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.


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.


Michel Nischan
Chef, Author and Food Equity Advocate
Founder & CEO, Wholesome Wave

Michel Nischan is a four-time James Beard Award winning chef with over 30 years of leadership advocating for a more healthful, sustainable food system. He is Founder and CEO of Wholesome Wave, Co-Founder of the James Beard Foundation’s Chefs Action Network, as well as Founder and Partner with the late actor Paul Newman of the former Dressing Room Restaurant. Nischan, whose parents were farmers, began his career at 19, cooking breakfast at a truck stop. He quickly realized that the ingredients coming in the back door fell far short of the farm-fresh harvests he’d grown up on, and began a life-long career championing the farm-to-table concept, decades before it had a name.

Nischan was instrumental in securing $100M for Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants in the current Federal Farm Bill, expanding affordable access to locally grown fruits and vegetables. He's also the author of three cookbooks on sustainable food systems and social equity through food. A lifetime Ashoka fellow, he serves as a director on the board of the Jacques Pepin Foundation and on the advisory boards of Chef’s Collaborative, Modern Farmer, TerraVia, Good Food Media Network, and The National Young Farmers Coalition. The James Beard Foundation honored Nischan as the 2015 Humanitarian of The Year.

To learn more about Chef Nischan, follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and visit www.chefnischan.com

To learn more about Wholesome Wave visit, follow us on Twitter and Instagram or visit www.wholesomewave.org

List of Awards

2017 James Beard Foundation, Who’s Who Award
2016 The Center for Discovery Green Shovel Award
2015 James Beard Foundation, Humanitarian of the Year
2015 Children of Bellevue, Honoree
2013 Food Inc. Awards, Pioneer Award
2013 Ira V. Hisckock Award for Public Health Service
2013 American Heart Association, Change the Future Award
2012 Monterey Bay Aquarium, Sustainable Chef of the Year
2012 Utne Reader Visionary Award
2012 California Small Farm Coalition Award for Excellence
2011 International Association of Culinary Professionals, Humanitarian of the Year
2010 Hummingbird Environmental Citizen Award
2010 Chefs Collaborative, Pioneers Table Award
2010 Diabetes Research Institute, Dare to Dream Award
2010 Huffington Post ,Top 100 Game Changer’s Award
2010 Lifetime Ashoka Fellowship Award
2008 Marine Stewardship Council, Sustainable Seafood Ambassador Award
2008 James Beard Foundation, Best Television Segment for PBS “Victory Garden”
2007 Food Arts Magazine, Silver Spoon Award
2007 American Heart Association, Chef with Heart Award
2007 Condé Nast Traveler, Top 95 Restaurants in the World: Dressing Room Restaurant in Westport, CT and Pure Restaurant in Mumbai, India
2007 Esquire Asia, Top 10 New Restaurants in the World: Pure Restaurant, Mumbai India
2004 James Beard Foundation, Best Health Focused Cookbook
2004 Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine – Best Airline Food, Song Airways Food for Sale Program
1988 Marriott Hotels Corporation Chef of the Year


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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