Our Team

 Stephen P. Sands – Co-founder and CEO

Stephen SandsStephen began his culinary career in 1989 as the lead assistant for Francois Dionot, the director and founder of L’Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, MD. Stephen assisted both L’Academie chefs, and visiting guest chefs, ensuring the execution of classes for the chefs was seamless; and assisted students in the participation classes with instruction and techniques during classes.

He graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine’s part-time professional program in 1996, and began teaching as a chef/instructor at the school. There, he developed curricula and original recipes for classes he taught at L’Academie. Stephen taught both demonstration and participation classes, and also instructed L’Academie’s private parties and team building events.

In 2004, Stephen formed Capital Food Partners, LLC, along with his business partner Pete Snaith, as a cooking school and catering company. He left L’Academie de Cuisine as a chef/instructor in the spring of 2009, and retired in March 2010 after working for 35 years as a nuclear engineer working for Westinghouse, Exxon, and NRC to pursue the development of the Culinaria Cooking School.

 

Pete Snaith – Co-founder and Executive Vice President

Pete SnaithIn 1999, Pete began his cooking career taking classes at L’Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, MD — and, he says, it opened a new world for him. This is where he met his business partner Stephen Sands, and attended both the 12 week and 20 week professional courses. Pete was also an assistant at L’Academie de Cuisine for 3 years.

He also trained at the Culinary Institute of Florence in 2007. There, he learned from many top chefs while at the school, and was able to teach a cooking class at the Institute. Pete cooked with Chef Andrea Trapani from the Culinary Institute of Florence, Italy, at the James Beard House in New York City and worked with Chef Jonathan Krinn during the opening of his Restaurant 2941.

Pete taught cooking classes at Sur la Table in Arlington, La Cuisine in Old Town Alexandria, and The Culinary School of the Philippines. He is also the author of “The Street Chef,” a cookbook that sold in the U.S., Canada, England, Russia, Philippines, and Italy.

In 2009, after 26 years as an engineer, Pete retired to develop Culinaria.

 

Brian Batsel

Brian BatselA former Navy officer, Brian Batsel developed a love of cooking and exploring new cuisines during his Navy travels throughout the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and the Pacific.  His final sea tour on a patrol boat in Key West led him to appreciate catching and cooking the freshest seafood, while enjoying the tropical ingredients and influences found in “Keys Cuisine”.  Brian left the Navy in 1990 to pursue his passion to be a chef.  He graduated with honors in 1991 from L’Academie Cuisine in Bethesda, MD.  Since then, he has worked his way up from line cook, to sous-chef, to chef de cuisine, and finally as chef/owner of his own fine dining restaurant.  Brian worked with renowned southwestern chef Mark Miller while opening Red Sage restaurant, as well as with French two-star Michelin chef, Gerard Panguad.  Brian’s restaurant and hotel experience includes work at Red Sage, Gerard’s Place, The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, and The Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, where he was chef de cuisine.  Chef Batsel combined his knowledge of Southwestern, French, and Asian cuisines when operating his own successful restaurant, Café Atlantis, in Amelia Island, Florida.  Currently on hiatus from the restaurant business in order to have more time for his family, Brian teaches school here in Vienna at Wolftrap Elementary School.  Brian is excited to be sharing his love of cooking with students at Culinaria – from basic knife skills and stocks to exciting regional cuisines. Brian is ServSafe certified in the DC Metro area.

 

Catherine (Cat) Béraud

Chef Cat’s passion for cooking began when she was a little girl, watching her mother cook everything from scratch. She was fortunate to travel and live overseas, opening her eyes to many cultures and cuisines. During high school Cat became involved in the Culinary Arts Program at Marshall High School. Competing in culinary events gave her the confidence to pursue her chef career. Her mentor, Chef Devilin, helped Cat chart her career goals. She ultimately studied abroad at Instituto Argentino De Gastronomia in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she received her Culinary Arts degree. Cat is currently owner/chef of Under The Olive Tree, her family’s local olive oil and balsamic shop. They also feature a tapas cafe that uses farm to table ingredients.

 

Debbie Delardi

Debbie is a self taught cook, cake decorator and baker and has wanted to be involved in the culinary arts since she was a teenager. Her love of baking and cooking started at a young age alongside her family preparing meals and desserts for small occasions and large family gatherings. Debbie learned how to prepare classic Italian dishes along with her Grandfather’s own creations. Debbie said “so many of my memories center around family gatherings and the dining room table. Cooking with my grandparents and mother and enjoying time with family”. Debbie also excelled at baking and prepared decadent desserts for family gatherings and special occasions.

In 1985 Debbie received a Wilton cake decorating magazine and tool kit as a Christmas gift and that’s when Debbie’s love of baking and creativity melded into one passion – cake decorating and wedding cake design. After moving to the DC area from New York in 1991, Debbie started her part time business, Cakes By Design. Over the course of the last 20 years, Debbie has had the opportunity to appear on television and teach across the country at international cake shows.   She’s looking forward to this new chapter teaching at Culinaria Cooking School.

 

Emily Frizell, R.D.

Chef Emily for bio

Long before Emily ever thought the word “chef” she knew she wanted to be a registered dietitian. When Emily applied to the dietetics program at Virginia Tech, she only had an interest in the science of nutrition, not the science of cooking. As time went on, Emily gained more and more interest in cooking and trying new recipes.

Once she completed her dietetic internship at the University of Connecticut, Emily began working at a doctor’s office counseling patients for weight loss surgery, diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension. During these years, Emily’s passion for cooking and her desire to learn more about the culinary arts deepened. She then completed the professional program at the International Centre for Culinary Arts in Dubai, focusing on classical continental cuisine.

Emily loves experimenting with foods with a mission to prove that foods can be both nutritious and delicious. She works in a variety of ways to show how to create delicious, good-for-you meals. She conducts cooking lessons, nutrition counseling, and wellness seminars. You may even see her at the farmer’s market doing a cooking demonstration with fresh ingredients.

Johnnie R. Lawton

JohnnieLawtonJohnnie R. Lawton is a professional Chef with more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant and catering business. First influenced by the southern cooking of his mother and grandmothers, he enjoyed cooking at home and to finance his college education. After working as an accountant, he discovered he missed the kitchen too much and has worked full time in the food industry since.

While training at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Johnnie worked behind the scenes at PBS cooking shows such as “Cooking at the Academy” and “Yan Can Cook” and was awarded several honors such as “Best Tasting in Show” by the Livermore Valley Wine Association at their annual food and wine-pairing event. Following graduation from the CCA, Johnnie worked as the Pastry Chef and then Sous Chef at Chez TJ’s, a well know restaurant on the SF peninsula.

Johnnie returned to the East Coast to work at the Inn at Little Washington and later worked at Vidalia, in Washington, DC. He was Executive Chef at Mango Mike’s, a favorite local Caribbean restaurant, when it first opened. In order to spend more time with his young family, Johnnie opened Movable Feast Catering in 2001. Johnnie is excited to combine his experience with a wide range of food styles and food cultures, wine pairings, and use of fresh and local ingredients with his desire to share this love of food with others here at Culinaria Cooking School.

 

Marilena Leavitt

Marilena Leavitt

Marilena Leavitt was born and raised in Greece in an environment where fresh, healthy food played a central role.  She broadened her cooking experiences while living in Rome for many years, and started her professional training there as well.  After returning to the United States in 2007, Marilena completed the 20-week Fundamental Culinary Techniques program at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland.  The course concentration on traditional French cuisine and classic culinary techniques helped her build on her knowledge of French cooking and expand her repertoire.

Marilena joined the team at Culinaria Cooking School in February 2011 where she teaches a variety of classes with concentration in Mediterranean cooking (especially Greek and Italian regional cuisines) and bread baking classes.

In addition to her work at Culinaria, Marilena has continued to offer at-home private lessons for individuals, works as a personal chef in the DC Metro area, and, provides catering for boutique events.  Her food blog, www.marilenaskitchen.com, fuses her love of sharing new recipes with her passion for photography.  Marilena’s classes have been featured in the “Washington Post”, the “Northern Virginia Magazine”, the “Fairfax Times”, the “Vienna Connection” and in “SideTours” of Washington.

Marilena has been a member of the American Personal  and Private Chef Association (APPCA) since 2010 and is ServSafe certified in the DC Metro area. She is a trusted member of the online marketplace “Thumbtack” where she received the “Best of 2015” Award for her cooking classes.

 

Melissa McKee

melissa-mckee

Melissa has been a professional chef and pastry chef in the Washington DC area for over 20 years. Before joining the Culinaria team, Melissa worked for the Ritz Carlton, Best Buns Bread Company and was the owner of Just Desserts. Over the past several years, while raising her four sons she has been a private chef and stylist, helping select clients create the perfect dinner parties and charitable galas.

Her earliest and strongest influence was her family. “Meals were a celebration in my home. Large and Loud! My parents made it seem so easy. The atmosphere was always relaxed and everyone was welcome.” Today, Melissa carries that tradition on with her family, friends and clients. Her style of teaching and cooking is easy and relaxed. “Food is our fuel. It needs to not only fill us, but satisfy us.”

Although the first person in her family born in the United States, her cuisine is still firmly rooted in Italy. She has spent much of her free time traveling throughout Italy taking cooking courses and learning the cuisines of many of Italy’s diverse regions.

 

Diana Nash

Diana-NashDiana Nash left a career in Event Planning, Marketing and Business Development to pursue her dream of becoming a chef.  Diana has always had a passion for cooking and creating recipes.  Prior to her professional career in the high-tech industry, she worked for many restaurants in her early twenties.  
 
In 2002, Diana studied Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago, IL where she graduated first in her class and was a member of the Student Culinary Board.  While in school, she traveled to France to attend culinary classes at Lycee Technique Hotelier Regional de Marseille as well as the Bocuse d’Or and World Pastry Cup.  In fact, she assisted Hartmut Handke, the chef representing the United States at the Bocuse d’Or at a large Chicago event.   Diana also developed R&D recipes for The Solae Company.  
 
Toward the end of her studies, Diana worked for one of Chicago’s top catering firms, The Entertaining Company, under Executive Chef, Shawn Doolin.  From there, she took a position working at Blackbird, consistently a Top 10 Chicago restaurant, under Chef Paul Kahan, one of Food & Wine’s Top 10 Chefs in 1998.  
 
Since moving to Northern Virginia in 2004, Diana has catered many functions for corporations, family and friends.  She currently cooks for a severe high-allergy child and one day would like to write a cookbook on that subject.  She also has three young children and runs her own business, dnash Demo Kitchen & Design.  This is her opportunity to share her knowledge about food, kitchen organization and design with others.  Diana’s food is delicious, creative and elegant.  Her fun personality and lively sense of humor are just a taste as to why her clients keep coming back for more. 

 

Natalie Ortiz

Natalie Ortiz

Natalie is a true believer in cooking as an expression of both art & love. At a young age, she learned from her grandmother, Aurora, that some of life’s best moments revolved around meals shared with family and friends. This inspired Natalie to seek professional culinary training, from which she received a BA in Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management. As owner & chef of Aurora’s Family Table she now has the pleasure of working with busy families to provide them with nutritious & delicious “meals made with love”.

Her penchant for entertaining & event styling come from her time working for one of the area’s largest corporate & social caterers organizing & advising clients on both large & small scale events. A former career in the fashion industry working with small businesses & manufacturers in a consulting capacity has brought her a unique insight into photography & styling. She transfers this to food via her blog & social media sites, where she works to promote the value of learning to cook & the benefits of the tradition of bringing your family to the table at dinner time.

 

Tami Plummer

Raised in a Lebanese family where all gatherings were centered on food, Tami gained a high appreciation for preparing snacks and meals at a young age.  She started her culinary journey baking, and shortly after, gained a strong desire to experiment with different foods through cooking. She believes that cooking is not only about the food, but the overall experience that unites people.

Tami comes to Culinaria from New Mexico, where the weather is hot and the green chili is hotter. She was a High School Culinary Arts teacher in Albuquerque for five years and is extremely excited to be a part of the Culinaria team! During her summers as a teacher, she had the opportunity to attend classes at Johnson & Whales, Florence Italy, and various sites in New Mexico where she was introduced to a wide variety of culinary techniques and foods.

In addition to her love for cooking, Tami adores all outdoor activities and sports. She is also very passionate about nutrition and the value of food for the overall well being of the human body.

 

Jerry Sanders

jerry-sanders-bioGrowing up in a military family that was transferred every two years to bases both in and out of the US, Jerry was exposed to many different types of food cultures as a child. As a result, he has a wide appreciation for the wonderful variety of cuisines that exist. While he enjoys Southwestern, Mexican, Caribbean, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Greek and Spanish, his real favorite is anything with chilies in it. “It’s not about seeing how hot you can make a dish, but about adding the smoky complexity and spice and balancing those additional flavors with the dish.” Being from Texas, many of his courses will be centered around both traditional and contemporary Southwestern cuisine. This will include courses on smoking and grilling, for which Texas is well known.

After retiring from 37 years in corporate banking, he’s had the time to broaden his skills while working with the chefs at Culinaria over the past two years. His approach to cooking is “this isn’t work, it’s fun!” Jerry looks forward to including his Southwestern style in the broad array of cuisines the Culinaria offers.

 

Michelle Scholtes

michelle-1Michelle Scholtes is a DC native with a knack for cooking and an obsession for tasty local restaurants. She developed a passion for food at a young age, while watching Julia Child on Saturday mornings, and taught herself how to cook during college (after one too many hot pockets). Michelle auditioned for the NBC show Food Fighters in 2013 and made it through seven rounds.  The techniques she used for her winning dishes were honed at Culinaria, where she has been an assistant since 2012.  Michelle caters for family and friends, and you can keep up with her and her recipes on her blog at hangrydistrict.com.

 

Mike Selman

Mike SelmanMike Selman’s love affair with food and cooking dates back to childhood.  He learned basic culinary skills by trial and error in college.  His passion and expertise developed as he cooked for family and friends and has done private catering for the past twenty years.

He has been a teaching assistant at L’Academie de Cuisine for nine years and graduated from the 20 week Fundamental Culinary Techniques program in 2005.  He has worked with hundreds of students helping to perfect their culinary skills and technique.

Mike has also participated at several public events including the Washington DC Food and Wine Festival, A Taste of France at the French Embassy, the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show and Uncorked, the Rockville Wine and Music Festival.

His food is often inspired by what is fresh seasonally and influenced by the culinary flavors of Italy and Asia. The only thing he enjoys more than food and cooking is sharing his passion.  He looks forward to doing that with his students at Culinaria. Mike is ServSafe certified in the DC Metro area.

 

Michael Stempihar

Michael Stempihar is a professional chef and certified instructor.  He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York.  Chef Michael has interned at Essex House in New York, worked as a chef for Marriott Corporation in Virginia, and served many years as Executive Chef in the federal government executive dining room in the DC metro area.  He has been proprietor of Le Fleur de Jardine catering private parties. He taught cooking at Utica Free Academy in New York, the Baltimore Culinary Institute in Maryland, and the Washington Culinary Institute in DC.

 

Christine Wisnewski

Christine WisnewskiChristine’s family tree includes a butcher and a green grocer. She is sure her genetic history and her family’s food-centered traditions are the reason for her love of food. An early win in a cake-decorating contest kicked off Christine’s interest in baking. She eventually went on to work in an Italian bakery in New York, which further fueled her love of bread and pastry, and taught her the importance of quality customer service. Since January 2011, Christine has been an active volunteer in Culinaria’s Assistants Program.

Christine has a M.S. in Environmental Science from Johns Hopkins. She is particularly interested in issues of sustainability, local sourcing of ingredients, and in making sense of the vast amounts of information out there on the relationship between food and health.

Professionally, Christine is currently Director of Projects at Sound Science LLC, an environmental consulting firm. She is an accomplished trainer and facilitator, and has experience developing workshops and writing training materials. She hopes to make the most of these skills in Culinaria’s kitchens.

An avid home cook and self-taught chef, Christine’s primary responsibility today involves finding creative ways to feed her family healthful meals, despite their hectic schedules. She welcomes every opportunity to teach the pleasures of the table, and to encourage people to create their own traditions. Christine is ServSafe certified in the DC Metro area.

 

Ellen Wulchin

Born into a large family, Ellen acquired her love of cooking at home while preparing meals for an active and lively crowd with diverse tastes and preferences. It was a natural progression to pursue her love of food at the highly regarded Culinary Institute of the America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York where she earned a degree in Culinary Arts. Ellen also gained a greater appreciation of the value of using fresh, high quality ingredients and the limitless possibilities of food preparation!

After graduating from the CIA, Ellen held positions in a variety of establishments in the field ranging from hotel banquet kitchens to restaurants and caterers, each with its own culinary style. She evolved her skills at the National Academy of Sciences where she created menus and planned events for committee breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and receptions. She supervised the daily production, set-up, service, and presentation of culinary events in conference rooms, special event areas, and private dining rooms.

Tasting and experimenting with new foods has become Ellen’s favorite hobby. With her varied and adventurous background, Ellen is excited with the opportunity to pass her heartfelt joy of the culinary arts to eager students at Culinaria Cooking School.

Sherry McCrary

After retiring from a rigorous career as a Law Office Manager for a high energy firm in Tysons Corner, Sherry was looking for a new home where she could marry her love of cooking with her superior office management skills.

“I love, love, love to cook!” says Sherry, “You might say that I have a passion for cooking. It’s fun for me. I enjoy every aspect of it from watching it on the cooking channels, to reading about it in the Food Network Magazine, to actually doing it!”

Since joining Culinaria in January 2015, Sherry’s warm smile and positive attitude have made a very welcome addition to our team!

 

Toni Lipe

53662_1558384991866_659427_oToni, our Business Manager, comes to Culinaria with a solid corporate background – Project Management, Administration, Training/Development, and Marketing. She has also managed several small businesses, including her own. Toni, a total foodie, loves to cook and experiment with recipes for family and friends.

A self-proclaimed fiber artist, Toni enjoys several fiber arts, including knitting and weaving.