Women Leaders in
Food, Fine Beverage & Hospitality

Our Moderator and Panelists Bios

Melissa Clark

Food writer, cookbook author, and staff reporter for the New York Times Food section, where she writes the popular column “A Good Appetite” and appears in a weekly cooking video series.

A food columnist for the New York Times, Melissa Clark’s work has been honored with awards by the James Beard Foundation and IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals), and been selected for the Best American Food Writing series. In addition, Clark has written 38 cookbooks, many of them in collaboration with some of New York’s most celebrated chefs. Her latest cookbook is called Dinner: Changing the Game. A native Brooklynite, she’s still living there with her husband and daughter. 

Dana Cowin

Best known for her two decades as the Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine Magazine

Dana Cowin is a tastemaker, talent scout, author, lecturer and radio show host. During her tenure at the award-winning magazine (1995-2016), she oversaw every editorial aspect of the brand from print to web to books to social media. She expanded and introduced several programs to highlight emerging talent including the magazine's annual Best New Chefs award and Most Innovative Women in Food & Drink. After Food & Wine, Cowin joined the ground-breaking restaurant group Chefs Club to continue her role as a scout, selecting chefs from around the world to be featured on their curated menus. Cowin moved on to launch DBC Creative, a branding consultancy and to become host of “Speaking Broadly” on Heritage Radio Network, interviewing extraordinary women in the food industry about their greatest challenges and triumphs. A sought-after speaker, Cowin has been a judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” a presenter at TedXManhattan, a lecturer at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival and multiple food festivals and other events. A noted author, Cowin in 2014 published “Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook with 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes,” which garnered a spot on many “Best of Fall” lists. Cowin serves on the Board of Directors of City Harvest, a hunger-relief organization, and Hot Bread Kitchen, a work force development group. For her many contributions to the culinary world, Cowin was inducted in to the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Drink. 

If you’re not afraid of mouth-watering images of food, follow her @fwscout on Instagram and Twitter.

Kerry Heffernan

Executive Chef, Grand Banks.

Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Connecticut, Kerry Heffernan began working in New York City restaurants at age 15. Following high school, Kerry bicycled through Europe, eventually setting up camp in the South of France baking croissants. He returned home to attend the Culinary Institute of America, graduating second in his class. After spending another year cooking and traveling throughout Europe, Kerry came back to New York City, honing his skills at such highly regarded restaurants as Montrachet, Le Régence, Restaurant Bouley and Mondrian with Tom Colicchio before landing his first job as Chef de Cuisine at One Fifth Avenue. 

Kerry later became the Executive Chef of the Westbury Hotel's famed Polo Restaurant, training ground of such extraordinary talents as Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. Soon afterward Kerry opened Union Square Hospitality Group's Eleven Madison Park as Executive Chef and eventually became partner. Under his leadership, the restaurant received numerous accolades, including a tie with Per Se on Zagat Survey's "Top 20 Most Popular Restaurants in New York," The James Beard Foundation's Award for Outstanding Service in America, and Esquire Magazine's "Best New Restaurant." During his time at 11 Madison he also worked with Danny to develop the original menu at the "Shake Shack" in Madison Square Park. 

Kerry is currently Chef at Grand Banks, a seasonal Oyster Bar and galley on the deck of a historic cod fishing schooner moored at Pier 25 New York. He previously spent a five-year tenure as Executive Chef of New York City's South Gate, and created and continues to work as a consultant to "15 CPW," a private restaurant at Manhattan's toniest address. Kerry remains active outside the kitchen in philanthropy, serving on the City Harvest Food Council and cooking for Share Our Strength, Project by Project, and both the Central Park and Madison Square Park Conservancies and as an advisor to several nonprofit agencies charged with seafood sustainability and conservation. In 2012, Kerry was honored as the commencement speaker at the Culinary Institute of America. 

An avid outdoorsman and seafood expert, Kerry has won several charity fishing tournaments, including the "Manhattan Cup" and the "Montauk Redbone." In addition to appearing as a guest judge on Top Chef All-Stars, Kerry has appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America, Martha Stewart, CBS and CNN's American Morning. In addition to Grand Banks, Chef Heffernan is also consultant to "Seaworthy" a restaurant in New Orleans specializing in sustainable seafood.

Padma Lakshmi

Actress, food expert, model, and award-winning author. Host, judge and an executive producer on Bravo’s Emmy award-winning Top Chef. Recipient of the 2016 NECO Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Emmy-nominated Padma Lakshmi is internationally known as an actress, food expert, model, and award-winning author, as well as the recipient of the 2016 NECO Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Lakshmi was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role as host and judge on Bravo’s Emmy award-winning Top Chef, where she also serves as an executive producer. 

Lakshmi is a food expert, hosts successful cooking shows and wrote the best-selling Easy Exotic as well as Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet cookbooks. Her memoir, The New York Times best-selling Love, Loss and What We Ate, was released in March 2016, followed by The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs in October 2016. 

In addition, Lakshmi is a savvy businesswoman with multiple companies of her own, including her home décor line, The Padma Collection, and Padma’s Easy Exotic, a collection of culinary products. She is also co-founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America, which has educated over 16,000 teens on this devastating illness. 

Pascaline Lepeltier

Blame the Château d’Yquem 1937 for convincing 2010 StarChefs.com Rising Star Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier to begin her brilliant career in wine.

Detouring from a master’s in philosophy and a career as a university teacher, Lepeltier began her obsession with wine at the two star Michelin-rated L’Auberge Bretonne under celebrated Chef Jacques Thorel, starting as assistant sommelier and soon presiding over a list of more than 4,500 wines. Within a year, Pascaline accomplished the remarkable feat of being named both Best Loire Valley Young Sommelier and Best Brittany Sommelier. While working as Beverage Director at Rouge Tomate in Brussels, she decided to intern at the George V in Paris under the direction of Best European Sommelier and Best World Sommelier runner-up Eric Beaumard to train for the 2008 Best French Sommelier competition which paid off with a second-runner-up finish: the best result ever achieved by a woman. She again placed as the second-runner-up in 2010 and 2012. Promoted to the position of Beverage Director for the Rouge Tomate flagship in New York, she moved to Manhattan in 2009 and took over the wine program. Within months, she was named one of the five best new US sommeliers of 2011 by Wine & Spirits magazine, one of the "New Wine Prophets" by Time Out NY and one of the “40 under 40” beverage influencers by Wine Enthusiast. Called the “Natural Wine Evangelist” by Ray Isle in Food & Wine, Lepeltier’s strong advocacy of this authentic and pure approach was reflected in the large number of organic or biodynamic wines on the Rouge Tomate wine list, awarded in 2013 by the NY Times as one of the best in NYC. Beverage Director of Rouge Tomate Chelsea until August 2017, she overlooked a 2,000+ references list offering one of the biggest selections of natural, organic and biodynamic beverage in NYC and in the USA, and for which she received from the World of Fine Wine two awards: “Best Long Wine List in the World” and “Wine List of the Year 2017”. 

In May of 2014, Lepeltier completed the Master Sommelier exams and joined an elite group of Master Sommeliers worldwide, becoming the 21st woman to achieve the title. She now instructs with the Court of Master Sommeliers and at the International Culinary Center in Manhattan, NY. 

Lepeltier makes sure she is as knowledgeable about winemaking as she is about tasting, spending much time in vineyards and working harvests, including a collaboration with winemaker Nathan Kendall, “chepika”, a wine project to rediscover the potential of organically-grown natives grapes and sparkling wines in the Finger Lakes. 

She has written for various prominent wine guides and books in France – including The World of Fine Wine, Art of Eating and Wine & Spirits - and was featured in numerous food and wine publications -- NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Wine Spectator, Decanter, Wine & Spirits, Food & Wine, Saveur, The World of Fine Wine, La Revue des Vins de France, etc. Her first book collaboration with acclaimed author Alice Feiring, The Dirty Guide to Wine, has been published in June 2017 by Countryman Press. 

Missy Robbins

Head chef and owner of Lilia restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Also known for maintaining Michelin star status the entirety of her tenure as Executive Chef of A Voce Madison and A Voce Columbus. A Top Chef Masters contestant.

Missy Robbins’ culinary career began while she was a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. In 1993, a part-time job at 1789 restaurant sparked a passion for cooking and led Robbins to attend Peter Kump’s New York School of Cooking [now The Institute of Culinary Education]. An externship at March Restaurant followed, where she worked for renowned Chef Wayne Nish before moving on to Arcadia, where she cooked under Chef Anne Rosenzweig. In the spring of 1995, she returned to March, staying for two years before rejoining Rosenzweig, this time to work at The Lobster Club as sous chef. Robbins would soon travel to Northern Italy, where she worked in kitchens ranging from family-run rustic trattorias in Tuscany to the Michelin–rated Agli Amici in Friuli. Familiarizing herself with Italian products, techniques, and traditions, Robbins fell in love with the simplicity, the regionality, and the focus on quality ingredients that characterize Italian cooking. 

Upon returning to the United States, Robbins worked as sous chef, and later as chef de cuisine, at the SoHo Grand Hotel. In 2003, Robbins moved to Chicago to work at Tony Mantuano’s Spiaggia. As Executive Chef of Spiaggia and Café Spiaggia, Robbins brought her passion for Italian cooking to life. During her tenure at there, Spiaggia was nominated by The James Beard Foundation for Outstanding Restaurant nationally twice and for Outstanding Service in 2008. She would move on to serve as Executive Chef of A Voce restaurants from the fall of 2008 to spring of 2013, earning a Michelin star at the Madison location in 2009, and in 2010 at A Voce Columbus. In 2010, Missy was honored to be named a Food & Wine Best New Chef. 

In 2013, Missy left A Voce to pursue her biggest challenge to date - a place of her own. After nearly three years of research, travel, and building the restaurant she always wanted, Missy opened Lilia in North Williamsburg, Brooklyn in January 2016. The restaurant is the culmination of a lifetime love affair with Italian food and culture, and presents Missy’s thoughtful, creative approach to cooking. Lilia has earned Three Stars from The New York Times, and both critical and popular acclaim from across the country.

Susan Ungaro

President of the James Beard Foundation (JBF), the country's preeminent culinary organization.

Susan Ungaro is president of the James Beard Foundation (JBF), the country's preeminent culinary organization dedicated to celebrating, nurturing, and honoring chefs and other leaders making America's food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone. Since becoming president in 2006, Ungaro has increased awareness of the nonprofit through a host of initiatives. Her many accomplishments include increasing national and global awareness of the Foundation, as well as its culinary scholarship program, membership, and thought-leadership initiatives. Ungaro has expanded on the number of educational programs at the historic James Beard House in Greenwich Village; brought the annual James Beard Foundation Awards Gala to prestigious Lincoln Center and to Chicago; and launched the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America national epicurean tour. 

Her additional accomplishments include: 

Spearheading the annual JBF Food Summit to foster dialogue and action to improve our nation’s food system, and launching the JBF Leadership Awards, which recognize visionaries in business, government, and education sectors responsible for creating a healthier, safer, and more sustainable food world. 

Began collaborating with the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Protocol in 2012 to develop the “Diplomatic Culinary Partnership,” an initiative to elevate the role of culinary engagement in America’s formal and public diplomacy efforts. 

Expanding the reach of and brand recognition of the James Beard Foundation through the organization’s website, social media channels, and the publication of two original cookbooks, The James Beard Foundation’s Best of the Best: A 25th Anniversary Celebration of America’s Outstanding Chefs (Chronicle, 2011), and James Beard’s All-American Eats: Recipes and Stories from Our Best-Loved Local Restaurants (Rizzoli, 2016). 

Among her numerous honors, Ungaro was named one of Adweek’s 30 Most Influential People in Food in 2016; to Irish America’s Top 50 Power Women in 2016; in The Daily Meal’s 50 Most Powerful People in Food from 2011-2014; and was the subject of a MPW (Most Powerful Women) profile in Fortune.com. She has also been recognized with Irish America magazine’s Top Business 100 Award; Muriel Fox Communications Award from the NOW Legal Defense & Education Fund, and the Hope Award from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Ungaro serves on the Culinary Council of Food Bank for New York City, the National Advisory Board of C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program), and the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Safe and Healthy New York Foods. 

Ungaro’s frequent television appearances include Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay, Iron Chef America, and Dinner Impossible, Bravo’s Top Chef, NBC’s TODAY Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s Early Show, CNN, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe. For links to Susan’s TV appearances please click here and here.

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