Sarah is the Food Education and Programs Manager for the Burlington School Food Project. In this ever-evolving role, Sarah helps district students develop healthy and wholesome relationships with their lunch trays. She oversees Farm-to-School initiatives for the district, working collaboratively with schools and the broader community to develop innovative food ventures. In addition, Sarah procures local ingredients for Burlington School District’s nine cafeterias, acts as steward to the district’s two large-scale gardens, and manages the Fork in the Road student-run food truck with infectious energy and inspiration.
Annabelle Roberge is currently a sophomore at Mount Mansfield Union High School. She participates in volleyball and basketball in school and is a black belt at Yordan’s Black Belt Academy. Annabelle has attended Jr Iron Chef VT competitions throughout the years starting at age nine with her grandfather and family to provide maple sugar treats to the audience and competitors. She loves to spend time during maple sugaring season with her family and their business, End O Road Maple in Jericho.
(she/they) Emma loves food and when they're not cooking or eating it, you can find them watching and learning all about it. This year, Emma is determined to make all the Lebanese food and desserts that she grew up with. Emma earned a BA in international studies from the University of South Florida and has primarily focused their career on youth development, camp programming, and diversity and inclusion work. As the director of community engagement, Emma bridges the community to Outright programs and serves as the camp director for Camp Outright, a traditional summer camp with a queer twist.
Said is the owner of Jilib Jiblets, a Somali cuisine catering business. He is a singer and dancer for A2VT (Africa to Vermont). Said loves spending time in his community and being a positive influence for the younger generation.
Gina is the Farm to Institution Program Manager for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. In this role, she helps expand institutional market opportunities for Vermont farmers and producers and manages the Agency’s farm-to-school and early childhood grants program. Gina grew up in central Vermont and graduated from the University of Vermont, where she was a student leader in the Real Food Challenge initiative to increase UVM's procurement of local, sustainable, fair, and humane food.
Allan Walker-Hodkin's decades-long culinary career began with celebrated farm-to-table restaurants in Manhattan. Over the years he has presented at the Museum of Food & Drink, competed in Cochon 555, hosted whole-animal open-fire outdoor cooking events, and cooked at the James Beard House. Allan is excited to meet with younger chefs and share his enthusiasm for the culinary world.
Jennifer Vascotto is the chef, farmer, and co-owner of Trenchers Farmhouse. She was born and raised in Los Altos, California. After graduating top of her class at the Culinary Institute of America in NY, she began her professional career working in top restaurants like "no .9 Park" in Boston and "Nightbird" in San Francisco. Her desire for more knowledge brought her to move around the world, working in South Africa at "Rust en Vrede," in Tokyo for a Soba Master, and finally in Italy for master butcher Dario Cecchini. Here, she met her husband Giacomo and decided to start a lifetime adventure with him. Moving to Vermont in 2019, she began Trenchers Farmhouse, a value-added fresh artisan pasta farm that highlights Italian tradition through Vermont ingredients.
Chef Jim Birmingham is the Food Service Director for the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools and is an American Culinary Federation Certified Executive Chef. Chef Jim has been the Jr Iron Chef VT Judging Captain since 2015. ”I think that it is a valuable event that teaches lifelong lessons in nutrition, culinary arts and teamwork. It is always a treat to see the level of engagement that the competitors bring along with their excitement for healthy, fresh local ingredients."
Julian Hackney is a Vermont-born musician and entrepreneur based in Burlington. As a young teen, he discovered a love for the culinary arts after adopting a vegan diet and being told by his mother that he’d have to cook for himself from then on. He is a dad, guitarist, and principal songwriter for internationally acclaimed rock band Rough Francis, and the owner and sole operator of Young at Heart Ginger Beer, where he makes small batches of naturally brewed non-alcoholic ginger beer out of his certified home kitchen. Since the mid-2000s, he’s been crafting a life of nourishment through music, food, and drink.
Laura is a recipe tester and developer in the Vermont test kitchen of Dotdash Meredith. She has been active in the food industry for more than two decades in a variety of roles including pastry chef, chef instructor, executive chef and director of operations in restaurants, resorts, catering, retail operations and food production companies. After graduating from the University of Vermont with a BS in dietetics, she pursued her love of baking by earning an associate's degree in baking and pastry arts from the Culinary Institute of America. She has worked at the Macrina Bakery in Seattle, Sundance Resort in Utah, and Vermont Mystic Pie Company, The Inn at Essex, New England Culinary School and Sugarsnap Catering, all in Vermont. Laura discovered her love of baking growing up alongside two grandmothers and a mom who loved baking and cooking. They unknowingly established the importance of food and cooking in Laura's life. Growing up outside Philadelphia, she had access to great restaurants, and her dad took her to many. Prior to joining the EatingWell team, Laura traveled the United States, England, Poland, Australia, New Zealand and Anguilla to check out different cultures and food. Laura lives in Vermont with her husband, son, daughter and schnauzer.
Dr Deb has been teaching children and their parents how to eat delicious healthy food for the past 15 years with her Build Healthy Kids program. She understands food from various angles as a chef, nutritionist, researcher, and writer. Her books – Picky Eating Solution, Food Parenting, and Beat Sugar Addiction Now for Kids – lay out a step-by-step plan to make small changes toward health that lead up to big results. She just finished writing The Culinary Medicine Textbook with experts from around the world in which she focuses on teaching cooking skills that lead to cravable healthy food. "Enough with telling people what they can and can't eat, let's teach them to make delicious food one bite at a time. It is these choices that will change the health of each individual and our planet."
Aly Richards is the CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, helping to lead a statewide movement to ensure affordable access to high-quality child care for all Vermont families by 2025. She also serves as a Trustee of University of Vermont Medical Center and the Vermont Council on Rural Development and was recently named a Changemaker for Children by Save the Children. Aly grew up in Newbury, VT and now lives in Montpelier with her husband James Pepper, their identical twin boys, Beau and Wesley, and two dogs, Bella and Ellie. She also is an experienced eater, and can’t wait to put this passion to its full use at Jr Iron Chef VT!
Chef Cheryl Niedzwiecki has been a Jr Iron Chef VT coach for past teams that have won the Lively Local, Crowd Pleaser awards; a Skill USA Culinary Competition Coordinator in 2022; a Pro Start Burger Challenge Coach for the 1st and 3rd place winning teams in 2022; a Vermont Skills USA Baking and Pastry coach for the 3rd place student team in 2019, and the Vermont Skills USA Demo Coach for the 1st place student team in 2018.
She is ServSafe Manager certified, a Customer Service Institute of America Certified Customer Experience Professional, a certified ProStart Educator, and a former certified Chef de Cuisine by the American Culinary Federation.
She was the Stafford Technical Center Hospitality Instructor from 2001–2013, the caterer for weddings and events at Crisanver House from 1998–2008, owner of Humble Baker (wedding and special occasion cakes) from 1990–2010; and a chef/baker at Killington Grand Hotel, Coffee Exchange, McKerley HealthCare, Green Mountain at Fox Run, Cappuccino’s, as well as hotels, restaurants and bakeries in New Jersey.
Cheryl has an AOS from Culinary Institute of America, a BS from Johnson State College, and an MBA from the College of St. Joseph.
Katie Mobley is Champlain College of Vermont's dean of enrollment and community relations, as well as the chair of Vermont Afterschool's board. Katie has worked in higher education since 1997, beginning as an admissions counselor at her alma mater, Middlebury College. In 2002, she graduated from the University of Vermont’s Higher Education and Student Affairs program. She has worked at the Community College of Vermont for the past 20 years in a variety of roles including coordinator of academic services and co-director of secondary education initiatives, where she was involved with ACT 77 and the Expanded Learning Task Force. Outside of work, you can often find her coaching soccer or driving her kids to hockey rinks.
Cat Viglienzoni is an afternoon/evening news anchor at WCAX-TV. She's been with Channel 3 for 11.5 years. When she's not on the air, you can find her baking delicious desserts (which she frequently pawns off on coworkers), reading, learning Spanish, dancing, adventuring with her husband, and spoiling their three cats -- Inky, Smudge, and Yam.
Chris Johnson is the head baker at Nomad Coffee. A recent Vermont transplant, Chris started his career in pastry in New York City, working for Dominique Ansel and Thomas Keller at their signature New York locations, Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Bouchon Bakery, and with Dominique Ansel at his SoHo bakery
and West Village Kitchen location. Though not classically trained, Chris’s dedication to learning and self improvement pushed him to many accomplishments including winning Dominique Ansel’s first-ever employee Dessert Creation challenge and earning a space for his dessert on the menu, and also winning an Employee Scholarship prize with Thomas Keller. Chris’s desserts have been featured at the James Beard House as guest pastry chef for Chef Jason Goodenough’s dinner. Chris has also competed on Food Network’s Chopped Sweets, making it to the final round of competition and just narrowly missing the win.
María is the proud owner of Cafe Mamajuana, chef, mom, entrepreneur, and 2022 James Beard semi-finalist. María’s restaurant connects the people of Burlington with Dominican, Afro-Caribbean, Italian and Spanish culture, using food as a vessel of tradition, nostalgia and identity. Following in the footsteps of her father (chef and former tapas restaurant owner) and inspired by the flavors of her childhood, María became a chef and business owner herself.
Giacomo is the chef, farmer, and co-owner of Trenchers Farmhouse. He was born and raised near Modena, in northern Italy. After pursuing a bachelor's degree from the University of Modena, he began his professional career with master butcher Dario Cecchini in Tuscany. Upon meeting his wife, Jennifer, and immigrating to the United States, Giacomo worked his way up in Michelin rated kitchens in San Francisco. Moving to Vermont in 2019, he began Trenchers Farmhouse, a value-added artisan pasta farm that highlights Italian tradition through Vermont ingredients.
Laura La Vacca is the director for Burlington School Food Project. Laura grew up in a household where preparing and eating as a family was an integral part of her childhood. This value followed her into her work life where she sharpened her cooking skills in various commercial and institutional kitchens. It was as a chef at an assisted living facility 30 years ago where she saw how childhood food experiences created lasting touchstones in life. In her career as a school nutrition professional, Laura's lifelong passion for the importance of cooking and enjoying delicious food together has come full circle. She feels fortunate to work in a community where school nutrition is a part of every child's education.