Chef Byron Penafiel, HOWM Cocina & Cocktails – New York, NY
Most recently Executive Chef of Gitano at the James Hotel in New York City, Chef Byron Penafiel inherited his passion for cooking from his mother and grandmother in his native Quito, Ecuador. Penafiel moved to New York City in 2004 and began his career at BLT Prime as a line cook, working his way up to Chef De Cuisine under Executive Chef and Partner, Laurent Tourondel. After four years at BLT, Penafiel moved on to a Sous Chef role at Stephen Starr’s Buddakan. He eventually would return back to BLT, working alongside his mentor Chef David Malbequi to open Rotisserie Georgette. Penafiel also later held the position of Chef De Cuisine at Le Bilboquet under Julien Jouhannaud.
As the Executive Chef of HOWM Cocina & Cocktails, the newly opened eatery at the Selina Chelsea, Penafiel has created a menu that allows him to reconnect with that familiar curiosity and creativity he felt in the kitchen in his youth, combining his technical knowledge from a French and Italian culinary background with Latin American inspiration. Rather than bread service, every meal starts with hot, crispy patacones (deep fried plantains), with chili salt and mango chutney. Highlights from the small plates include Pupusas con Curtido, Grilled Broccolino in Mole, Market Ceviche and Charred Octopus with jalapeño hummus. However, the large plates steal the show with Rotisserie Guava Glazed Chicken ala Brasa with Tomato Confit and Moho, Chaulafan Chicharrone (a fried black rice style dish with Chorizo, Squid and Pork Rinds in Salsa Verde) or the Dry Aged Churassco de Chimichurri (ribeye for two). Images here.
Julian Medina is chef-owner of Toloache, Coppelia, Tacuba Mexican Cantina, La Chula Taqueria, El Fish Shack, and Kuxé, and has been creating refined Mexican cuisine for over two decades. Growing up in Mexico City, Julian was inspired by his father’s and grandfather’s authentic home cooking. He decided to train professionally in Mexico City, before coming to New York City to enroll in the French Culinary Institute. Since 1999, Chef Medina has created numerous acclaimed food concepts around the five boroughs and has garnered accolades from the media, including The New York Times and The New Yorker, and various high-profile television shows. Chef Medina continues to open new restaurants throughout New York City, the latest of which – Kuxe – celebrates “Cocina de Pueblo,” or the “hometown cooking” of his fellow staff members. This Fall, Medina has two new openings underway including El Fish Shack UWS and a new outpost of Tacuba in Bayside, Queens. His business partner, restaurateur Louis Skibar, is Bolivian and has worked with Julian since the opening of Coppelia. Skibar started working at Old John’s in 1984, at the age of 16, after emigrating from Bolivia – it was his first and only job in New York. He started as a delivery boy and worked his way up to a short order cook during his six year tenure, before the restaurant was forced to close in its original location due to development on the block. Later on in his career, Skibar opened a number of his own restaurants, eventually forming Toloache Restaurant Group. After finding out that Old John’s closed due to the pandemic, Louis renegotiated the lease terms and resurrected the space, ensuring the legacy of a diner that is near and dear to his heart.
Lynnette Marrero, Bar Director, Llama San, NYC & Llama Inn, Bklyn Co-Founder, Speed Rack – New York, NY
Lynnette Marrero’s career began when she accepted a job at NYC’s Flatiron Lounge alongside cocktail savant Julie Reiner. Marrero quickly made the transition from cocktail-waitress to bartender and knew that the spirits industry was her true calling. She quickly moved from Senior Bartender at Freemans to consulting and co-designing the bar program for Elettaria in Manhattan’s West Village. There she worked closely with the chef to create an award-winning cocktail menu. After shadowing Zacapa Rum Master Blender in Guatemala and working as a Rum Ambassador for Diageo for two years, she returned and created her own company Drinksat6, cultivating a new generation of cocktail bartenders and elevating the bar at restaurants.
In 2015, Marrero opened and is now the Bar Director at Brooklyn hotspot The Llama Inn and the newly opened Llama San, which just received a glowing three-star review from The New York Times. Marrero won Time Out Eat Out Awards for Best New Cocktail Bar and Best Bar Restaurant Hybrid for her work as beverage Director at Rye House. Marrero has also been honored by the James Beard Awards as one of America’s Leading Female Mixologists 2009, named Food & Wine and Fortune Magazine’s Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink in 2015, and Wine Enthusiasts’ Mixologist of the Year in 2016. In July 2019, Marrero received the Tales of the Cocktails’ Spirited Awards World’s Best Bar Mentors and the inaugural Philanthropy Award with Co-Founder Ivy Mix for their work in Speed Rack. She also placed in the inaugural Drinks International Bar World 100. Other notable projects Marrero has worked on include: creating the bar program for Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream, being the National Brand Mixologist for Perrier Sparkling Water and San Pellegrino Sparkling Fruit Beverages, and working with Zacapa Rum team as their trade educator and mixologist. Marrero launched the Masterclass.com Mixology platform in March 2020. Image here, credit to Eric Medsker.
Nicole Marquis, founder of growing hospitality group HipCityVeg
HipCityVeg was created by Latina Philadelphia plant-based powerhouse Nicole Marquis in 2012, as a 100% plant-based, fast-casual restaurant serving updated American Classics. HipCityVeg takes familiar concepts, such as burgers, fries, nuggets, and shakes, and turns them into equally craveable vegan options, making it easier to have one less animal-based meal a day. To be kinder to the earth, HipCityVeg employs sustainable practices, including using 100% compostable packaging. HipCityVeg currently operates 7 locations in the Philadelphia area, and two in Washington, DC, with the growing brand’s first expansion to New York this fall, with a flagship location in Union Square, and delivery-only locations in Brooklyn and Queens. By February, the independent, woman-led, vegan fast casual chain will have more than doubled its current number of stores to 15 across the MidAtlantic region.
Building the next ‘Shake Shack of Plant-Based foods’ from the ground-up, Marquis is hoping to make vegan cuisine more accessible through her fast-casual locations and ‘go kitchens.’ “No matter where people enjoy plant-based foods, whether it’s at HipCityVeg or wherever is most convenient for them, it’s so important for all of our futures to have affordable, convenient and delicious ways to do so. Plant based is the future and now is the moment,” Marquis said. Image here.
Born in Costa Rica, Chef Byron Gomez migrated to the United States when he was 8 years old and is a proud DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient. His interest in culinary arts started at a young age and after several years cooking on Long Island, he set his sights on New York City. With a mission to learn from some of the country’s best, and learn various cultures through cuisine, he honed his skills under culinary luminaries like Daniel Boulud, Ronny Emborg, Gavin Kaysen, and Daniel Humm.
While working at Eleven Madison Park, named the World’s Best Restaurant in 2017, Chef Byron traveled with the restaurant’s pop-up experiences to the Hamptons and Aspen. After spending the winter in the Rocky Mountains resort town, he decided to plant roots and joined the team at 7908 Aspen in 2019. There, his refined, globally-inspired menu is paired with a world-class wine and bar program.
Chef Byron competed on Season 18 of Bravo’s Top Chef shot during the pandemic in Portland, OR. On his days off you can find him enjoying all the outdoor adventure sports, ranging from road biking to snowboarding, that colorful Colorado has to offer. Images here.
After cooking with internationally-acclaimed Chef Gastón Acurio for more than two decades, Victoriano Lopez joined the La Mar San Francisco team as a Corporate Executive Chef in September 2015. Born and raised in the Ancash region of Peru, Lopez first joined the Acurio Restaurantes Group in 1995 at Lima’s Astrid & Gaston—which was ranked 14th on San Pellegrino’s 2015 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. By 2000, he began working with Acurio to expand his restaurant empire internationally, opening La Mar Cebicherías in Mexico City, Madrid, and San Francisco as well as Peruvian-inspired Tanta concepts across the country. Although Lopez now considers the west coast home, he is dedicated to sharing the traditions and cultures of his native country by serving authentic Peruvian cuisine in an approachable, casual, and colorful waterfront setting. With Lopez’s innate creativity at the foundation of every plate, his menu focuses on dishes iconic to Peru, such as the country’s most famous dish of cebiche, in addition to a number of lesser-known plates that highlight Peru’s multiculturalism and biodiversities.
In 2021, the Acurio group opened Jaranita, a Peruvian rotisserie restaurant, in San Francisco’s bustling Marina District. Jaranita is a new concept that highlights the authentic flavors of Peru and the variety of ethnic cultures that have influenced the cuisine. Jarana” translates to a spontaneous colorful street celebration in Peru. The restaurant features traditional, authentic dishes showcasing rotisserie free-range, pasture-raised chickens rubbed with Peruvian spices and slow-roasted cooked meats roasted over a custom charcoal grill, while highlighting the classic dishes that have put Peruvian cuisine on the world map. Images here.
Celebrity Chef Lorena Garcia, Executive Chef Partner of CHICA
Conceptualized by 50 Eggs Hospitality Group in collaboration with celebrity chef partner, Lorena Garcia, CHICA is a celebration of vibrant Latin flavors and culture that reveres the robust and dynamic savors of Latin American cuisine alongside inventive cocktails, served within an upbeat musically charged environment. CHICA made its initial debut in 2017 inside of The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas and followed with a second location outpost in Miami’s historic MiMo District in 2019. CHICA embodies the vivacity and rich spirit of Latin fare and heritage in all its characteristic color, depth of flavors, and unapologetic pursuit of fun and revelry. The menu features influences from Garcia’s hometown in Venezuela, as well as that of Peru, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, among others. Drawing inspiration from classic renditions of authentic pan-Latin recipes, from the hearty wood-grilled steaks to the freshly prepared ceviche and seafood delicacies, Garcia meticulously reimagines each and every dish in her own distinct global style.
Lena Enriquez, Partner, Cult Santa Monica – Santa Monica, CA
Lena aka Lenitas Enriquez is the head of Cult Coffee’s Coffee program. 24 years young, Lena started her first coffee job at the age of 17 and fell in love right away. From Peet’s, to Superba, to the famous Menotti’s in Venice, Lena wanted to learn and understand everything there was to know about coffee. Now at Cult Coffee, Lena is a partner and for the first time she is making the program her own. At Cult, Lena works with Sey coffee from Brooklyn, in her eyes one of the best roasters out there. Lena visited Sey in Brooklyn and fell in love with their ethos and coffee, never thinking she’d have the opportunity to work with them. Now, Cult is one of the few spots on the West Coast who carries their beans, with people specifically seeking it out! Lena is excited to have a third wave coffee program in an area of Santa Monica that doesn’t have it. Lena is passionate about making beautiful and delicious coffee, one pour at a time. She is dedicated to making strong connections amongst the communities she serves. She’s all about inclusivity, curiosity, and creativity, specifically wanting to bring more Latina representation to the underrepresented coffee community. Her coffee is creative, utilizing all house-made syrups and playing with flavors that are different than what you’d expect. Lena makes it a point to be known that she pours her heart into what she does, and arrives at the coffee bar with an eclectic approach. Image here
Brad Long, Executive Chef, Tallula’s – Santa Monica, CA
A Long Beach native, Brad joined the Tallula’s (co-owned by acclaimed Chef/Partner Jeremy Fox & part of the Rustic Canyon Family) team in October 2020 after years of cooking along the Southeastern seaboard at acclaimed spots, such as Charleston’s Husk and New Orleans’ Shaya and The Ace Hotel. Brad’s grandmother was born in the state of Chihuahua and grew up in Watts, so his mother helped maintain the family’s connection to their heritage through cooking. Her dishes were simple, yet soulful, with Brad’s favorites being her albondigas and chorizo & potatoes, the latter of which he’s jazzed up for a weekend brunch dish at Tallula’s, crisping up fingerling potatoes from Weiser Family Farms and tossing in housemade chorizo with sunny eggs, herbs and corn tortillas featuring fresh, housemade masa from Masienda’s heirloom, organic & GMO-free corn. At this beachside Mexican spot, Brad specializes in seasonal, market-driven cuisine, featuring produce from the nearby Santa Monica Farmers’ Market and other farmers, ranchers and fishers with planet-friendly practices. He doesn’t do traditional Mexican food per se, as he likes to showcase ingredients and techniques from Southern California, Charleston and New Orleans. As a Mexican-American chef, he loves having the freedom to weave all these different experiences and influences into his food, such as Beer Battered Rock Cod tacos with housemade curtido, aged habanada crema & lime inspired by post-fishing trip visits to Redondo Beach’s Quality Seafood; a Mexican variation on tomatoes & burrata featuring Tomatoes & Tomatillos with whipped queso fresco, chile morita oil, Koda Farms black barley & basil; and a Mexican-inspired riff on the Southern brunchtime staple shrimp & grits with his Shrimp & Masa Polenta featuring housemade mushroom chorizo, shishito & poached egg. Images here
Chef Elia Aboumrad, Chef Partner Boom Bang Fine Foods & Cocktails – Las Vegas, NV
Born in Mexico City, Mexico, Chef Elia Aboumrad trained at Ecole Lenôtre in Paris, France where she earned the honor of Le Cordon Bleu’s Grand Diplôme and became the first student to complete the culinary degrees for every additional course offered at the school, which totals out to 34. After her studies, Aboumrad went on to work under Joël Robuchon in Paris and later became his first female sous chef. When the time came, Robuchon entrusted Elia to open his restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Years later she was recruited as executive chef of The Café at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay, and The Hotel garnered their fourth AAA Diamond under her regime. In the midst of her culinary career, Elia appeared on season two of Top Chef on Bravo and made it to the final four contestants of the competition. She also later competed as a contestant on Top Chef: All Stars in 2010. In 2009, she was awarded the internationally recognized ‘Universal Excellency Award’ for her dedication to the culinary arts. In 2012, alongside Uyen Nguyen, Elia opened GORGE in West Hollywood on the famous Sunset Strip. Specializing in fine wines and charcuterie, the spot became quickly adored by critics and the neighborhood alike. Since GORGE, the renowned chef and counterpart to her husband, Chef Christian Page, took on the sweeter side of Cassell’s Hamburgers upon its opening in late 2014 as its Pastry Chef. She since has opened each location with devotion to the brand and anticipation for what the future beholds for Cassell’s.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Elia and Christian decided to make a change. In addition to moving back to Las Vegas and setting up a homebase in the Las Vegas adjacent Henderson, the two started really thinking about a concept they had been kicking around where they could work together and create something of their own. In fall of 2021, Chef Elia and Christian together with partner and long-time friend Tony Angotti will open Boom Bang Fine Foods and Cocktails – a neighborhood-centric restaurant and bar that draws on their backgrounds – Elia’s in French fine dining and Christian’s in high-quality Americana – to create a unique concept that has elements of the American diner and deli as well as the French bistro and bakery. Images here
Melina Meza is currently the Beverage Director at West Hollywood restaurants Olivetta and issima. Originally from Los Angeles, Meza moved to San Francisco to complete her college education and it was there she found her love for hospitality and dove head first into the craft cocktail scene. In 2016, she founded Last Call Consulting, which specialized in curating cocktail menus and beverage programs, staff + spirits training, private events and bar concept development. Meza is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and proponent of diversity, equity + inclusion through the bar community, as well as a member of the Board of Directors for the US Bartenders Guild Los Angeles chapter with a focus on health and wellness in hospitality.
This summer, Marissa and Matt Hermer of Boujis Group (The Draycott, Olivetta) debut their newest concept, issima, at the La Peer Hotel in the lively West Hollywood neighborhood. With an expansive indoor dining room, poolside tables and private rooftop lounge, issima serves as the La Peer’s marquee restaurant and an ode to the estival culture of European beach holidays.
issima –– derivative of the term, “bellissima” –– evokes the style, energy and flavors of the Mediterranean coastline. The menu, overseen by acclaimed chef Michael Fiorelli, features his signature wood-fired dishes with Spanish and Italian inflections complemented by unabashed cocktails from beverage director Mel Meza. Diners can enjoy starters like Pan Con Tomate, Acorn-Fed Iberian “Cinco Jotas” Jamón and Grilled Swordfish Skewers with arugula pesto, as well as housemade pastas and mains from the wood oven such as Grilled Maine Lobster with seaweed butter, Lamb T-Bones with smoked chili romesco and a Mesquite charcoal steak program. Highlights from Meza’s craft cocktail program showcase peak-season ingredients and flavor combinations reminiscent of the Hermers’ ideal coastal European haunts.
Led by a team well-versed in vivacious dining and nightlife, the Hermers open issima for dinner, with weekend brunch to follow. The bustling restaurant and bar is also a premier location for late night dining and debauchery.
Yasmin studied Culinary Arts at the Illinois Institute of Art, and quickly realized her passion was in pastry. Looking to gain more experience, she became an intern at the Bittersweet Bakery on the north side of Chicago where she perfected her cookie decorating techniques and learned about traditional, American pastries. In 2005, Yasmin joined Lettuce Entertain You as a pastry cook at Foodlife in Water Tower Place while also finishing school. Just two years later, Yasmin was promoted to pastry chef, where she also oversaw the pastry programs at both Mity Nice Bar & Grill and Foodease. In 2010, Yasmin furthered her education and pastry knowledge by attending The French Pastry School. Three years later, Yasmin led the pastry team in the opening of Beatrix River North. She was instrumental in developing the bakery program and menu. In 2015, she was promoted to Executive Pastry Chef and three years later was named Partner. Yasmin now oversees the pastry program at all four Beatrix locations, Beatrix Market and is instrumental with the dessert program at Lettuce Entertain You’s Aba and Ema. Her specialties include cupcake and cookie creation and design, coffee cakes and birthday cakes. Outside of the bakery, Yasmin enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and playing soccer.Images here.
Joe Papach – Co-Owner/Executive Chef, The Harvey House – Madison, Wisconsin
Joe’s passion for cooking was first piqued by helping his grandmother Lupita prepare classic Mexican dishes like tamales from scratch. After graduating from Johnson & Wales, he cooked at a number of esteemed establishments in Providence, Boston, and Chicago before assuming a position at the iconic Gramercy Tavern in New York City, where he and Shaina met. After relocating to San Francisco, Joe helped to run the kitchen at both of Michael Tusk’s Michelin-Starred restaurants, Quince and Cotogna, before moving to Yountville where he spent six years as sous chef at The French Laundry.
Hidden behind Madison’s Historic Train Depot, The Harvey House is a celebration of Wisconsin’s iconic supper clubs. Brought back to life by Midwest natives Shaina and Joe Papach, the old Baggage Claim House of Madison’s former train station is now home to a stunning renovation where the history, culture and cuisine of the 19th century collides with modern design and culinary inspiration. The Harvey House is a celebration of American cuisine, embracing the comforting fare and nostalgic feeling of a traditional Midwestern supper club, while adding its own modern twist. The menu is rooted in refined renditions of continental favorites, inspired by local seasonal ingredients and flavors of the region. Image here, Credit: Nicole Franzen
Chef Susana Trilling, Seasons of My Heart Cooking School – Oaxaca, Mexico
Since 1988, Chef Susana Trilling, directora of Seasons of My Heart Cooking School has lived in Oaxaca, where her two sons were born and raised. Over the years, Susana has become deeply immersed in the local Oaxacan community and culture. She is thrilled to celebrate and share the local culinary traditions and farmers’ sustainable agricultural efforts through her 22-year-old cooking school. In 1993, Susana wrote My Search for the Seventh Mole, a cover story for Chile Pepper Magazine that became her first published book now in its fifth printing. In 1999, she published her second book, Seasons of My Heart, A Culinary Journey through Oaxaca, Mexico (Ballantine Books), and hosted a 13-part TV series for PBS by the same name. In 2016, Susana published Milpa: From Seed to Salsa, written in collaboration with the Centro de Desarrollo Integral Campesino de la Mixteca (CEDICAM) and others about rural Mixteca Alta farmers’ sustainability projects and system of growing organically.
Seasons of My Heart Cooking School, located in Oaxaca, Mexico, is owned and operated by cookbook author and chef Susana Trilling. What started as a humble bed & breakfast almost 30 years ago is now an expansive property that includes “the temple of good food,” a beautiful domed kitchen and dining area built in 1999. Although Susana has explored many different types of cooking in her 40+ years of being a chef, la cocina Mexicana is the closest to her heart. Growing up, Susana’s grandmother ran a fonda (restaurant) in San Antonio, Texas, and Susana still remembers her handmade flour tortillas, crispy corn chalupa shells stuffed with pinto beans, and delicious tamales. Over the years, Susana has spent decades in Oaxaca learning local and pre-Hispanic recipes and techniques, and through the school, she continues to hand down these recipes and traditions to her students and the many professional chefs who attend. Seasons of My Heart offers a wide variety of in-person experiences to learn about Oaxacan cuisine. They include full- or half-day private and group cooking lessons, market tours, cooking demos with the local home cooks and artisans, or multiple-day (lodging included) themed cooking courses. Also popular are Susana’s virtual offerings, with a selection of live sessions held over Zoom and a pre-taped cooking series to enjoy at your own pace. In addition, she leads global culinary tours to destinations in Spain, Italy, and other regions of Mexico.Images here
Alba Huerta, Owner, Julep – Houston, TX
Alba Huerta is an award-winning bartender, author, host, brand ambassador, and cocktail educator. Her debut cocktail book, Julep, is named after her flagship bar in Houston, and received an IACP award in the Wine, Beer and Spirits Category. Born in Mexico and raised in Texas, Alba is a proud Mexican-American and Houstonian who boasts a venerable bar pedigree which began in Las Vegas and has taken her around the world to hone her craft and back to her home in Houston. Alba worked alongside the Anvil Bar and Refuge Team, helped to launch the U.S. Bartender’s Guild as the Chapter President, and created a best-in-class Mezcaleria called The Pastry War before opening her bar, Julep. Julep was named one of the Top Five Bars in the U.S. by Bon Appetit and was recognized by Esquire as one of the Best Bars in America. It was also a finalist for Best American Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards. Thrillist selected Alba as one of the Best Bartenders in America. She was inducted to the Tales of the Cocktail Dame Hall of Fame, named Imbibe’s Bartender of the year, and was one of the Houston Chronicle’s 50 Most Fascinating People. Cherry Bombe included her in the Cherry Bombe 100, and Food & Wine selected her as a rising-star female mixologist.
In 2021, Alba joined the Williams Sonoma Chefs’ Collective and hosts the Williams Sonoma Virtual Beverage Academy, where customers from across the world gather to learn to maximize their at-home bartender skills. Above all, Alba is known for bringing her passion for quality wine, spirits and cocktails and her Southern hospitality to her bars, her industry, and her fans across the world.