Stephen P. Sands – Co-founder and CEO
Stephen 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
In 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.
Brenda is an Egyptian-American, born and raised in the culturally diverse city of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her love for Middle Eastern food grew each summer during her childhood visits to Egypt, which included visits to Alexandrian coastal cities, rural villages, and the growing metropolis of Al Mansoura.
She also spent several years living in Abu Dhabi, expanding her culinary experiences and repertoire. Although she is a lawyer and president of a philanthropic consulting firm, Brenda has found the kitchen to be her creative outlet. She also runs the award-winning Middle Eastern food blog, midEATS. Brenda lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and twin boys.
A 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.
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.
Chef Shanel attended Johnson & Wales University in Norfolk VA where she obtained degrees in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management. After completing her studies, a job opportunity with Marriott International led her to the DC metro area. With over 17 years of experience in both the front and back of the house Chef Shanel always looks to provide unique and memorable dining experiences to all of her clients.
Her cooking style is versatile, Chef Shanel specializes in customizing menus to fit the occasion, and can prepare a variety of dishes ranging from internationally influenced meals to upscale comfort food, she bakes too!
Chef Shanel is a native of Buffalo New York and credits her style of cooking to being exposed to various types of cuisines while growing up.
Marilena Leavitt was born and raised in Greece in an environment where fresh, healthy and seasonal food played a central role. Upon receiving her degree in Economics at the University of Athens, she started working at the U.S. Embassy in Athens. She later moved to Italy and it was there that she started her professional culinary training. While living in Rome, she attended culinary school whose curriculum focused on Italian regional cuisine. After returning to the United States in 2007, Marilena completed a course at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, with its concentration on classic culinary techniques and traditional French cuisine. The course helped Marilena build on her training, expand her repertoire, and provided a solid foundation for her career as a chef and teaching instructor.
In February 2011, Marilena joined the team at Culinaria Cooking School where she teaches a variety of classes with concentration in Mediterranean cooking–especially Greek and Italian regional cuisines, bread baking classes, couples cooking classes and kids’ summer camps.
In addition to her teaching at Culinaria, Marilena has continued to offer at-home, private lessons for individuals and small groups; works as a personal chef in the DC Metro area; and, provides catering for boutique events. 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. She is a trusted member of the online marketplace “Thumbtack” where her private classes have received the “Best of” regional award for two consecutive years.
Marilena is a member of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA) and is ServSafe certified in the DC Metro area. She also works as a freelancer creating recipes, content and food photography for some favorite Greek food brands. One of her favorite creative pursuits is authoring her personal food blog, www.marilenaskitchen.com, where she fuses her love of sharing her favorite Mediterranean recipes with her passion for photography.
Madhavi, an Indian-American, grew up in Bihar (northern India). She credits her mother for teaching her the healthy benefits of spices/herbs and how they enhance the taste of simple, delicious Indian cuisine.
Madhavi completed her MBA in India and loves to travel. During her visits to India, she enjoys leaning additional tips and techniques about Indian food. While previously living in Colorado, Madhavi taught cooking classes in her home. She also does Indian cuisine instructional videos on her Youtube channel – Curry Lessons
Kitchen time is ‘Madhavi time’ where she is free to be creative with food. Madhavi lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and 2-year-old son. She loves to cook for family and friends.
According to Madhavi, Indian food is not just the combination of spices and ingredients, but its combination of love, affection and spices.
Monica is a freelance instructor who teaches cooking and art classes for children, teens and adults in Virginia and Maryland. Monica graduated from the University of Notre Dame and worked as a marketing manager before returning to school to pursue her interest in the culinary arts. After graduating from L’Academie de Cuisine she gained multiple years of professional experience through her work in restaurants, hotels and pastry shops. Monica enjoys teaching and sharing her love of cooking and baking so that students will feel comfortable and competent in the kitchen. Monica has ServSafe and nutrition certifications.
Diana 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.
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.
Michelle (Scholtes) Strobel
Michelle Strobel 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’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.
Elizabeth grew up in a food-loving household, with a health-obsessed dietician for a mother. She rebelled by becoming a pastry chef (after a decade-long detour into a law career). Her transition from lawyer to baker began in her own kitchen, catering birthday parties and neighborhood functions, which inspired her to go pro. She graduated from the Pastry Arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine and made her way up the ranks of the pastry kitchen at the Fairmont Hotel Georgetown in Washington DC. There, she managed the dessert menu at the Juniper restaurant, created hundreds of wedding cakes and became the resident beekeeper, tending the hives on the hotel’s roof.
As an educator, Elizabeth enjoys teaching the fundamental techniques that help her students move beyond what they think a home cook can accomplish. She loves modernizing French classics with fresh and interesting flavors and an eye towards making things look as good as they taste. She is an avid gardener, always searching for new and interesting things to pull out of the ground and stick in her desserts. And she loves to talk about her bees.
Christine’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.
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.
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!