Stories / Impact

Introducing the 18 Leaders Uniting at Our 25th Chef Bootcamp

Yasmin Hariri

August 16, 2023


Spring 2023 Chef Bootcamp in Albuquerque, New Mexico (photo: Clay Williams)

This October, 18 chefs dedicated to advocacy, sustainability, and food system change will gather at Carnation Farms in Carnation, Washington for the 25th James Beard Foundation Chef Bootcamp for Policy and Change. For over a decade, this program has trained and inspired culinary leaders from across the country to mobilize in support of policy decisions that impact our food system. Participants in the October Bootcamp will focus their efforts on the next Farm Bill.

Read on to get to know our fall Bootcamp cohort!

Ashfer Biju
Baccarat Hotel, New York, NY

Ashfer Biju brings a worldly vision to his role overseeing food and beverage operations at Baccarat Hotel New York. Drawing inspiration from his family of restaurateurs in Kerala, India, Biju developed a passion for fresh seafood at an early age. He went on to complete management and culinary training programs in India and at the Culinary Institute of America, work for businesses around the world, and spent 12 years as the executive chef and food and beverage director at the Pierre Hotel in New York City.

Patrick Combs
Mountain Laurel Catering & Events, Harrisburg, PA

For over 25 years, Patrick Combs has cultivated his techniques and respect for the farm-to-table concept, gaining mention in Bon Appétit as an “unsung kitchen hero.” He led the kitchen at the Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana and developed the culinary program for Texas Ranch Life, a renowned working ranch in Chappell Hill, Texas. Upon returning to Central Pennsylvania in 2014, Combs and his wife, Sarah, established Mountain Lauren Catering & Events, where they continue to handcraft seasonal event menus for their clients.

Valerie Chang
Itamae, Miami, FL

Valerie Chang moved from Peru to the U.S. at age ten and grew up watching her dad cook at a sushi restaurant. After a few kitchen stints—including at Michael Solomonov’s Dizengoff—she became the chef of Itamae where she serves a Nikkei-inspired menu of Japanese–Peruvian dishes. Chang quickly garnered praise, earning an Eater Young Gun nomination, two James Beard Award semifinalist nods for Rising Star Chef, a nomination for Best Chef: South, and receiving a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2022. In March 2023, Chang and her family opened Maty’s in Midtown Miami, which features a modern take on traditional Peruvian comida criolla. Chang is an alum of JBF's Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program.

Sonya Coté
Hillside Farmacy, Austin, TX

Sonya Coté’s story begins in a coastal community in Rhode Island, where she grew up with a love of nature and cooking. She opened Hillside Farmacy, Store House Market & Eatery, Eden East Restaurant, and Eden East Farm in Austin—each farm-to-table concepts that reflect her passion for the outdoors and all things local. Coté is an alum of the JBF Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program who has also competed on Chopped and earned spots on Marie Claire’s “Women on Top” and Tribeza’s “People of the Year” lists.

Shanel DeWalt
Make Food Not Waste, Detroit, MI

Shanel DeWalt is an award-winning culinarian from the East Side of Detroit who currently serves as the culinary director for Make Food Not Waste, an upcycling kitchen in Detroit that rescues ingredients from farmers, grocery stores, and local food distributors to create meals for the community. DeWalt is the first African American female chef in residence at Kellogg Company and co-founder Break’N Cornbread, a cultural pop-up experience centered around the celebration of Black Food. She also runs Shanel Marie Concepts, inclusive of dinner parties, consulting, a seasoning line, and lifestyle brand. 

Evelyn Garcia
Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, New York, NY

A native of Newburgh, New York and a Culinary Institute of America graduate, Evelyn Garcia is now the teaching kitchen executive chef at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House. In this role, Garcia spearheads the translation of programs and materials for Spanish-speaking participants, supporting the award-winning program that has trained over 600 nonprofit staff from over 250 organizations and served 20 million meals annually. Garcia is also a board member of Common Ground Farm and a NYC Food Policy Center’s “Rising Star 40 Under 40” honoree.

Marissa Tapia Gencarelli 
Yoli Tortilleria, Kansas City, MO

Marissa Tapia Gencarelli is the co-founder of Yoli Tortilleria, the 2023 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Bakery, and co-owner of Art’s Molino & Market, a producer of premium Mexican products. Gencarelli draws inspiration from her childhood traveling from her hometown of Sonora, Mexico to Merida, and honors traditional processes in her work by sourcing local and seasonal Midwest ingredients. With a growing local footprint, Yoli Tortilleria and Art’s Molino & Market supply over 100 restaurants in Kansas City and can be found in grocery stores and specialty markets.

Lamar Moore
Bronzeville Winery, Chicago, IL

Born and raised in the South Side of Chicago, Lamar Moore grew up in a family that inspired his love of cooking and giving back. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu, Moore worked at McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants in San Jose, California. Over the years, he served as the sous chef for the Chicago Bears, worked on a series of restaurants as a chef and restaurateur, and even cooked for Super Bowls, NBA Finals, and Barack and Michelle Obama. Moore is now the chef and owner of Bronzeville Winery in Chicago. He is also an alum of the JBF TasteTwenty 2022-23 cohort.

Justin Pioche
Pioche Food Group, Upper Fruitland (Doolkai), Navajo Nation, NM

Justin Pioche is an Ashihii Dine' born for the Bit'ahnii people and the owner of the Pioche Food Group. From an early age, he was moved by his grandmother’s cooking and fresh produce from her garden and went on to graduate from the Arizona Culinary Institute. With a growing passion for his people's history, Pioche aims to learn as much as possible while developing his own style. To Pioche, Navajo food is more than survival food to him; it is the essence of healing, beauty, and humility. Pioche is a 2023 James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef: Southwest.

Jacqui Pressinger
American Culinary Federation, Jacksonville, FL

Jacqui Pressinger has spent 25 years in restaurant operations and leadership for hotels, bakeries, culinary education, and foodservice industry advocacy. She is currently the director of strategic partnerships at the American Culinary Federation's (ACF) national headquarters. Pressinger is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and Newbury College with degrees in culinary management and baking and has received professional pastry chef certifications from both ACF and the World Association of Chefs’ Societies. She is also a proud member of JBF's Women’s Leadership Programs Advisory Committee.

John Russ
Clementine, San Antonio, TX

New Orleans native John Russ credits his grandmother’s quenelles de brochet for expanding his culinary palate at an early age. After studying culinary arts at Delgado Community College, Russ worked in fine dining at the Ritz Carlton and Capella Group. In 2012, Russ and his wife, Elise, moved to San Antonio and began organizing pop-up dinners, which were so well-received that they started their own restaurant group in 2016. Russ is an advocate for change in food sourcing, sustainability, and industry support, and works alongside the National and Texas Restaurant Associations on immigration reform.

Amanda Saab
Amanda’s Plate, Dearborn Heights, MI

From an early age, Amanda Saab cultivated her love of cooking alongside her mother and grandmother. Saab became the first Hijab-wearing woman to appear on a national cooking show as a two-time contestant on MasterChef. In response to hate comments and Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims, Amanda founded Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor—a community dinner that has since expanded to five states. As a Soil2Service board member, Saab supports the Detroit Institute of Gastronomy Apprentice program and career advancement for women in the culinary industry. She is also a Tory Burch Foundation fellow and has earned several awards, including the Arab American Chamber of Commerce Rising Star award.

Stephani Sandoval-Kanawi
Compass Group, San Clemente, CA

Stephani Sandoval-Kanawi is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef with diverse professional experiences. Driven by her passion at the intersection of health, sustainability, and delicious food, Sandoval-Kanawi completed a Master of Science in food policy and applied nutrition at Tufts University and now serves as the director of global culinary projects for Compass Group at Google. In this role, she leads a council of senior chefs in the preparation and delivery of the organization’s food program. Most recently, Sandoval-Kanawi co-led the development of the industry training Plant-Forward Kitchen in tandem with Google and the Culinary Institiute of America.

Tonya Thomas
H3irloom Food Group, Baltimore, MD

Tonya Thomas is a chef and entrepreneur who has aimed to reclaim the narrative around African American cooking and soul food traditions, share its legacy, and be a part of its evolution for over 25 years. Alongside her husband, Thomas operated a catering company and several award-winning restaurants until stepping away in March 2020 to start H3irloom Food Group. Thomas plays a critical role in all of H3irloom’s culinary endeavors—which include catering, restaurant concepts, and a 68-acre farm—and is the principal of Nostalgia Baking Company. Her work extends beyond the kitchen with TasteWise Kids, an organization offering food education to children in Maryland. Thomas is an alum of JBF's Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program and the Legacy Network as an advisor.

Sophina Uong  
Mister Mao, New Orleans, LA  

As the executive chef and co-owner of Mister Mao, Sophina Uong melds her expertise in the collaborative cooking tradition with her creative dissection of the Southern plate to deliver “inauthentic” globally inspired cuisine. When Uong was just two years old, her family fled from war-torn Cambodia and found refuge in Long Beach, California. Uong went on to work in some of the Bay Area’s most acclaimed restaurants, win “Grill Master Napa Champion” on Food Network’s Chopped, and open Andrew Zimmern’s Lucky Cricket restaurant in Minneapolis. Uong is a JBF Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program alum.

K.N. Vinod
Indique, Washington, D.C.

K.N. Vinod co-owns restaurants Indique and Bombay Bistro and is the culinary director at RASA, an award-winning Indian fast-casual restaurant chain. After graduating from the Institute of Hotel Management in Madras, India, Vinod honed his craft in top hotels across the country. Upon moving to the U.S., Vinod continued his education at the Culinary Institute of America and made his national TV debut on Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay. Over the years, he has judged cooking competitions and regularly appeared in televised cooking demonstrations and earned acclaim for Indique in the Washington Post’s Fall Dining Guide and the Michelin Guide. He is also on the board of D.C. Central Kitchen and a member the Chef Network of José Andres’s World Central Kitchen.

Lawrence Weeks
North of Bourbon, Louisville, KY

Growing up in a Creole/Cajun household, Lawrence Weeks dedicated himself to cooking from an early age. He completed culinary school and began his career in 2010 under chef Todd Richards in Atlanta. Richards encouraged Weeks to find his roots in food, inspiring his move back to Kentucky to start LocalsOnly in Lexington, a Louisville-inspired pop-up focused on local people, products, and food. Next, he moved back to his hometown and became the executive chef of North of Bourbon, where he focuses on deep Southern cuisine with an emphasis on the connection between Louisville and New Orleans.

Patricio Wise
Nixtaco Mexican Kitchen & Distillery, Roseville, CA

Patricio Wise is a self-trained chef and entrepreneur born and raised in a large Mexican family in Monterrey, California. In 2015, he channeled this formative experience into the opening of Nixtaco Mexican Kitchen & Distillery, which showcases the food of his native Northeast Mexico. Wise creates everything in-house and from scratch—down to the sourcing, nixtamalization, and girding of the corn used to make masa for his award-winning tortillas—and even added a still to the restaurant’s operations to produce their own vodka and gin. Nixtaco has held a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand since 2021.

Learn more about the Chef Bootcamp for Policy and Change and sign up for our Industry Support Newsletter for updates on how to get involved with JBF’s advocacy efforts year-round.

Yasmin Hariri is branded content manager at the James Beard Foundation.