Keynote Speakers


Chef Sandra Lewis Headshot for Web
Chef Sandra Lewis

Chef Sandra Lewis is an entertaining and deliciously inspiring chef and speaker, classically-trained in French cuisine. Prior to attending culinary school, Chef Sandra invested 20+ years in a corporate career. Today she combines her culinary expertise with her background in Human Resources Development to create and deliver fun, imaginative live, virtual and in-person cooking classes and cooking experiences. Chef Sandra, who is a keynote speaker and podcast host, founded Life At The Table in 2007 to inspire, educate and skill people to engage in the most important activity in life, creating community over a shared meal paired with great conversation. Her passion is teaching people to answer the most important question they ask every day, “What’s for dinner?”. Chef Sandra earned her BS in Mass Communications, Magna Cum Laude, from the University of Utah, and earned an AAS with Honors in Culinary Arts from Le Cordon Bleu Dallas. She is host of the weekly radio show and podcast, “A Savory Moment” and Adjunct Culinary Instructor at The Art Institute of Dallas.


Frank Kitchen

Frank Kitchen is “The Mindset Master Chef”. He works with Organizations who want their people to break through mental barriers to cook up the professional dreams they hunger for. On June 18, 2015, Frank was fired by his employer. His son was 2 years old and his wife was 6 ½ months pregnant with their second child. It was Father's Day weekend! That weekend, Frank got hungry and committed to living the Professional Speaking Dream he had been "talking" about for years. With the support of his family and friends, he used the skills he earned as a student leader, award-winning toy store manager, salesperson, educator, event planner and entertainer to transform the ultimate "burnt meal" into a tasty 5-Star Masterpiece! 

Frank now teaches his proven recipe for transforming your professional aspirations into reality with professional associations, corporations, schools, colleges, universities, nonprofits, and civic groups around the world . The same recipe he used to go from unemployed to being recognized by the National Speakers Association as one of the top Professional Speakers on the planet. 

When he isn’t speaking, Frank practices what he teaches. He currently serves as a volunteer and Board Chair for the Non-Profit organization Hustle PHX. Their team of staff and volunteers provide aspiring entrepreneurs in underserved urban communities with the resources needed to start and operate thriving businesses.

Learning Sessions



Chris Abayasinghe, Associate Vice President for Business Services, Northeastern University

Chris Abayasinghe was appointed Associate Vice President for Business Services in June 2021. In this capacity, he has oversight of the planning and execution of a diverse range of University business functions that support the academic enterprise. He provides strategic leadership to Northeastern Dining, the Bookstore, Mail Services, Parking Services, and Auxiliary Enterprises. Additionally as a value creator, Abayasinghe helps cultivate strategic business partnerships aimed at enhancing the student/guest experience via leveraging the University’s unique brand assets. 

Abayasinghe most recently served as Senior Director of Campus Dining and Auxiliary Programs at the University of Notre Dame, where he led the largest staff organization at the university with a budget responsibility in excess of $70 million annually, supported by a team of senior leaders and over 800 staff. In that role, he was challenged to redevelop the auxiliary services business model, which involved building a new brand, new facilities, improving financial performance and positioning the program for service excellence. As a thought partner with Athletics, Abayasinghe led a series of commercialization activities that built key strategic industry partnerships. Previously, he held a similar position at Williams College and worked in consulting with Sodexo Services. 

He is a Northeastern alum (MBA’13) and along with his wife, Tiranthi, are proud parents of three children.


Joel Adour, Foodservice Sales Executive, Branding Iron Holdings, Inc.


Joel is responsible for the growth of the organization and creating new organic revenue streams. Joel is incredibly passionate about the employee experience and has established teams that are motivated, high-performing, and able to change to adapting customer expectations!


Susan Blaha, Associate Director – Business Services, RIT Dining, Rochester Institute of Technology

Susan has been with Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Dining for 7 years with a background prior to Higher Ed in Point of Sale. She is passionate about RIT’s co-op program, working with student employees and advocating for students to have great experiences in Dining. Susan likes to read, take photos, spend time in the sun and laugh. Go Bills!


Suzi Cozzens, Assistant Manager, Rhode Island School of Design

Suzi is an Assistant Manager at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Her professional experience includes overlapping positions in both Collegiate teaching and Culinary operations. Her primary focus is to connect food, art + design. She believes that the dining experience should be as educational as time spent in a classroom or studio.


Dustin Cutler, Senior Executive Director of Cornell Dining and Cornell Retail Services, Cornell University

In this role, Dustin oversees a self-operated and nationally celebrated dining program with over 35 distinct units, and a robust and dynamic self-operated campus store with multiple locations and a print shop operation.  Dustin’s professional experience is extensive; he began his career with Aramark by managing operations for the Olympic Village in Athens in 2004 and built on that role as senior operations manager for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008.  He has also managed various aspects of food and beverage operations at Major League Baseball's Turner Field, New Orleans Convention Center and Emerald Coast Convention Center, GlaxoSmithKline and Palm Beach County Convention Center, and was Aramark's resident district manager for the University of Nevada- Las Vegas before returning to upstate New York to lead the team at Cornell.  Serving for just over 7 years as Executive Director at Cornell Dining, Dustin’s portfolio has recently grown to include the Cornell Retail Services department, and he now serves both teams with his trademark candor and transformational leadership philosophy.


Garett DiStefano, Director of Residential and Retail Dining Services, University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst Dining

As the director of award-winning Amherst Dining, largest and most recognized program in the nation, Garett is not only committed to providing students with a healthy, sustainable and delicious meal but a leader in developing a program that enhances the quality of life of every student by building a community around food. In 2022, The Princeton Review’s Best 385 Colleges ranked UMass as one of the best programs in the nation and honored as #1 Best Campus Food for the six years in a row.

As the CFO—Chief Food Officer-- he is responsible for all operational and service aspects of the University’s dining program including: financial performance, guest satisfaction, and industry leading initiatives. The program has earned national accolades for promoting local food systems, culinary innovation, sustainable food sourcing and top notch catering. 

Garett is an alumnus of UMass, earning his M.B.A from the Isenberg School of Management. He is active in several trade organizations including the National Association of College and University Food Service. When he is not at work, Garett is the proud father of two amazing daughters and married to the girl he met in sixth grade. 


Marty Dudek, Senior Associate Director of Dining, College of the Holy Cross 

From a very young age Marty knew the food service industry was for him.  He realized that the ever changing needs of the industry would mean that he would never become stagnant in his growth.  From his first year at Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School in the Culinary Arts program, through the time he spent at The Culinary Institute of America, that has proven to be true.  After graduating from CIA in 1989 he went on to work for the next seven years as a chef in the restaurant and catering industry.  During that time his growth continued as he worked under and with some of the finest chefs and managers in the industry. 

In 1996 Marty took his knowledge in a different direction and started his career in college dining as a chef at The College of the Holy Cross.  Over his 27+ years at the college, Marty has done everything from board plan operations to catering in both the front and back of the house areas.  In 2001 Marty was promoted to the position of Associate Director and in 2016 went on to become the Senior Associate Director of Dining Operations. From the start of his time at the college, Marty knew that the college food service arena was where he wanted to be.  The ever changing needs of the students allowed him the opportunity to continuously learn, grow, while making a difference in the lives of the students at the College.  

Marty's first involvement in NACUFS came in 1999 at the regional conference that was held at the College of the Holy Cross. He served as the co-chair for the conference showcase and he was the chef that created the “last night” event. Marty had so much fun, that he continued to seek opportunities to be involved within the organization. He did just that! He went on to be the education co-chair & the culinary challenge chair for the Northeast region, the national conference golf chair (yes golf chair) in 2012 and the national conference vice chair in 2018. Lastly, 2009 Marty had the honor of serving on NACUFS Board of Directors where he held the position of Regional President until 2011. Like that wasn't enough, over the years he has contributed to countless interest sessions both on the regional and national levels.


Brandon Fortenberry, Senior Manager of Training and Development, Cornell University

Brandon Fortenberry, Cornell's senior training & development manager, got his start in foodservice making art with sandwiches and never looked back. He is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute and has worked in every aspect of the foodservice business, from dishwasher to chef, manager, director and, most recently, in training and development.  Brandon has been at Cornell University for more than 17 years and is passionate about lifelong learning and helping people to achieve their career goals.


Erin Hartter, Business Relations Manager, RIT Dining Business, Rochester Institute of Technology

For the last 5 years, Erin has worked in the RIT Dining Business office, most recently as the Business Relations Manager. She completed her undergraduate degree at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI and her graduate degree at Rochester Institute of Technology. Erin is proud to work in an environment that advocates for positive changes for the campus community and in her free time she enjoys adventuring to parks (especially ones with a waterfall) with her German Shepard, gardening, and seeking out new experiences and cuisines that she has never tried before.


Danielle Leonard, RD, LDN, Manager of Nutrition Services, Smith College

Danielle is a Registered Dietitian with experience in both clinical and food service settings. As a recent addition to the Smith Dining Team, Danielle’s personal and professional experience with food allergies helps to shape her role. She is an advocate for staff training, student outreach and identifies the importance of being a resource for students to dine safely while navigating the college landscape. Danielle collaborates with college partners, meets with students one-on-one and manages Dawes House, a gluten-free dining facility on campus.


Charlie McConnell, Sr Director of Insights and Best Practices, IFMA

In his role with IFMA, Charlie develops and shares insights and best practices that enable businesses in the away-from-home ecosystem to drive profitable growth. Prior to joining IFMA, Charlie spent six years in the marketing department at US Foods, the second largest broadline distributor in the U.S. Charlie’s career also includes insights roles with Sara Lee and Unilever. Charlie has a B.A from Kenyon College and a Masters in Hospitality Management from Cornell University.


Karla Orozco, Director of Operations – Retail and Convenience Stores, RIT Dining, Rochester Institute of Technology

Karla has been with RIT Dining for almost 20 years, starting as an assistant manager for a retail operation, then as a general manager, opening a new build retail operation and, for 2 years now, as a director. Karla finds working in the higher education environment to be a pleasure, where there is so much to learn from the student body and yet, the ability to make such a positive impact on their lives through food and service. 


Laura Pontier, Assistant Director of Operations Development, Virginia Tech

Laura started at VT Dining in 2016 as Training and Project Coordinator. She currently oversees all training/development and hiring of hourly positions for a staff of 2,000+ employees.  She also, implements and facilitates special projects. Prior to 2016, Laura spent seven years as a secondary science educator, teaching both in-person and hybrid courses. Outside of work, Laura enjoys spending time with her 1-year old daughter, husband, and cats.


Dr. Mark Reed, Director of Health Service, Dartmouth College

Dr. Mark Reed is a practicing psychiatrist, Director of the Dartmouth College Health Service, and Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Geisel School of Medicine. Dr. Reed has served in a variety of roles at Dartmouth including:  Director of Medical School Education in Psychiatry, Director of Counseling and Health Resources (now called Student Wellness) at the Health Service, and Director of the Health Service since 2015. Dr. Reed is past president of the New England College Health Association, the recipient of an American Psychiatry Association Teaching Award, and has written and presented regionally and nationally on college mental health and suicide prevention. He currently serves on the American College Health Association Consultation Team, and consults locally, regionally and nationally on college mental health, supporting students at risk, suicide prevention, response to tragedy and improving access to mental health services.  


Jake Reed, Reporting and Data Specialist, RIT Dining, Rochester Institute of Technology

Jake started his full time position in June 2022 but has worked for RIT Dining for the past year and a half as a co-op and student employee. He loves to have fun in the office with his team and make people laugh while still getting work done. Jake is from Skaneateles, NY, and loves going to the lake to swim, paddleboard and jet ski. He is also a big sports guy and his favorite teams are the Chargers, Yankees and Knicks.


Bradley Shannon, Senior Assistant Director of Culinary Development and Nutrition, College of the Holy Cross

Hailing from Windham, a small town in New Hampshire, Brad Shannon always had the ambition to become a chef.   Even at his first job washing dishes at a banquet hall, he felt at home in the kitchen. After graduating high school, Brad followed in the footsteps of some of his high school professors by attending the Culinary Institute of America in NY.  In 2005 he came to Boston to work at No. 9 Park, Chef Barbara Lynch's flagship restaurant.  Here he learned the finer points of haute cuisine.  However, longing for something more outside the kitchen, something unexpected happened:  Brad fell in love with the service side of the industry. Excelling in his classes related to service and wine, he moved to Las Vegas to hone his craft. Working as a server at Morton’s Steakhouse, he immersed himself in every facet of the restaurant’s FOH operations.  Yet he only stayed in Las Vegas for a year as the kitchen again called to him. In 2007 he moved back to Boston and cooked on the line at Gargoyles on the Square. The next step was a stint at Chef Michael Schlow’s Radius.  In 2011, Brad was offered the opening sous chef job at Blue Inc. and was quickly promoted to chef de cuisine.  When changes at the restaurant made the General Manager position available, he saw the opportunity to switch gears and again work on his front of the house skills. 

In the summer of 2013 Lineage Restaurant, approached him with an offer to join Chef Jeremy Sewall’s family in Brookline. At Lineage, Brad obtained his Tea Sommelier Certification with the International Tea Masters Association.  Brad has also taken classes in the Court of Master’s Wine Sommelier Program. When Lineage closed in the summer of 2016, Brad found himself at another crossroad in his career.  An opportunity at Boston College presented itself, and Brad did not hesitate to join the team at Boston College.  Starting as an Assistant Manager, he moved his way up to Production Manager and then to Executive Chef by show casing his knowledge and skills in the kitchen. During his time at Boston College, Brad graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business earning both the Richard Lombard and the Michael Harding S.J. awards for academic excellence. 

In the fall of 2022, Brad moved on from Boston College to The College of the Holy Cross, where he became the Senior Assistant Director of Culinary Development and Nutrition.  In this role, Brad takes his collective industry knowledge and applies it to the ever changing landscape of collegiate dining. 


Lauren Smith, M.Ed, RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition and Wellness, North Carolina State University

Lauren is a Registered Dietitian with a master's degree in nutrition education. Prior to coming to NC State in 2020, Lauren was the Manager of Nutrition Services at Westfield State University, where she was instrumental in the transition from a managed to a self-operated dining program. Lauren enjoys working in collegiate dining and connecting with guests on a personal level to ensure they are able to navigate campus and find meal options that fit their needs, regardless of dietary restrictions. Lauren is passionate about collaboration and building strong relationships with campus partners and the student body. Lauren is also a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor and an advocate for mental health awareness, encouraging self-care, compassion, and empathy in the workplace and throughout campus.


Emily Svennevik, MPH, RD, LDN, Registered Dietician for Campus Dining, Vanderbilt University

Emily has her master’s degree in Public Health Nutrition, with a background in both kinesiology and nutrition. Prior to her current role at Vanderbilt, she worked as the Registered Dietitian at the athletic training table at Vanderbilt in 2021, and also within Michigan Dining during her graduate program. Emily assists students with allergens or other dietary restrictions navigate dining halls, helps to provide nutritional guidance to students and cooks, and facilitates presentations and cooking classes across campus. 


Ken Toong, Executive Director of Auxiliary Enterprises, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Ken Toong has been the Executive Director of University of Massachusetts Amherst Auxiliary Enterprises (AE) for the past twelve years. The AE umbrella includes UMass Dining (Residential and Retail), Conference Services, Campus Center Complex, Hotel UMass, the UMass Store, the University of Massachusetts Club Boston, UMass Mount Ida Campus and UMass Trademark and Licensing Administration for the UMass System.

Nationally, Ken is one of the most recognized faces and frequent presenters in higher education’s dining and auxiliary segments.  He is a big believer in healthy eating and has implemented many culturally driven and globally inspired concepts at various operations at UMass. Through Ken’s visionary direction, UMass Dining has become one of the nation’s most awarded programs for its innovative and quality programs, focusing on foodservice sustainability, authenticity, student success and health & wellness. Notable recognitions include Global Restaurant Award in Sustainability in 2016, being voted #1 for Best Campus Food in the nation from Princeton Review 2023 edition, making it six years in a row.

In 2013, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) recognized Ken as one of the recipients of the Silver Plate Award. In 2021, Nation’s Restaurant News Magazine named Ken Toong as one of the most influential non-commercial operators in a reader picks poll. Most recently, Produce for Better Health Foundation named Ken the recipient of Foodservice Leader of the Year Award.

Ken is involved in the community as a member of the Sustainable Business Leadership Council of the Harvard School of Public of Health and The Culinary Institute of America, an executive committee member of UMass Amherst Community Campaign, past chair of the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) C&U Foodservice Leadership Council.

Ken received his MBA (Beta Gamma Sigma) from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a BBA from Acadia University, Nova Scotia.


Fleur Veldhoven

Fleur Veldhoven is Vice President of Marketing - Food with Nestlé Professional.  In this role, Fleur leads the food business for Nestlé’s foodservice operating company, managing a team of marketers, business development managers, nutrition, sustainability, and customer event managers, and innovation chefs responsible for brands including MINOR’S®, STOUFFER’S®, CHEF-MATE® and SWEET EARTH®.  Fleur also leads development of customized food solutions for national accounts, colleges & universities and restaurant chains. Fleur’s career with Nestlé Professional extends across 17 years in foodservice leadership roles – including international experience at the Nestlé headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland – leading the global foodservice savory category.  Fleur is experienced in managing businesses and teams, driving marketing and sales strategy, planning and execution, and leading digital, event, product innovation and sustainability initiatives. Prior to Nestlé Professional, Fleur led multiple marketing and sales roles in other industries including retail consumer products and in the travel industry.  Fleur Veldhoven earned a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from Stanford University and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics from Northwestern University.


Jennifer Vieira, General Manager, Rhode Island School of Design

Jennifer is the General Manager at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Her professional experience in both corporate and privately-owned restaurants has allowed her the opportunity to transfer her skills and passions to collegiate dining. Her goal for each person who dines in any of RISD’s 5 venues is to feel nurtured through exquisite cuisine and exceptional hospitality.

Cassie Hoover, MS, RD, LD,  Senior Manager of Nutrition and Sustainability, Nestlé Professional

Cassie is responsible for leading and driving nutrition and sustainability strategies for Nestlé’s US foodservice brands and products, working with talented cross-functional teams to identify and implement opportunities to live Nestlé’s purpose to unlock the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come. Her work includes collaboration with marketing, sales, product development, regulatory and government affairs to incorporate nutrition and sustainability into projects, communications and partnerships. Her 13 year career at Nestlé spans the retail food service channels and multiple food and beverage categories.  Cassie a Registered Dietitian with a Master of Science in Nutrition from Case Western Reserve University, and she’s currently working on earning a Sustainability Certificate from Arizona State University. 


Terry Baker, Executive Director of Dining Services, University of Richmond

Terry Baker is the executive director of Dining Services at the University of Richmond, overseeing all residential, retail, concessions, and catering activities. Previously she served as dining services director at the State University of New York-Cortland, and prior to that, nine years at Oklahoma State University as dining services director, overseeing a program that included 28 dining operations.

An early adopter of technological advances in the food service industry, Baker has modernized operations, created new concepts and facilities, and led multimillion-dollar renovations.  She has been a leader in the focus on healthy dining and sustainability, and an advocate for building strong community ties around her dining programs.

Baker currently serves as a NACUFS trustee and in 2022, was recognized with a Mid-Atlantic Region Distinguished Service Award. Terry is a graduate of Cornell University and has a master’s degree in finance and marketing from the University of Rochester.

Kory Samuels, Associate Vice President Auxiliary Services, Rochester Institute of Technology

Kory Samuels began his career as a student employee for Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) Dining Services, and has had the opportunity to take on progressive leadership roles  for the past 16 years that have lead him to his current role as the Associate Vice President of  Auxiliary Services.

He leads a staff of 1,500+ employees, coordinates the multimillion dollar capital budgeting for 25 operations ranging from Housing, facilities, Dining, Marketing, Technology, Business strategy, Sustainability and retail operations, that includes staff development, strategic planning, contractual agreements and overall vision for the department.

Mr. Samuels is known as a caring leader who believes in professional development and mentorship to create positive customer experiences. He is a strong advocate for the hospitality industry volunteering is time numerous organizations most notably NACUFS (National association of college and university food service) where he currently serves as the president-elect.

Born and raised in Rochester, NY, Mr. Samuels obtained his undergraduate degree in Management Information Systems and Executive Masters in Business Administration from RIT.  He has a depth of knowledge and experience in many areas, most notably Operations,  Procurement, Technology, Human resource management, Leadership, and Project management.


James Benson, Director of Culinary Excellence, Yale Hospitality, Yale University

A native to California, Benson was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area James currently resides in Fairfield Connecticut with his wife Kathleen and Daughters Caitlin and Annabelle.

James graduated from the Hotel and Restaurant Management school at the City College of San Francisco. Inspired and driven by his Italian roots he set off to Italy to apprentice at the best restaurants on the Riviera Ligure where he landed a job at the 2 Star Michelin Balzi Rossi in Ventimiglia.

Upon returning, he joined the opening team at Le Cirque 2000 in New York. After a couple of years, James moved to Las Vegas to take the role of Executive Sous Chef at Le Cirque and Osteria del Circo at the Bellagio.

Following the Bellagio Benson joined Wynn as a member of the pre-opening team as Chef de Cuisine of Catering and Special Events. Over the course of his time with Wynn Resorts James held the positions of Chef de cuisine and Executive Chef of Catering and most recently as Executive Chef of Food and Beverage of Wynn and Encore in Las Vegas.

Benson currently is the Director of Culinary Excellence responsible for overseeing the culinary vision, recipe, training, menu and product development provide leadership and operational support across departments and seek ways to strengthen the culinary program, developing talent and create innovation

Throughout his career Benson has been honored to have been a guest chef at several national and international food events which included dinners at the James Beard House, Guest Chef at The Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok, and at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, Germany. He received numerous accolades in publications such as Gourmet Magazine, Wine Specatator and Grace Ormonde to highlight a few.