Nov 16 - 18, 2023
Speakers, Experts & Headliners
Meijer Research & Development Chef
AJ has been working in the food industry for over two decades. From roles in private kitchens and restaurants to culinary competitions, product development, and manufacturing, food has always been a focal point for gathering and creating memories with and for guests from all walks of life.
Founder of Experience Beer
Ben Darcie is a veteran beer educator, promoter, and brewery representative for Short’s Brewing Company. He is the Founder of Experience Beer, public and private beer education, and a homebrewer of 23 years.
TV Personality and Author of Meals from the Mitten
Gina Ferwerda is a recipe developer, food blogger, resort business owner, and photographer. Her food blog, Nom News, has been featured by The Chew, The Rachel Ray Show, and The Today Show Food Club, and she has appeared on Good Morning America. She lives in Silver Lake, Michigan.
In Meals from the Mitten: Celebrating the Seasons in Michigan, popular TV personality, travel/food blogger and business entrepreneur Gina Ferwerda shares her love of cooking, photography and adventurous lake life along the shores of Lake Michigan. From a summer charcuterie picnic with fresh vegetables overlooking Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes to Muffler Meatballs cooked on a snowmobile in a winter wonderland, Ferwerda inspires readers to get out of the kitchen and embrace the freshness of each season—which is exactly what Michigan food is all about. Ferwerda, a TODAY show food contributor who has also been featured by Good Morning America and ABC’s The Chew, showcases her passion for the Mitten state in every delicious bite of the 80-plus dishes featured in her debut cookbook, all perfectly designed for the home cook.
Chef Jeff Brandon
Corporate Chef at Superior Foods
Chef Jeff Brandon began his cooking journey in 1990 in Mt. Pleasant Michigan working for the LaBelle Restaurant group while attending CMU as a music major. Finding himself “skipping class” to pick up shifts at the restaurant Jeff decided to change his major and his life. He and his wife Amy moved to Grand Rapids where he attended and graduated GRCC (now the Secchia Institute), graduating in 1994 with an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts. He spent the next 13 years “Chef-ing” at various Catering and Restaurant operations in the Grand Rapids area, including the Scheldes Restaurant Group, Executive Chef for the Fredrick Meijer Gardens and Railside Country Club. As his family started to grow Jeff made the switch to the Food Distribution side of the business and took a job with Superior Foods in 2007 as their Corporate Chef. Jeff enjoys consulting with customers and helping people problem solve in their operations.
Chef Genevieve Vang, Jessica Ann Tyson
Chef Genevieve Vang – Bangkok 96 Street Food
Chef Genevieve is an accomplished expert in Thai and Hmong cuisine who has won numerous accolades for her culinary skills and dynamic style of cooking. Both of her award-winning restaurants, Bangkok 96 and Bangkok 96 Street Food, are consistently voted #1 Thai restaurants in Metro Detroit. In fact, her commitment to healthy, innovative and high-quality foods has brought her recognition as a 2019 James Beard Award semi-finalist nominee and the 2019 Best Chef by Eater Detroit. In her spare time, she enjoys doing R&D in her test kitchen. Chef Genevieve also prepared a Hollywood feast for the legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood in the movie Gran Torino.
A refugee from Thailand during the Vietnam War, Genevieve fled with her family to Paris and then moved to the US and settled in Detroit. To spread the message of hope and beauty to the rest of the world, in 2011, Chef Genevieve created a gluten free frozen food line called Thai Feast to show the world how significant Thai cuisine has been to Genevieve’s life. Recently, she created new vegan, allergen-free Asian broth and sauce powders that are easy to use by adding water. Thai Feast products can be found at Meijer’s Southeast Michigan locations in November.
In 2016, Genevieve appeared as a contestant on the Food Network’s show, Clash of the Grandmas. Her new restaurant, Bangkok 96 Street Food, is located in Midtown Detroit inside the Detroit Shipping Company, where Genevieve combines traditional recipes with local ingredients for everyone to enjoy.
Jessica Ann Tyson – Owner of The Candied Yam – Delightful Southern Cuisine
Jessica Ann Tyson is a multi-business owner of the extremely popular award-winning restaurant, The Candied Yam – Delightful Southern Cuisine. She opened The Candied Yam to highlight and provide foodies with an opportunity to eat the type of soul food cuisine that was made well known by her ancestors as they made meals from scratch with nothing but scraps. The Candied Yam is listed as one of the Top 50 Restaurants to eat at in Grand Rapids and was recently awarded The Retail Business of the Year!
Hannah Awada, Karen Akouri
Hannah Awada – Owner of Hummus Goodness
Hannah Awada is a 5th generation Lebanese American who started a little hummus company out of her kitchen window in Shanghai, China. When she moved to Michigan in 2018 she had no intention of restarting her business here but after taking hummus to a party she was encouraged by neighbors and friends to start what today is known as Hummus Goodness. In April of 2019, Hannah sold her first container of hummus focusing on ingredients that her mom put in her hummus when she was a child. From Day 1, the focus has been on clean ingredients that we all trust like Olive Oil, Fresh lemon juice, and cloves of garlic. Today Hummus Goodness is available in over 300 Specialty Stores in the Midwest and Northeast as well as Meijer Super Centers.
Karen Akouri – Owner of drench
Karen Akouri is the visionary founder behind drench, a brand celebrated for its exceptional clean dressings and marinades. Her journey to culinary excellence grabbed the attention of Taryn Asher, a Fox 2 correspondent, who featured Karen’s inspiring story during the launch of drench.
drench was a revelation that struck Karen while preparing what she believed was a healthy salad for her family. Upon scrutinizing the store-bought dressing’s label, she was taken aback by a list of chemicals she couldn’t pronounce, including disodium inosinate, polysorbate 60, and even titanium dioxide, which is a whitening agent used in industrial paint. Her commitment to transparency and clean eating drove her to create her own dressings, firmly believing that if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, you shouldn’t eat it! Karen’s dedication led her to source only the finest ingredients, such as premium olive oil and avocado oil, while steadfastly avoiding inflammatory soybean and canola oil. Her unwavering commitment to purity means that drench products never contain artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or emulsifiers.
What truly sets drench apart is its appeal to those with dietary restrictions and food allergies as drench is gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free, fish-free, and non-GMO project certification. drench, award-winning dressings, transcend mere condiments. They are so delicious that they’re good enough to drink! Widely accessible, drench can be found in all 262 Meijer stores and is available in over 2,000 stores across 37 states. Karen’s creation, drench, is revolutionizing the world of dressings!
Jamiel Robinson, Jonathan Jelks
Jamiel Robinson – Motu Viget Spirits
Jamiel Robinson is an accomplished serial entrepreneur and a visionary leader who is passionate about small businesses, economic empowerment, and equity in the community. Jamiel is co-owner of Motu Viget Spirits, a premium wine and spirits company that produces world-class beverages. Jamiel has co-founded several popular establishments, including Motu Lakeshore Wine Bar and Prohibition Cocktail Bar in Downtown Muskegon, and Sip Coffee & Cocktail in Alger Heights. Jamiel is also the managing partner of Isle Construction, a construction management and consulting firm. Jamiel’s impressive work has earned him numerous accolades and recognitions. He has been featured in prominent publications like Crain’s Detroit, The Guardian, Grand Rapids Business Journal, Grand Rapids Press, and Grand Rapids Magazine.
Jonathan Jelks – Motu Viget Spirits
Jonathan Jelks is a millennial generation serial entrepreneur from southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a co-founder & a partner in a diverse portfolio that spans different industries that range from hospitality to tech. Some of those ventures include Sip Coffee & Cocktails, The Botanical Co. Dispensary (Middleville), Motu Lakeshore Wine Bar, Prohibition Bar & Cocktail Lounge, Fields Cannary, Motu Viget Spirits, GR USA Apparel Company, Radi8er streaming platform. Jelks is also co-founder of The Midwest Tech Project an organization dedicated to diversifying West Michigan’s tech talent pipeline. Recently he has ventured into the film industry joining in as one of the executive producers on an upcoming documentary ‘I Too Sing America’: Langston Hughes Unfurled, a biopic of the great Harlem Renaissance poet & playwright. It is Jonathan’s belief that when entrepreneurship and ownership is executed correctly it is a tool for empowerment, enlightenment, and community building.
President and co-founder of TASTERS GUILD, INTERNATIONAL a consumer/trade-based Food and Wine Appreciation Society with offices in Florida, Washington, D.C. and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Joe is a Certified Retail Marketing and Media Consultant for the Food Service and Wine Industries, owner of BORRELLO MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Clients included: Martini & Rossi, Michigan Dept. of Agriculture, Meijer Food Stores, St. Julian Winery, D&W Fresh Markets, Amway Grand Plaza Hotel restaurants, Crystal Mountain Resort, River City Food Company, WGVU-TV Public Broadcasting and the Annual International Wine, Beer and Food Festival in Grand Rapids, MI.
Master Sommelier, Wine Educator
After graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in Economics, Jonathan Pullis moved to St. John USVI where he fell in love with the Hospitality Industry. After 2 years in the Caribbean, he was blown out by Hurricane Marilyn. Upon returning to Vermont. he helped open The Pitcher Inn and was introduced to the Relais & Chateau network. That affiliation took him to New Mexico and then to Aspen where he joined The Little Nell team as a server.
In 2001 he joined the Wine team as a Sommelier and in 2008 was promoted to Wine Director, overseeing a Grand Award Wine List. In 2009 he earned the prestigious Master Sommelier diploma. After 15 years at The Little Nell, Jonathan was named CEO of Chef’s Club, a collaboration with Food & Wine magazine, with locations in Aspen and SoHo. Jonathan is currently the Wine Director of Madame Ushi in Aspen.
Jonathan also sits on the distinguished Board of Master Sommeliers at Wine Chips. Each of its board members brings an unparalleled depth of expertise to the world of wine and snack pairing. Among these luminaries, Jonathan stands out as a key member, occupying a pivotal role in flavor formulation and the wine pairing experience. With his remarkable knowledge and finely tuned palate, Jonathan is dedicated to the Wine Chips mission to craft the perfect snack for wine lovers around the world.
When he is not eating and drinking, he enjoys all that Aspen has to offer with his wife Rebekah and sons Charlie and Oliver.
Jonathan I. Strietzel, Vincent Morrow
Jonathan I. Strietzel – Founder of Wine Chips
Jonathan I. Strietzel is an American entrepreneur and inventor, known as the founder of Wine Chips. Over the past 16 years, he has collaborated with intelligent, creative, and technical individuals, with the objective of incubating and developing innovative businesses. Currently, Jonathan is deeply involved in Wine Chips, Inc which aims to infuse couture into potato chips with its rapidly expanding line of gourmet potato chips designed to complement wine. Wine Chips currently offers delectable selections in three flavor categories: Cheese, Charcuterie, and Gourmet Salts. The company, now based in Michigan, has assembled an impressive roster of executive talent and established “The Wine Chips Board of Master Sommeliers,” which includes four Master Sommeliers along with luminaries from the wine and food industry.
Wine Chips unveiled its initial prototypes in early 2019 and officially introduced Wine Chips to the public at the LA Winefest in Long Beach, CA, where demand outstripped supply, resulting in a substantial waiting list. Subsequently, Wine Chips received a surge of inquiries from specialty stores, wineries, and other retailers. Today, Wine Chips can be found in over 3,500 wineries, wine-tasting rooms, specialty liquor and food stores, luxury retail establishments, luxury hotels, and more. “The goal here is to create something distinctive, something exceptional that pushes the boundaries of food, wine, and their integration with our ever-expanding technological world.”
Vincent Morrow – Master Sommelier, Chairperson of the Diversity Committee on the Court of Master Sommeliers
Vincent Morrow has earned a long list of accolades – In 2022 alone, he was named the Michelin Guide California’s Sommelier of the Year, VinePair’s Next Wave Sommelier of the Year, and the Iconoclast Dinner Experience Wine Honoree. Vincent has been shepherding the largest collection of Napa Valley wines in the world as Wine Director at PRESS Restaurant, helping the wine program earn the World of Fine Wine’s Global Award for Best Regional Wine List in 2023, and the Wine Spectator Grand Award 2023, a noteworthy recognition as PRESS is only one of two restaurants in the world to receive this distinction for a regionally focused wine list.
A Master Sommelier before the age of 31, he studied for the exam while working as a sommelier at two Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurants concurrently – one-starred Gary Danko and three-starred Benu. His résumé also includes opening ONE65 in San Francisco and Chef Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Yountville.
Vincent’s long-term goal, is to expand the diversity of the wine industry, increase access to wine education and mentorship, and to help elevate underrepresented wine professionals. As Chairperson of the Diversity Committee of the Court of Master Sommeliers, he has been a member of a leadership team that has inspired industry change both internally in the organization and externally in the wine & hospitality industries.
Vincent also sits on the Board of Master Sommeliers at Wine Chips where he plays a pivotal role in flavor formulation and the wine pairing experience. Vincent is working on the launch of the Wine Chips Private Reserve Club that will offer exclusive Wine Chip flavors and Wine Pairings to its members.
Owner, Black Spirits Legacy
Serial Entrepreneur and Chief Executive Officer of Black Spirits Legacy / Michigan Black Spirits. Lazar will be presenting two spirit focused Tasting Sessions titled “Exploring Michigan Black Spirits”.
Levi Knoll, John “Gonzo” Gonzalez
Levi Knoll – Co-owner of Archival Brewing
Archival’s beginnings are anchored strongly in West Michigan as the owner, Levi, grew up in Spring Lake and his wife, Callee, in Grand Rapids. Both are passionate about all things beer, food, and travel.
Before meeting, they each traveled while cooking professionally in Alaska, Chicago, and Scotland. Throughout these ventures, they deepened their love for culinary and eventually met while attending GRCC’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education. Meanwhile, Levi started gaining experience in the craft brewing industry both at home, brewing small batches in his garage, and working at several GR breweries. After graduating from GRCC and 5 months later tying the knot, they decided to take the next step in making Levi’s decades long dream a reality and start planning their own brewery-restaurant.
Upon discovering an untapped market for historic-style beer in West Michigan, Levi began educating himself in ancient styles. Fusing this with a love for community, he and Callee began searching for a perfect place to call Archival “home.” With roots in West Michigan, they felt Plainfield Township, specifically the old Grand Isle Golf Course, was the ideal location to create a welcoming space close to the heart of Grand Rapids while also providing ample room to share a meal and a drink surrounded by natural beauty. Archival is a culmination of years of culinary exploration and a thirst for going back to brewing origins.
John “Gonzo” Gonzalez – “Behind the Mitten”
John “Gonzo” Gonzalez is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience. Over the last decade, he has traveled the state of Michigan seeking out the tastiest pizza, burgers, tacos, BBQ and more, as well as sampling Michigan’s favorite breweries, distilleries, and wineries. He has never met an IPA he didn’t like. Currently, he co-hosts “Behind the Mitten” with Amy Sherman, a travel radio show and podcast on more than 13 stations across Michigan. He’s a native of Capac, Michigan, and member of the Central Michigan University Journalism Hall of Fame. Follow him on Social Media @MichiganGonzo.
Nate boasts an eclectic career in the beverage business. He was the co-founder of the Original Tin Cup Co., a Michigan-based drinkware company, and is an investor in Saint Liberty Whiskey, a craft distillery that honors women bootleggers from the Prohibition era.
Nate’s group, DrinkGR, worked to champion the re-launch of the hospitality sector out of the pandemic through the expansion of the city’s social zones and refreshment districts, as well as celebrating local restaurants, bars, breweries, and distilleries in and around West MI.
Additionally, Nate is a social media personality and creator of the “Cocktail and Conversation” and “Drink With Nate” blog pages, as well as a regular contributor to CBS, FOX, iHeart Radio, NBC, and Today.
Nicole Roché Triplett
The Roché Collection
She keeps everything bottled up. Because she’s a winemaker.
As the first Black female winemaker in Michigan, Nicole Roché Triplett started her wine production business out of her home four years ago, slowly introducing the Roché Collection to wine lovers and novices alike. While it’s been challenging to be taken seriously in an industry where most are male and do not look like her, her relationship-building, persistence, and craftsmanship have enabled her wine brand to continually expand its footprint across the region.
Nicole saw her passion for entertaining as an opportunity to create new traditions for her culture and build upon the footprints of the women before her. Thus Twine Urban Winery was born. Located in Kalamazoo’s Washington Square neighborhood, this urban twist on the traditional wine-tasting room offers an accessible, judgment-free space where people can come together and enjoy Michigan-made wine in an approachable fashion.
Yet the reason she’s a driver for change in her community and a toast of the town doesn’t stop there. A dedicated psychologist who has provided counseling services to children, adolescents, adults, and families since 2012, Nicole R. Triplett is also the founder of Black Wall Street Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Black Business Expo.
Author, Editor for Food & Wine
Ray Isle is the longtime executive wine editor for Food & Wine, as well as the wine and spirits editor for Travel + Leisure. His writing has also appeared in Departures, Wine & Spirits, Time, the Washington Post, and many other publications. He has won the IACP Award for Narrative Beverage Writing three times, the American Food Journalists Award for Beverage Writing, and the North American Travel Journalists Association Gold Award, and has been nominated three times for a James Beard Award in Beverage Writing. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Ray also sits on the distinguished Board of Master Sommeliers at Wine Chips. He is releasing a new book “The World in a Wineglass: The Insider’s Guide to Artisanal, Sustainable, Extraordinary Wines to Drink Now” on November 14, 2023. Ray has also authored, “But First, Champagne; A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine”.
Steph Harding, Jason Ley
Steph Harding – Owner of Drinkible
Steph Harding has been working in the Michigan craft beer scene for almost 13 years. From photography and publishing a beer editorial website to content creation and Marketing Management, she has done it all, even poured a beer or two. Steph is currently the Brand Manager for City Built Brewing.
Jason Ley – Author of The Drinker’s Manifesto
Certified Cicerone®, Author of The Drinker’s Manifesto, Emmy-nominated Storyteller, Senior Advisor and Keynote Speaker on behalf of Better Drinking Culture, Published Journalist, Brand and Experience Consultant
Vincent McIntosh, Kavy Lenon
Vincent McIntosh – CEO of Irie Kitchen
Vincent McIntosh, owner and founder of Irie Kitchen started up his restaurant at age 19 in Grand Rapids Michigan. Vincent is a serial entrepreneur who enjoys curating culture whether it be by hosting events, creating food, investing, or giving back to his community.
Vincent is an entrepreneur at heart – he loves creating brands & building businesses today Vincent spends his time building his “CPG BRAND STUDIO”, IRIE BRANDS with the successful launch of IRIE JUICE 2022 he is gearing up to launch his Direct-to-consumer sauce brand later this year.
Kavy Lenon – Meijer Food Stage Emcee, Meijer Supplier Inclusion Manager
Kavy Lenon serves as the Supplier Inclusion Manager at Meijer focusing on Local and Diverse Vendors. For the past decade, she has been a contributor to promoting the growth of diverse-owned businesses through coaching, educating, advocating, and community outreach. Lenon is also a successful businesswoman herself, having created the ZINI premium vodka brand in a male-dominated industry. As one of very few Southeast Asian women in the industry, she wanted to ensure ZINI was more than just a vodka brand infused with exotic fruits from her home country of Laos. ZINI is an uplifting message for women all over … an invitation for women to become ZINI: Zealous, Intelligent, Natural, and Independent.
Lenon serves as the Vice President for the Veteran Owned Business Roundtable, Commissioner for the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, and Co-Chair of the Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Foundation. She has been honored as the 2021 Top 25 Diversity Change Leaders by DiversityPlus Magazine, 2022 Top Women in Grocery by Progressive Grocers, and 2023 Leadership in the Workplace Honoree by Women Thrive.