When it comes to cravings, these three are the experts. Our in-house chefs – Matt, Oona and Heath – are dedicated to serving up inspiration, finding fresh flavors and delivering solutions that work on your menu.
These leading chefs from around the country work hand-in-hand with the Crave Makers to bring you the scoop on the next big trends in foodservice.
Dining at University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Hola Arepa and Hai Hai
Lettuce Entertain You and Beatrix Market
From crave-worthy recipes to fresh takes on industry challenges, check out how our chef team is Making the Crave.
What’s the Next Big Thing in Plant-Based Takeout?
What Does the Catered Office Lunch Look Like Now?
How to Turn Dine-In Favorites into Takeaway Hits
Chef Heath didn’t always know he’d be a professional chef. He earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before changing course and attending the Arizona Culinary Institute in Scottsdale.
Now, Heath has over 30 years of experience in the restaurant and foodservice industry, including working alongside celebrity chef, Beau MacMillan, at the Sanctuary Resort in Paradise Valley, AZ, and as a contributing chef at The Gallery in Lake Forest with his friend, James Beard nominee, Chef Dominic Zumpano.
In the food manufacturing industry, Chef Heath has created recipes for a premier sous vide manufacturer and developed products such as sauces, spice blends, ready-made deli salads for multiple brands. Most recently, Heath served as the corporate executive chef for a dairy company in New Zealand.
He is the author of the cookbook “I’m a Chef & My Kids Want Buttered Noodles” (Amazon Publishing) and the owner of Hey Chef Heath—a personal chef experience, where he creates 5 course dinner parties in people’s homes.
During his spare time, Chef Heath likes to travel and taste the world with his wife and 2 children.
The daughter of a classically trained Chef and a Hotel Manager, Oona has the hospitality industry in her blood.
She opened her first restaurant in Folkestone, Kent, England at just 20-years old.
After moving to the United States, she opened the popular Dallas hotspot, Going Gourmet, in 1990. There, she created a constantly evolving menu of seasonal specials and developed a popular market of fresh and frozen restaurant favorites that customers could take to-go.
Oona has worked as a Corporate Executive Chef for Dave & Buster’s, held Research and Development roles at TGI Friday’s and On the Border restaurants, and has been a featured chef in several national marketing campaigns including California Raisins and Franks RedHot Sauce.
In 2004 she became the first female chef to earn Menu Master’s “Chef Innovator” Award by Nation’s Restaurant News and has been recognized as one of the “Top Fifty Culinarians in America” by the same publication.
At home, Oona enjoys collecting vintage cookbooks, horseback riding, and RVing across the country with her husband.
Chef Matt is a Chicago native with some heavy-hitting culinary credentials.
After receiving his degree in Culinary Arts from Kendall College, Matt went on to train under some of the most legendary chefs in the business including Francois Kwaku-Dongo, Jean Joho, and Wolfgang Puck.
Chef Matt has worked as Chef de Cuisine at the Hyatt Hotels world headquarters and was a sous chef on the culinary team at Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt Washington, D.C., which earned a coveted Michelin Star and was named one of the “10 Great Hotel Restaurants in the World” by Hotels Magazine.
Outside of restaurant experience, Matt has worked as a chef for one of the world’s largest producers of Stevia, PureCircle LLC, the foodservice division on Kraft/Heinz. There, he founded the culinary innovation department and created the Weber Grill Academy, a public all-grilling school.
As a member of the Chicago Public Schools Culinary Chef Council, Matt works with CPS to increase food education among Chicago’s over 350,000 students by crafting healthy meals and providing insights on new trends and flavor profiles.
In recent years, Matt earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Food Science from Kansas State University and became a Certified Executive Chef through the American Culinary Federation.
Chef Matt is one of only 5 people in the world to achieve the title of “Certified Weber Grill Master” and is a certified BBQ Judge from the Kansas City BBQ Society.
Chef Bob grew up in the industry and found his love for cooking while working at his family’s restaurant in New York.
After earning a BA in Food & Beverage Management from the New England Culinary Institute, Chef Bob landed a job as a Sous Chef at Castle Hill Inn in Newport, RI. From there, he went on to become the Executive Chef of two restaurants: The Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar and Smokehouse, both in Newport.
In 2014, Chef Bob took a position as the Executive Chef of Residential Dining at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst. There, he’s successfully handling recipe & menu development, overseeing daily production, and managing food costs.
When he isn’t on campus, you can find Bob running, traveling, brewing beer or spending time with his family at home.
With over 17 years of industry experience, Chef AJ describes herself as French-trained, Southern-at-heart and Native-American inspired.
Chef AJ attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta and after graduation she spent a year in Arizona learning about Native American and Southwestern cuisine. Returning to Atlanta, Chef AJ has worked at The Sundial, Reynolds Plantation, SOHO, and as Head Chef at Ray’s on the River. She has amassed experience ranging from baking, pastry making, menu creation, and kitchen management.
At Rootstock, Chef AJ seeks to strike a balance between tapas & fuller entrees and seeks to make dishes that people can identify with. She cooks from the heart and enjoys the opportunity to teach the Rootstock crew new skills and techniques in the kitchen.
Christina Nguyen is the chef and co-owner of Hola Arepa in South Minneapolis and Hai Hai in Northeast Minneapolis. She and her husband Birk started Hola Arepa as a food truck in 2011 and they expanded it into a brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2014 serving Venezuelan arepas, Latin American small plates, and tropical cocktails. Her brunch dish Tostada Chilaquiles was featured on the cover of Food & Wine Magazine in 2015. Hola Arepa was also named one of Bon Appetit’s 50 Best Restaurants that year too.
Hai Hai, their latest restaurant which opened in Nov 2017, focuses on Southeast Asian street food & cocktails, pulling inspiration from dishes that Christina grew up eating and from her travels around Southeast Asia. Hai Hai has gotten recognition from national press including Eater’s 18 Best New Restaurants in America, Thrillist’s 13 Best New Restaurants in America, and Esquire Magazine’s 20 Best New Restaurants. Christina was also named Esquire’s Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2018.
Christina was a finalist for the James Beard Award’s Best Chef Midwest category in 2019 & 2020 and was a semifinalist in the same category in 2018.
Janet Kirker grew up in Champaign, Illinois and developed a passion for food at a young age while spending time in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother. Janet received a B.S. in Restaurant Management from the University of Illinois and her Culinary Arts degree from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
After school, Janet joined the team at Chicago’s iconic restaurant, Charlie Trotter’s. She spent most of her time in the pastry department, which led her to be the Assistant Pastry Chef at Danny Meyer’s Contemporary Indian Cuisine restaurant, Tabla, in New York City three years later. From there, Janet broadened her experience in other various positions in San Francisco and then as the Sous Chef at Café Lucy in Napa, Sous Chef and Executive Chef at Trotter’s To Go, and the Culinary Director at The Chopping Block in Chicago.
In July of 2012, Janet joined Lettuce Entertain You as the Executive Chef at Foodease, where she helped expand the concept through menu creation and operations. In 2017 she became a Partner with Lettuce Entertain You and has opened four locations of Beatrix Market in Chicago.
In her free time, Janet is passionate about all things wine, vacationing, visiting local farmer’s markets, and spending time with her husband.
Chef Michael Wilson began his career as a chef in Long Island, New York starting in 2002 working at several restaurants before landing at Kingston’s in Sayville as the Executive Chef. After becoming a partner at the restaurant, Michael spearheaded the expansion of the restaurant into the Florida Keys and the current franchise concept.
Chef Michael is a Johnson and Wales graduate, a Certified Professional Chef from the Culinary Institute of America and an active member of the American Culinary Federation. He has been a guest Chef at the James Beard House, the DeGustibus Cooking School, and the Autism Speaks Celebrity Chef Gala.
In 2017, Chef Michael joined Aramark as a District Executive Chef in the New York Metro area before taking the position of Regional Culinary Director in 2019. In his role, Michael is responsible for menu planning, culinary innovation, equipment procurement lead, sustainability champion, project management, and overall education of culinary insights & nutrition to the team of chefs.
Chef Mario’s inspiring culinary career proves that hard work and passion can lead to major success. His journey began in 1996, working as a Food Runner/Pot Washer at the Hilton Chicago. He quickly earned a promotion to Cook and has been climbing the ranks ever since.
Over the course of his career, he’s worked at Hilton properties in San Francisco, Houston, Cancun and more. These days, Chef Mario is back where it all started, working as the Executive Chef at the Hilton Chicago.
Chef Mario grew up on a farm in Fresnillo Zacatecas, Mexico where he learned to love cooking with local, seasonal and fresh ingredients. He has a Culinary Arts Degree from the Illinois Institute of Art and in his spare time he likes to try new restaurants and tend to his garden.