The Trotter Project Board
President: Robert Houde
Robert Houde has been in the wine and food business for over 25 years, including fine dining service at Lela B’s restaurant in San Antonio, the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago, and classic French restaurant Chez Ardid in San Antonio. Afterward, Robert returned to Chicago to work with world-renowned restaurant Charlie Trotter’s. After four intense years with Chef Trotter’s wine team, he was promoted to head sommelier, and continued in that role for two more years. During his tenure, Robert helped the restaurant achieve The Wine Spectator’s award for “America’s Best Restaurant,” The Wine Spectator’s reader’s poll award for “Best Restaurant in the World for Wine & Food,” as well as the James Beard Award for “Outstanding Restaurant” in 2000.
In 2009, Robert and a partner launched Robert Houde Wines, LLC, an Illinois-based importer and distributor specializing in artisanal European wines.
Vice President: Chef Michael Taus
Acclaimed Chef Michael Taus, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, began his career in the kitchens of Chef Pierre Pollin’s Le Titi de Paris, Chef Joachim Splichal’s Patina and Chef Charlie Trotter’s eponymous restaurant. A Chicagoland area native, Michael was deeply influenced by his close-knit Italian family and their traditional Sunday suppers. This sense of togetherness — the cooking culture — continues to be the driving force behind Michael’s love of the kitchen and is the crux of his newest concept, Taus Authentic.
Michael attended a high school with a considerable culinary program as well as an onsite student-run restaurant, a formative experience that prompted him to become a mentor himself.
Secretary: Joseph Campagna
Joe Campagna is the Principal at Grant Merchant Services. Joe’s day job sees him helping various businesses and non-profits manage their credit card processing solutions. Before taking over the family business, he was a career changer who turned to the hospitality industry. He began his culinary career working with Chef Trotter. Joe then went on to open two restaurants – Flight in The Glen as the Executive Chef and then a few years later he was the General Manager of the eponymous Graham Elliot.
Since leaving the industry, Joe has gone on to write about restaurants and participate in various food events. In addition to sitting on the board of The Trotter Project, Joe has been a long time board member for the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Advisory Board for Pilot Light. Joe is a proud alum of the University of Wisconsin and a fan of the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Blackhawks.
Treasurer: Christopher Kiefor
Christopher Kiefor is a CPA with 22 years of progressive business experience. In order to implement sustained positive results, he draws on his extensive experience in the real estate sector as well as time spent consulting in various industries. He is the founder CFO of Nexus, Inc., a financial, technical and tax advisory firm providing entrepreneurial companies with outsourced CFO and CIO leadership. Previously, he worked for 10 years as the CFO of Baum Realty Group, a local real estate brokerage and development firm.
Christopher holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin. He served as a U.S. Marine and enjoys playing guitar.
John Abels-Kohles is a 30-year veteran of the restaurant and hospitality industry. Classically trained in the culinary arts at Kendall College, John has worked at some of the top restaurants in Chicago, including Tru Restaurant, the Signature Room at the 95th (in the historic Hancock building), and as Executive Chef at the landmark Marshall Field’s department store. John also has had the opportunity to continuously give back to the industry and the greater community through philanthropic work with Common Threads, Share our Strength, Meals on Wheels Chicago and The Trotter Project.
Currently a Lead Chef Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Chicago, John helps to oversee a faculty of more than 20 accomplished chefs and fulfill his passion to inspire the next generation of culinarians.
John W. Albee
John W. Albee is the founder of Albee Law PC located in downtown Chicago. John practices in the areas of corporate counsel, mergers and acquisitions, commercial litigation and real estate. Since graduating from The John Marshall Law School in 2003, John has worked continuously in private practice. His dedication to serving his clients and helping businesses and individuals solve complicated legal issues is a source of energy and pride. His most recent accomplishments have included streamlining step-by-step processes for serving the needs of clients in managing complicated legal business issues and working efficiently and effectively with in-house counsel and business owners to strengthen and protect their organizations.
Irv Michaels started his career as a CPA at a local public accounting firm. He is the founder of Michaels Consulting, provider of business advisory services helping growing companies to achieve their goals. He has served organizations in a broad range of capacities including financial, business development, technology and human resources areas. He is an Advisor to Project Projects, a graphic design firm, and is Strategic Relationship Director at MicroAccounting, a provider of business management solutions.
In addition to sitting on the board of The Trotter Project, Irv is a committee member of the Chicago Innovation Awards and was a board member of the Long Grove Arts & Music Council.
Karen Lilly Mozer
Karen Lilly Mozer has more than 25 years of experience in the worlds of interior design and collecting. She is Partner and Principal Designer at Jordan Mozer & Associates, Ltd., where she guides both business and operations. Karen also has decades of experience in philanthropic fundraising: She is a Founding Board Member of The Trotter Project; a former president and current Life Director of the Architecture & Design Society of the Art Institute of Chicago; a Founding Board Member of the JMTF Foundation, aimed at improving the lives of young adults on the autism spectrum; and a member of the Arts Club of Chicago.
Anne F. Rashford
Anne F. Rashford is the Director of Special Events and Business Partnerships at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI)—one of the largest science centers in the world. Under her direction, the Museum has world-premiered blockbuster touring exhibits like MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition (2012); Harry Potter: The Exhibition (2009); CSI: The Experience (2007); and Titanic (2000, museum premiere). She has also been instrumental in partnering with world-class educational and cultural institutions to reinterpret content for MSI’s audience of approximately 1.5 million guests a year. Most recently, Rashford spearheaded the creation of an original exhibition, Brick by Brick, showcasing amazing large-scale structures by LEGO Certified Professional, Adam Reed Tucker, as well as hand-on engineering and building challenges.
Prior to the Museum, Rashford served as General Manager of Public Affairs at the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) and the Director of Public Affairs for the Chicago Department of Aviation. She began her career at the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, serving as a Project Manager and then as Assistant Director of Protocol. Rashford went on to become Martha Stewart’s stylist during her first appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Equipped with the Stewart’s training, Rashford launched the Chef Demo for the Taste of Chicago, which was attended by Stewart herself.
Rashford holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Loyola University and a certificate from the Business Council for International Understanding at American University. She has served on the board of the Chicago Tourism Fund, League of Chicago Theaters, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, Chicago Sister Cities–Morocco and is currently serving on the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Museum Committee.
Kimberly K. Shambrook
Kimberly K. Shambrook was named interim president of Kendall College by the board of directors in January 2016, serving as the institution's chief executive officer, accountable for the operational, regulatory and academic performance of the school. Prior to joining Kendall, first as director professional education and community outreach, Shambrook was the president, co-founder and executive chef of Bespoke Cuisine, a full-service catering company in Chicago, Ill. She was formerly a member of the adjunct faculty in culinary arts and hospitality management at Robert Morris University. Shambrook has also served as vice president of operations at Closerlook, Inc., where she was the senior executive responsible for managing all internal operations, including: facilities management, human resources, training and development, and information technology. A native of Illinois, Shambrook holds a bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in education psychology from Eastern Illinois University, located in Charleston, Ill. She also holds a certificate in professional cookery from Kendall College.
Paul Vitagliano is an entrepreneur and executive at San Francisco-based Table8, a national restaurant guide and dining club. Previously he sold and marketed business jets for aircraft manufacturer Bombardier. He was an accountant and is the founder of Pony Up Productions, a film and television company.
Paul was introduced to a wide variety of global food at an early age from his Italian Father while growing up in Sydney, Australia. A self-proclaimed professional eater, he has spent the last 20 years traveling around the globe on a quest for flavor and adventure. He is also a private pilot, SCUBA diver, skier and avid ocean swimmer. He currently resides in Santa Monica, California with his wife, Diana and their Wheaten Terrier.
Sari Zernich Worsham
Sari Zernich Worsham is a co-owner of mfk restaurant and the Executive Director/Partner of the Art Smith Company. She received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Illinois in 1991, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1993, and later that year joined the kitchen team at Charlie Trotter’s eponymous, ground-breaking restaurant in Chicago.
In the 13 years Sari spent with Chef Trotter, she co-wrote 13 of his 14 James Beard Award-winning cookbooks and was the culinary producer for three seasons of the James Beard Award-winning PBS television series, “The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter.” Zernich Worsham also serves in a support capacity to Common Threads.
Founding President: Chef Homaro Cantu
Chef Homaro Cantu blazed the way into a new era of post-modern cuisine. Heralded as one of America's most daring chefs, Cantu pushed the limits of known taste, texture, and technique in a stunning, futuristic fashion. A scientist at heart, Cantu was driven by his insatiable curiosity and endless possibilities. Described as a "Real-life Willy Wonka," he shattered previous conventions by introducing new technologies into the kitchen and enticed 21st century food lovers to embrace unimaginable, edible creations.
Cantu grew up on Portland, Oregon and graduated from Le Cordon Blue. He then worked his way up the ranks in nearly 50 kitchens on the West Coast before moving to Chicago to work at Charlie Trotter's restaurant, where he spent four years and earned the coveted position of Sous Chef before leaving to open Michelin-starred Moto restaurant. Cantu was committed to changing the way people perceived and ate food. Scientific elements and equipment such as a centrifuge and a hand-held ion particle gun made regular appearances in the Moto kitchen. Cantu was proudly the first chef to zap food with a class IV laser, a cooking technique he unveiled in Spain in 2006.
Executive Director: Derrek J. Hull
Derrek J. Hull leads and focuses the mission and multi-year strategic plan, developed to foster the next generation of industry leaders. Before joining The Trotter Project, Derrek was director of marketing and communications for Michelin-starred chef Homaro Cantu’s Cantu Restaurant Group. His brand strategy, advocacy and nonprofit experience also include major roles at the National Restaurant Association, where he led marketing and communications, as well as an effort to refine its Educational Foundation around a mission to develop a strong workforce by educating students on the restaurant business through the ProStart program – running in high schools nationwide.
Additionally, Derrek served as Assistant Press Secretary at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs while promoting Chicago as a premier travel destination. As director of the U.S. Department of State’s International Press Center Chicago, Derrek provided U.S.-based international bureau chiefs and journalists with a variety of services to aid their reporting on American society, politics, and culture.
Pillars of Excellence Program Coordinator: LaKiesha P. Dunn
LaKiesha P. Dunn is responsible for development of the culinary and hospitality mentorship program for budding talent, as well as facilitating continued collaborations with Chicago Public Schools, Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), Washburne Culinary Institute, and more.
As a high school honor student at Robert Lindblom College Prep, LaKiesha received the Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship and graduated in the top ten of her class. After earning a B.S. in Marketing from Northern Illinois University, LaKiesha followed her heart and began volunteering at Roosevelt University’s Educational Talent Search program, a federally funded program that offers academic and personal support to students in grades 6 to 12 who are from low-income, first-generation backgrounds. LaKiesha was promoted to Educational Advisor and helped hundreds of CPS students apply for college, scholarships, and financial aid. After several years at Roosevelt, LaKiesha followed her heart again and started a women’s empowerment organization R.U.N. It! with a high school friend. After producing two annual conferences, a life changing trip to Germany, and a brief stint in recruiting, LaKiesha returned to working directly with the youth as a coach, educator, and program manager at Right At School.
Manager of Operations: Paula Houde
Paula Houde is a Purdue graduate and has been working in the restaurant industry for over 20 years. She began her career at Wild Ginger and Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle while in college and moved on from there to manage several Seattle’s Best Coffee’s both in Seattle and Chicago. Paula left Seattle’s Best and started working for Charlie Trotter in the late 1990s. There she handled running the door during service, private events and reservations. She also was part of the opening of Trotter’s To Go, and during her four-and-a-half year tenure, was one of Chef Charlie Trotter’s assistants. From there, Paula moved on to be one of the opening managers of the Peninsula Hotel and Pierrot Gourmet. She took a hiatus from working full time to help do the accounting for her husband’s company and raise her family. Paula is currently handling all of The Trotter Project’s administrative duties, also working closely with the charity’s partners, chefs and others involved to further the mission.