care programs, her local village, and local Rotary.
A favorite of the local foodies, food press, and among Connecticut’s leaders in fine cooking, Chef Matt Storch brought the level of cuisine found in New York City, Boston and Las Vegas back home to the ’burbs. Since 2000, when he first took the helm at Match Restaurant in South Norwalk, Chef Storch energized the Fairfield County dining scene with his culinary innovation and a unique twist on the classics. Focused on what’s different, fresh and sourced locally, Chef Storch combines culinary styles from all over the world to create a menu he can—and does—change nightly. At Match, where he is the Chef/Owner, as well as Match Burger Lobster & Nom-eez, which he recently sold, his food has been rated four stars by the New York Times and is consistently voted best of Connecticut. Matt’s creativity was put to the test recently on Chopped, Food Network’s mystery basket show, where he took home the WIN! In September of 2017 with the Match Partners in addition to the Bloom’s, a three generation oyster farming family, Match Burger Lobster was opened in Westport, CT attached to the famed whole animal butcher shop, Fleishers Craft Butchery. 2018 was an exciting year, not only to Matt bring home the win on The Food Network Show Chopped, in September 2018, the Match team opened Match Taco, again in Black Rock. The concept & menu sparked by Matt’s time at Tacos or What? in his teenage years as well as his Grandmothers restaurant in Mexico City. Chef Storch has cooked at The James Beard House on multiple occasions. In addition, he’s cooked for Jacques Pepin, Julia Child and a host of other culinary luminaries. Before and after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Storch worked closely with Chef Todd English. Since he was 13, Storch has been tearing it up in the kitchen. Traveling around the world as a child inspired his eclectic taste in food and sparked his passion for cooking. When he’s not in the kitchen or between restaurants, he’s hanging with his wife, Chung, and their twin boys, eating their way around the world, from local dives and roadside shacks to top-rated restaurants.
Bill Taibe is the driving force behind The Whelk and Kawa Ni, both located on the Saugatuck River, in Westport. The Whelk opened in 2012 and immediately received an “Excellent” rating from the NY Times, “Superior-Extraordinary”, Connecticut Magazine. “Best New Restaurant-2013” and “Best Seafood-2013”, by Connecticut Magazine. Most recently, in 2016, The Whelk was awarded Best of the Gold Coast, “Most Creative Menu”, and Best of Westport, “Best Seafood” by Moffly Media. Kawa Ni, a Japanese Izakaya, opened in September of 2014. Kawa Ni has quickly gained the same notoriety as his other restaurants by receiving Best of the Gold Coast, “Best Japanese”, in 2016. Both restaurants are guided by Taibe’s belief in sourcing the best possible ingredients and supporting our local farms and community. Chef Taibe was named a James Beard-Best Chefs in America: Northeast Semi-finalist in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. His success has led to appearances on The Martha Stewart Show, the Today Show and Moveable Feast. He is featured in Harvest to Heat Cookbook, which highlights the relationship between the top chefs of our country and the farmers with which they work.
With a passionate focus on local ingredients and a serious position on equality in her kitchen, Renee Touponce is raising the bar on delicious food at 85th Day Food Community in Mystic, CT, shining a light on ingredients and people. Touponce joined 85th Day Food Community in 2017, rising up through the kitchens of Oyster Club, Tree House, Grass & Bone, and Stone Acres Farm. In 2021, she was named Executive Chef of Oyster Club. Touponce’s multicultural background influences both her cuisine and her view of the world. Her upbringing is a blend of Italian and Puerto Rican, with memories of rice and beans on the stove, a lasagna in the oven, and the emphasis on the family together around a table of food from these two prominent cultures. With her inventive, locally-sourced, sustainable cuisine, she pays homage to the rich, coastal heritage of Southern New England, investigating the ingredients of her region of Mystic and surrounding communities while inventing and recreating the flavors of her youth with products she has access to. Touponce is a 2007 graduate of the New England Culinary Institute(NECI) in Essex Junction, Vermont. Her first sous chef position was at First and Last Tavern, working under chef John Sinclair. Later, under the tutelage of Chef Edward Jones, Touponce worked at Firebox in Hartford, quickly moving from sous chef to Executive Chef. There, being a part of the Billings Forge nonprofit brought her closer to farmers, artisans, and people from the community. At 85th Day, her passion for butchery grew, and she threw herself into learning about sausage making, head cheese, paté, breaking down whole animals, cuts, stocks, etc. The same passion for meat butchery shifted her mind toward working with whole fish in a different way at Oyster Club. She focuses on curing fish, aging, sausages, charcuterie, and utilizing what’s otherwise considered waste. “The importance behind using the whole animal inspires me to continue this skill in everything that we do, from the ground to the sea - whole vegetable, whole animal, whole fish. Practicing zero waste and preserving what the world gives us makes me really appreciate all the hands that it connects with along the way.” Touponce will also be the first to say that “there's no gender in food,” but admits to a time when that wasn’t the case. She says that "for me, as a queer woman, everything is moving and changing for the better. The industry is becoming more aware and educated. In my position now, I can create an environment that is healthy, equal, and safe, where no one has to feel out of place."
Born and raised on his grandfather’s farm in rural South Dakota, Luke trained in kitchens from Napa Valley to New York City, where he was mentored by Michelin two-star chef Shaun Hergatt. He first ventured into Connecticut as the opening chef de cuisine of the James Beard Nominated Millwright’s in Simsbury and his style has since been praised by The New York Times, Gotham, Elle, and Wine Spectator. Luke’s approach at Elm is influenced by the culinary traditions of the east coast, with imaginative nods to the travels that brought him here. Before discovering Elm, he was the chef at the beloved Manhattan restaurants BLT Fish and BLT Steak.
Chad, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, is an ACF Certified Executive Chef® and began his career in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. America Aircraft Carrier and at the California Culinary Academy. He has served as the executive chef and culinary development director at Atria for 17 years. After recently launching the food and beverage program at Coterie Cathedral Hill in San Francisco, Chef Chad has relocated to New York City and is focused on opening the new Coterie Hudson Yards. Chad worked at the Four Seasons San Francisco and a Northern California winery/Event Center before joining Atria..
Dr. Rollie Wesen is the Executive Director of the Jacques Pépin Foundation (JPF) and an assistant professor at Johnson & Wales University (JWU) in Providence, Rhode Island. The JPF advances Jacques Pépin's love of culinary arts and teaching through video recipe production and curriculum development, expanding education and training for all. The foundation supports culinary education for many communities through many channels, with a particular focus on workforce development in community based culinary training networks. At JWU, Rollie teaches culinary labs and academics in the College of Food Innovation and Technology (CFIT). He teaches at all levels offered, freshman through post-graduate and has developed courses and programs for CFIT that have broadened the scope of learning about food within the college, including “Cultivating Local Food Systems,” “Conscious Cuisine,” and “Shaping the Future of Food,” with a particular focus on sustainability issues within the food system. After 20 years of professional cooking experience, including stints at Michelin-starred restaurants in London and France, eight years in New York City, and as a banquet chef for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, chef Wesen joined the faculty at JWU in 2011. With his wife Claudine Pépin, and father-in-law, Jacques, he co-founded the JPF in 2016. He earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership in 2019. Rollie and Claudine live near Providence with their daughter Shorey, and rambunctious puppy, Bisous.