Michele Baker Benesch is a Miami native with a passion to helping our community stay true to it’s roots while becoming a mecca power city. She graduated from Palmer Preparatory High School, then earned her undergraduate degree from University of Miami with a BA in Business Marketing. After working in corporate marketing for ten years, Michele opened a division of her family’s company Menu Men in New York City. Upon returning to Miami to assume the leadership role with Menu Men, Michele realized the realize lack of awareness for fresh local produce and products in the community she cherished. She immediately became a member of Slow Food Miami and supported the movement through attending events. Five years ago Michele wanted to help make a difference and joined the Board of Directors as the Farm to Table Director. She created our current Hidden Kitchens fundraising program as well as initiated The Snail of Approval Program here is Miami. Three years ago Michele accepted the Presidency and has been passionate about helping Slow Food Miami grow and making a difference in our community through all of our amazing outreach programs.
Michele also sits on the Miami Children’s Hospital Wien, Women and Shoes Committee, Big Brothers, Big Sisters gala committee and is a member of Beaux Arts.
Julie has extensive experience in menu design and creating culinary concepts, as evidenced over 15 years as a chef, consultant, and business owner. After traveling the globe as a private and charter yacht chef, she began her own business as a personal chef in San Diego in 2005, which grew into a full service chef agency and farm-to-table catering company. In 2011, after moving her family to Miami Beach, Julie took on the role of Signature Chef for Essensia Restaurant at The Palms Hotel, where she was later promoted to oversee all culinary operations for The Palms and it’s sister hotel, Circa 39, as Corporate Executive Chef for the company. Over the course at The Palms, Julie created an authentic culture of farm-to-table cuisine throughout the restaurant, hotel outlets, and banquet services. She left The Palms in April of 2015 to pursue her goals of reaching a wider audience, including developing new restaurants in Miami and abroad that aim to elevate the dining experience through education and culture; developing a stronger school garden presence and programming in Miami Dade schools; and coordination of events and food festivals within the context that they promote the ideals of organic and sustainable dining in a way that educates and elevates community consciousness.
Nirka Burns Padilla was born in Caracas, Venezuela and obtained a B.S. in Legal Studies from Universidad Santa Maria in 1992. Moving from Trademark and Patent law into Real Estate in 2005, Nirka began her real estate career in Tampa, Florida focusing on the sale of luxury homes. After having her second daughter, she moved with her family to Miami and is now an Estate Agent with ONE Sotheby’s International Realty. Avid home cook passionate about sustainable, organic and local produce she became a member of Slow Food Miami and supported their movement by donating sustainable wines with her husband, from their wine distribution company Stellar Wines and attending events. In 2014 she joined the Board of Directors as Secretary.
Nirka is also involved with the National Association of Professional Women, Miami-Dade Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Strathmore’s Worldwide Who’s Who.
Pascale van Kipnis was born and raised in New York City where she studied at the School of American Ballet and then joined the New York City Ballet in 1992. She was promoted to the rank of soloist in 1999 and retired in 2006. While with the company she toured the world but then it was time to have a family. Her first born arrived in 2007 and that is when something changed for her. Feeding this new little being from scratch made her want to only buy the cleanest food there was. From then on Farm to table, organics, and whole living became so important. In 2010 the family moved to Miami. In 2012 she gave birth to triplets, identical boys and a girl and continues to be an avid consumer and believer in clean, local and sustainable living. She is passionate and involved in local movements that promote sustainable living and has helped in the building of the Miami Science Barge. As a teacher of dance, she hopes to always inspire the young to keep dreaming whatever their dreams might be. No dream is too small and every step towards getting back to less processed and local food and industries, is worth taking.
Wendy Levitz was raised just a short bike ride away from Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami, graduated from Ransom Everglades, earned her BA in Comparative Religion from Columbia College in New York City and a MA in Clinical Social Work from NYU. She has been a fellow of and tour guide at the Kampong and supports the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores. Wendy also trained as a Miami Dade Master Gardener and believes, quite literally, in a “grass-roots” attempt to teach, one child at a time, about where the sustenance of our lives comes from.
Allyce Perret-Gentil was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She graduated from Westminster Christian School and from there received her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Florida Gulf Coast University. After having difficulty finding a hospital nursing job, Allyce was offered to teach a High School Health class. Her spark for education grew, especially in health education. It became a goal of hers to encourage children and teens to eat vegetables and take care of themselves. She worked for five years as the school nurse at St. Philip’s Episcopal School in Coral Gables. She started a Board of Health at her school, with the help of some parents, and their goal was to introduce fresh and local snacks to the children at their school on a daily basis. Allyce always tells children in her classes, “Some of us may choose careers that involve more math than history or more English than science. Yet being educated on how to take care of ourselves affects everybody”. Although Allyce loved her position at St. Philip’s, she was offered a very exciting position to help start the non-profit organization Wellness in the Schools down here in South Florida . Allyce is now the Program Coordinator for Wellness in the Schools, South Florida. Wellness in the Schools inspires healthy eating, environmental awareness,and fitness as a way of life for kids in public schools.
Cynthia Seaman is the founder and proprietor of Lasso the Moon, an event design, planning and catering company based in Coconut Grove, Florida. With an extensive culinary background, Cynthia’s work focuses on food that is globally inspired but locally sourced. She is passionate about sourcing local products for the menus she designs for her clients, and she believes in preserving heritage foods and customs from her native Southwest as well as those that she has discovered during her world travels. As part of Slow Food Miami, Cynthia has served as the Chair of Hidden Kitchens, exclusive Slow Food Miami fundraising events featuring local chefs. She has also served as the Creative Director & Chairperson of Bali Ha’i for seven years, an event that raises funds to support The Kampong, the Miami outpost of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
JoEllen Rooks Strump JoEllen was born and raised in Miami. She holds a degree from Richmond College in London in International finance as well as a Masters in Neuropsychology. After spending several years in the financial world she switched over to marketing and advertising where she has had several jobs working for Bal Harbour Shops and Bionic Brand Lab her husbands branding, advertising . design and Internet company. After taking a break from the world of paying jobs to raise her children, she volunteered extensively raising funds and serving on the boards for her children’s schools as well as many worthwhile charities in the South Florida area. Having a strong interest in The Slow Food movement, she grows most of her own food during the growing season as well as raising her own chickens. Her part- time hobbies include teaching cooking and catering.
Carol López-Bethel returned to Miami after living in Washington, DC and México City for many years. She has over 30 years in International Commercial Real Estate including asset management for the U.S State Department in 25 countries. Since retiring, she continues to travel the world with a new focus as a certified wine consultant, educator and blogger, an avid gardener of edible gardens and promoter of the Slow Food lifestyle.
Tina Grene has been passionate about all things “green” since growing up in Los Angeles, California. When she was a resident of Miami Beach, she attended numerous meetings at City Hall for the Sustainability Committee. She has been in the Recycling and Food Waste Diversion field for the past 5 years, sharing her passion for green initiatives with everyone she meets. Tina and her husband, Jeff Grene, now live in downtown Brickell, where their hobby is trying out new restaurants after reading about the chefs and their menus. Always pleased to support their neighborhood businesses, as long as the menu is healthy and hopefully sourced locally. Tina markets LFC bio digesters for Power Knot out of Silicon Valley, Ca., telling people that she’s saving the planet 1 machine at a time. The LFC’s convert organic food waste into safe grey water that can be re-purposed to irrigate gardens and landscape. She helps her clients’ brand reduce their carbon footprint while diverting food waste from ending up in our toxic landfills, contributing to climate change. She feels that her client connections in our local hotels, supermarkets, resorts, campuses, country clubs, restaurants and sports stadiums dovetail perfectly with the objectives of Slow Food Miami. With Tina’s business experience and energy, coupled with her knowledge of sustainability, she hopes to enhance the mission of Slow Food Miami and Snail of Approval.
Sean Reichert was born in Pittsburg and majored in Business at Point Park College. At 17, he became the youngest elected official in Pennsylvania. During the next 18 years, he represented 17 local communities and served as a liaison between local, state and federal agencies. Currently, he is a Realtor with Grove Properties. A lifelong gardener, Sean is a past President and an active member of the Coconut Grove Garden Club. Sean is a hands-on volunteer with Slow Food Miami, having helped to install over 50 gardens in schools and in the community. Sean was previously Director of Education.
Alex Ackerhalt hails from Buffalo, New York (the “Miami of the North”). He earned a BA from SUNY Albany. Alex spent nearly 2 decades in the financial industry, including 15 years on the trading floors in Chicago. As a member of the CBOE, CME, and CBOT, Alex served on committees at the exchange level as well as serving as an industry arbitrator. He lives in Miami Beach with his wife, Daniela, and children, Stefan and Julia. Alex believes that in the age of technology, instant gratification and disposable everything, it is important to learn and teach about the importance of wellness, healthy eating habits, and supporting local farms and businesses.
Chef Aaron Dreilinger is partner and co-owner of Chef David Catering and Event Design, one of Miami’s premier gastronomic event planning enterprises. Originally a student of sustainable agriculture, Chef Aaron became drawn to nutrition and the culinary arts at a young age. His cuisine combines elements of American grass-roots ingredients, international influences, and old-world classical culinary tradition. Classically trained and a student of Johnson and Wales University, Chef Aaron draws from extensive travel in Southeast Asia, India, and Australia, while keeping strong ties with American Slow Food. Highlights of Chef Aaron’s career include Executive Chef of Celebrity Cruises, Sous Chef for Quattro Gastronomia, several Michelle Bernstein projects, and director of nonprofit Earth Learning Foundation’s Community Food Works. Accolades include Slow Food’s “Snail of Approval,” a handful of Presidential dinners, and work with Food Network productions. As co-owner of Chef David Catering, Chef Aaron prides himself in bringing restaurant quality cuisine beyond the confines of dining room walls. Strong ties to South Florida’s farm-to-table movement as well as Miami’s fine dining scene, make for a uniquely delicious background. This year Chef Aaron joins the board of Miami Slow Foods helping to spread farm to table and sustainable practices in South Florida. An artist and chef at heart, his food has been described as “simply complex, boldly understated, and tastefully elegant.”