CFIT Advisory Council

JWU’s first college to select its Advisory Council is the College of Food Innovation & Technology (CFIT), appointing 13 inaugural members.

Among those serving on the CFIT advisory board are Chris Trout '88, VP of learning & development with the Walt Disney Corporation; Mark Ainsworth '96, CEO of Lowell Farms in the cannabis industry; and Elaine Black, director of food safety and public health with Ecolab.

“We wanted representation from all facets of the food industry, so we have C-Suite executives and business owners from the traditional foodservice restaurant side all the way out to cannabis and nutrition, as well as dietetics, food safety, food manufacturing,” Dean Evans said.

Evans added that the mission of this advisory board aligns with the innovative work CFIT faculty is already doing — staying at the cusp of what’s happening in the food world to benefit the experience of JWU students. “This is our touchpoint to industry so that we always have an understanding of how career opportunities for our students are changing,” Dean Evans said.

The council is split into three subcommittees: one on program relevance, one on external partnerships, and one whose efforts specifically focus on how to promote CFIT.

“I consider the council sort of my kitchen cabinet,” Dean Evans said. “I’m surrounded by a great team internally, but this feedback from the external community will be invaluable to all that we do at CFIT.”

Advisory Council Members

Mark Ainsworth '96

Mark Ainsworth Mark Ainsworth is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer for Lowell Farms Inc. (CSE:LOWL; OTCQX:LOWLF), a California-born innovator in cannabis cultivation and maker of the legendary brand Lowell Smokes. A veteran entrepreneur, executive, and creative visionary, he is responsible for implementing the strategic direction of Lowell Farms Inc., overseeing the senior management team and all operations, as well as the overall vision of creating products that emphasize consumer safety while advancing the changing perception of cannabis use.

Since co-founding the company as Indus Holdings, Inc. in 2014, Ainsworth has been responsible for the ideation and development of its manufacturing systems — including product development, procurement, and distribution — and financial management systems; applying nearly 30 years of entrepreneurial and industry experience to the conception and implementation of product safety and quality standards, ensuring that all products adhere to industry regulations while remaining customer-focused and friendly. In 2019, Ainsworth led the continued evolution of the company from a private to a publicly traded organization, his leadership proving instrumental in the company’s shift in strategy and organizational management; and leading to across-the-board success in various areas of the business.

Ray Blanchette

Ray BlanchetteRay Blanchette is a food industry veteran with more than 30 years of restaurant experience. Before joining TGI Fridays, Ray served as the CEO of Ruby Tuesday and previously as CEO of Au Bon Pain. For the prior eight years, he served as president, CEO, and director of Ignite Restaurant Group. Prior to Ignite, he served as president and COO of Pick Up Stix, Inc. During his 18-year tenure at Carlson Restaurants (TGI Fridays), Blanchette has also served as vice president of USA Franchise Operations, vice president of operations for its East Division, and executive director of its international division serving Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Blanchette consistently and passionately gives back to the industry and his community. He has received many awards and recognition, including nominations for the prestigious Carlson Fellows Award in 2003 and 2005 and Division of the Year for TGI Friday’s in 2001, 2002, and 2003. In 2013, he received the “Golden Chain Award” and was ultimately named “Operator of the Year” by Nation’s Restaurant News.

Blanchette holds a master’s degree in Business Administration from Southern Methodist University and is a member of the Society of Fellows of the Culinary Institute of America.

Gordon Buschbaum '87

When he was starting out, Gordon R. Buchsbaum '87 was working as a line cook in a neighborhood restaurant, gaining valuable experience in hopes of one day becoming a chef. As he worked with graduates from the top culinary arts schools, he noticed something special about the JWU alumni. “JWU graduates were humble and always willing to teach me, which says a lot about the university itself,” says Buchsbaum, president and CEO of Gordon’s Gourmet, which brings specialty foods to chefs around the world.

Buchsbaum’s positive experience convinced him that JWU was the right place for him. He enrolled in the associate degree program in the College of Culinary Arts (as it was then known), and soon found his place, bonding with his mentor Steven Shipley '85, '06 MAT, then a chef-instructor, who later offered connections and help throughout Buchsbaum’s career.

With his stellar JWU education and mentor support, Buchsbaum was employed as a chef for many years.

Most recently, his passion resides in bringing high-quality products to chefs’ kitchens — commercial and in the home. These products include organic balsamic vinegar straight from Modena and grade A, sushi-quality octopus from Spain and Portugal. These cost-efficient, state-of-the-art horticultural lights for the JWU cannabis entrepreneurship program and the hydroponic vegetable garden.

Buchsbaum and his wife, Elisa, established a $50,000 family scholarship for culinary students. “Both our parents raised us to give as much as you possibly can,” says Buchsbaum. Elisa adds: “You can hear my husband’s passion for JWU every time he talks about it. I want to support what matters to him, but I’m also a Rhode Islander and an educator, so it’s a fit for me as well.”

Nancy Fuentes '11

Nancy FuentesAs a co-owner of Gloria's® Latin Cuisine, the leading Salvadoran and Tex-Mex restaurant in Texas, Nancy Fuentes leverages a wide range of culinary and restaurant experience in planning the future of the restaurant brand.

Before her current role, Fuentes served as the research and development chef for Gloria’s; she also worked as a line cook for FT33 and Stephan Pyles.

Fuentes received her bachelor of science in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. While attending Johnson and Wales, she served as an assistant to then-Special Events Chef, T.J. Delle Donne.

In her spare time, Fuentes is on the board of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospitals’ Noche de Esperanza Gala. In addition, she enjoys being a new mother, spending time with her family, cooking, traveling, and her 5 dogs.

Natalia Hancock '01

Natalia HancockNatalia Hancock, R.D., recognized her passion for food early on and enrolled in JWU’s Culinary Arts program in 1999. Upon graduation, she was offered the opportunity to continue in the Culinary Nutrition program and was part of the first class who graduated with a bachelor of science in 2001.

Through numerous positions in the area of culinary arts and nutrition, Hancock has extensive experience in hospitals, and restaurants along with recipe development and analysis. After several years in a clinical setting as a registered dietitian, she combined her culinary and nutrition background to take a nutrition specialist position at CulinArt, a national dining service company.

From there, she advanced to the role of culinary nutritionist at Michelin-starred New York City restaurant Rouge Tomate. During her tenure, she implemented SPE certification, a philosophy that exemplified her personal approach to healthy, delicious, sustainable cooking. She served as senior culinary nutritionist for two years, and brought this approach to a larger audience through its certification and consulting programs.

Over the past several years Natalia has continued to consult and cook as a personal chef for various clients in Manhattan. With a recent move to the suburbs, her career focus is on several VIP clients, her husband and three young children — all while figuring out the next venture.

Cathy Holley

Cathy HolleyCathy Nash Holley has been publisher and editor-in-chief of Flavor & The Menu since the magazine’s inception more than 20 years ago. With its annual “Top 10 Trends” issue, Flavor & The Menu is a valuable resource for the food service industry, serving as a source of flavor and menu trends, strategies and innovation.

Holley got her start as an editor working at National Fisherman and SeaFood Business magazines 25 years ago. In addition to overseeing Flavor & The Menu, she also serves as president of The Flavor Experience, an annual food service conference held in California each August. (In the past, Holley served as president of the International Foodservice Editorial Council, an organization representing food service media.)

A native of the West Coast who grew up in California and Oregon, she currently resides in Maine with her husband, Lex; she is a mom to twin college students.

David Kinch '81, '14

David KinchDavid Kinch, chef/owner of Manresa, has forged a distinctive culinary path, putting him at the forefront of a contemporary California cuisine. Manresa has received extensive accolades including ⋆⋆⋆ from the Michelin Guide, a Five Star Forbes Travel Award, and membership in prestigious organizations such as Relais & Chateaux and Les Grande Tables du Monde. In addition to Manresa, Kinch’s other projects include Manresa Bread, The Bywater, and his newest restaurant, Mentone.

Kinch is consistently recognized on a local, national, and global level, including his international peers voting him into the Top 25 of the World’s Best Chefs 2020 via Le Chef Magazine.

Kinch won an Emmy for his role on the PBS series “The Mind of a Chef.” His first cookbook, “Manresa: An Edible Reflection,” landed on the New York Times “Best Sellers” list in 2013, and his second cookbook “At Home in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes from a Chef’s Night Off,” debuted in March 2021.

Kinch is also the subject of an award-winning documentary, “A Chef’s Voyage,” which chronicles the Manresa team’s journey to France for three culinary residencies at legendary Michelin-starred restaurants.

Scott Leibfried '93

Scott LeibfriedScott Leibfried began his culinary career at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, and since boasts a culinary resume that’s taken him around the globe. You may recognize him for his work hosting and participating in cooking-related competition programs such as “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Food Network Challenge.”

Off-camera, he has served as executive chef and culinary advisor for The Four Seasons Hotel Group, the relaunch of Santa Monica Seafoods retail and cafe locations, dozens of restaurant openings, and a curated restaurant and entertainment venue for Mick Fleetwood in Maui, Hawaii.

Leibfried lives to create healthy, craveable food using a classic cooking methodology, passion, honesty, and responsibility. That passion has led to his current role as director of culinary and food manufacturing for Trifecta Nutrition, one of the nation’s leading meal delivery companies, with a mission to transform the health of America.

Michael Levine '12

Michael LevineMichael Levine is an innovative food entrepreneur and chef. Dynamic in his approach to food solutions, he is incredibly passionate about working with kids and millennials drive healthy and sustainable change in the food industry.

Levine is the CEO of Global Food Solutions, which develops food products and brands for schools and the food service industry, and LineCor Distribution Solutions, which provides scalable third-party logistics and distribution services.

Levine is an outspoken supporter of providing meals to school kids across the United States and is actively involved with various childhood hunger organizations.

Further Reading: Michael Levine Combats the Pandemic with Food

Erik Oberholtzer

Eric OberholtzerErik Oberholtzer is the co-founder of Tender Greens, a pioneering fine-casual brand founded in Los Angeles, California, in 2006 with a mission to democratize good food — a vision of the future he continues to drive as a Food Forever Champion on global biodiversity for the Crop Trust, with whom he cooks globally alongside the world’s leading chefs. In 2019, he joined the Rodale Institute’s board to help drive awareness around soil health, regenerative organic agriculture and food as medicine. In 2009, he founded the Sustainable Life Program, a six-month paid culinary internship program with a mission to provide a path forward for foster youth. Many of the students now hold leadership positions at Tender Greens, serving as beacons of success and inspiration to those at the edge of society.

Oberholtzer is the author of “Ten Year Plan.” In 2019, he joined Cohere as an advisor to founders of conscious brands as they navigate the headwinds of scale. With the success of Tender Greens, he provides a founder-centered roadmap to growth with emphasis on culture, supply chain integrity and long term strategic planning. Currently he is advising brands that are putting the health of people and the planet first.

Before founding Tender Greens, Oberholtzer worked as a chef in many of California’s best restaurants. This chef identity informs his intense dedication to ingredient providence, technique and deliciousness without compromise. A daily practice of meditation, fitness, and good food helps him show up with a calm demeanor in a dynamic world. He is based in Princeton, New Jersey, on a small organic farm.

Mandy Sedlak

Mandy SedlakMandy Sedlak is a senior manager on Ecolab’s Global Food Safety and Public Health team at Ecolab, where she provides insights on regulatory and industry trends. She is responsible for helping customers mitigate brand risks in food safety, guest experience, public health, workplace safety, and sustainability.

Sedlak has 20-plus years of experience in restaurant and supply chain food safety, quality assurance, and procurement leadership. She is also an active member of multiple organizations, including the Association of Food & Drug Officials (AFDO). In addition, she holds a committee chair position with the Conference for Food Protection (CFP) and serves on the steering committee for Partners with a Common Purpose (PwCP). She also serves on the following advisory councils or groups:

  • National Restaurant Association (NRA) Food Safety Advisory Council
  • JWU CFIT Advisory Council
  • Healthy People 2030 Norovirus Working Group
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH)
  • National Environmental Health Association Business Industry Affiliates (NEHA BIA)

Sedlak holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of North Dakota. She and her two children, Lydia and Frank, live in Illinois.

Houston Striggow '79

Houston StriggowHouston Striggow graduated from The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University in 1975. After a two-year stint with Victoria Station Restaurants, he enrolled in Johnson & Wales University’s Culinary Arts program; he graduated in 1979.

Striggow worked in Connecticut from 1980 until 1992. During this time, he formed a restaurant company called Entertaining Moments, Inc., and opened a total of 9 restaurants in Connecticut and Florida.

Until 2000, Striggow worked for a wide range of restaurant groups, including two tours with the House of Blues opening venues around the country as general manager and, later, general manager of new openings; president of Murray Lender’s Café Nova; and vice president of Leirum LLC, a San Francisco entertainment/hospitality development company.

From 2001 to 2004, he and his partner, Susan Sarich, ran an award-winning 100-seat French-Mediterranean bistro in northwest Portland, Oregon.

Since 2005, he has been involved in the development and expansion of SusieCakes Bakeries, which Sarich founded. There are currently 27 locations in California and Texas.

Chris Trout '88

Chris TroutChris Trout’s work and passion focuses on contributing to the creation of meaning for people, as tied to how we learn, develop, and grow. Currently, he serves as vice president of Enterprise Learning and Development for The Walt Disney Company. He leads a team responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of education and learning offerings and experiences across all Disney businesses. These responsibilities span operational training, broad curriculum, leadership development, and education programs.

Trout and his team designed, implemented, and oversee operation of Disney Aspire, the most comprehensive program of its kind. Aspire offers U.S.-based hourly employees the opportunity to participate in 150-plus programs from high school completion through Master’s degree. More than twenty thousand employees have participated since its 2018 launch, with more than 1700 receiving promotions at Disney.

In the field of leadership development, Trout’s team has developed and executed experiential learning opportunities covering thousands of Disney leaders around the globe, from first time leaders through executives. The team is currently executing a totally new approach — Disney Ignite — which seeks to empower leaders to drive culture, strategy, and business results in more dynamic ways.

Trout has held leadership roles in organization development, labor management, and resort operations.