Virtual Commencement Speakers

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    Commencement Speaker: Heather Irwin

    California Campus—May 14, 2021

    Heather Irwin is the dining editor for Sonoma Magazine and the Press Democrat and the founder of BiteClubEats, an ongoing blog that jabs an irreverent fork at the restaurant scene in Sonoma County. An avid eater and writer, she has 15 years’ experience covering local restaurants, chefs, and food and has been a journalist for more than 25 years.

    Heather is also the founder of Sonoma Family Meal, a disaster-based non-profit founded in the darkest hours of the 2017 Tubbs wildfire. Working directly with dozens of local chefs including Kyle Connaughton, Douglas Keane, a team of Stark reality restaurant chefs, and many others SFM served more than 80,000 meals in the days, weeks, and months after more than 5,000 homes were lost. That work continued for more than two years, assisting families and seniors struggling to rebuild with weekly meals. Sonoma Family Meal was also active in the Kincade, Wall Bridge, and other recent disasters, paying restaurants and farmers for their food, which was prepared in a 10,000 square foot kitchen with more than 700 volunteers.

    During the pandemic, SFM served 250,000 meals in collaboration with 11 non-profit organizations supporting vulnerable seniors, farm workers, families, and those in quarantine and isolation. SFM supported local restaurants to prepare the food, paying out $1.7 million and keeping hundreds of restaurant workers employed. That project continues.

    For that work, Heather has been a Jefferson Award Winner, Spirit of Sonoma Winner and was honored by the Community Child Care Council, among others.

    She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and has moved 36 times, settling in Sonoma County in 2003. Heather has two very quirky rescue dachshund that like to stare at her while laying on her pillow.

    Heather Irwin


    Commencement Speaker: Thomas Keller

    New York Campus—May 6, 2021

    Thomas Keller’s name is synonymous with quality and high standards. The chef and proprietor of The French Laundry, in Napa Valley, and Per Se, in New York City, among other restaurants, he is the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide, as well as the first American male chef to be designated a Chevalier of The French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France.

    Chef Keller has earned countless accolades, including The Culinary Institute of America’s “Chef of the Year” Award and the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Chef” and “Outstanding Restaurateur” Awards. In 2001, Time Magazine named him America’s Best Chef. In 2017, Chef Keller led a team from the United States to its first-ever gold medal in the Bocuse d’Or, a prestigious biannual competition that is regarded as the Olympics of the culinary world. For embodying the state’s spirit of innovation, he was inducted into the 2018 California Hall of Fame. In June 2019, Chef Keller became the first USA inductee into the oldest savory chef association in the world, The Master Chefs of France.

    Keller began his culinary career in his teens as a dishwasher in the Palm Beach restaurant managed by his mother. In 1983, he moved to France, where he apprenticed in several Michelin-starred houses. He opened his first restaurant, Rakel, in New York City in 1986, before relocating to California to serve as executive chef at the Checkers Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. In 1994, Chef Keller took ownership of The French Laundry in Yountville, CA, and soon brought it to national and worldwide acclaim. With Snøhetta, a completed new kitchen and courtyard renovation was recently unveiled at The French Laundry. The redesign is the first major overhaul to the historic site in over two decades, doubling the size of the existing landscape, while providing a world-class working environment for Keller and his team to innovate their craft and service.

    Chef Keller’s French bistro, Bouchon, debuted in 1998, followed by Bouchon Bakery five years later. Both are within walking distance of The French Laundry. Since then, Keller has opened outposts of Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery in Las Vegas, NV. Another of his restaurants is family-style Ad Hoc + Addendum, also in Yountville, as well as La Calenda, a Mexican restaurant with Chef Kaelin Ulrich Trilling leading the culinary program. In 2017, Chef Keller opened Bouchon Bakeries in the Middle East with partner M.H. Alshaya Co. Celebrating Continental cuisine, The Surf Club Restaurant, celebrating Continental cuisine opened the summer of 2018 located in Surfside, FL. He is the author of six cookbooks, including his most recent The French Laundry, Per Se. There are more than 1.5 million books in circulation.

    Known for his leadership, Chef Keller has assembled a team that shares his philosophy in his restaurants, enabling him also to concentrate on interests outside the kitchen, including his and Chef/Proprietor Laura Cunningham’s Napa Valley wine label Modicum, as well as a magazine and retail outpost in Yountville, both titled Finesse. He has embarked on several innovative partnerships. In his newest collaborations, Chef Keller partnered with Armando Manni, an acclaimed olive oil producer, to develop a line of chocolates, K+M Extravirgin Chocolate, that is revolutionizing bean-to-bar chocolate production with its proprietary method of boosting antioxidant levels—and with Shaoching Bishop, a leading authority on caviar to launch Regiis Ova, a line of caviar that supports sustainability and selective sourcing.

    Chef Keller also co-founded Cup4Cup, a line of gluten-free flour blends and mixes that substitutes for all-purpose flour in home recipes. Chef Keller has formed a culinary partnership with Seabourn to help elevate the guest experience through the opening of The Grill restaurant and advising on menu items throughout the fleet. He is Brand Ambassador for Hestan where he has designed and consulted on various cookware lines. His newest partnership is with Cangshan knives with whom he has launched the Cangshan Thomas Keller Signature Collection.

    Together with restaurant designer Adam D. Tihany, he created K+T, a collection of silver hardware and cocktail ware for Christofle Silversmiths. Chef Keller’s collaboration with Raynaud and design firm Level has led to a sophisticated collection of white porcelain dinnerware called “Hommage.” Chef Keller also consulted on the films Spanglish and Ratatouille, the latter winning in the 2007 “Best Animated Feature Film” category at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.

    Thomas Keller


    Commencement Speaker: Nicola Blaque ’16

    Texas Campus—April 30, 2021

    Lattoia Massey, known professionally as Chef Nicola Blaque, is a restaurateur and chef based in San Antonio, TX. Chef Blaque is the executive chef and owner of the Jerk Shack, a Jamaican-inspired restaurant in San Antonio. The restaurant—which offers fare like jerk chicken, braised oxtail, and more—quickly became a staple in the community after it opened in 2018. Chef Blaque also opened Mi Roti, a Caribbean concept at the popular Pearl district in San Antonio, in the summer of 2020, and has major plans for expansion throughout the city.

    In addition to running successful concepts that have been recognized by GQ, Eater, and more, Chef Blaque is an Army veteran, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, a private chef for members of the San Antonio Spurs, a wife, and a mom. Born and raised, until she was five years old, in Jamaica, Chef Blaque is passionate about introducing people to the flavors of the Caribbean. And, though she’ll be the first to tell you that the dishes she’s serving up aren’t always traditional Jamaican dishes, she’s passionate about infusing those flavors into cuisine her patrons know and love.

    Nicola Blaque


    Commencement Speaker: Melissa King ’07

    California Campus—January 29, 2021

    Chef Melissa King is best known as the winner of Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars: Los Angeles Season 17. She holds more challenge wins than any other competitor in the history of Top Chef including the winner of All-Star’s Fan Favorite. She placed as a finalist on Top Chef : Boston Season 12. She has been recognized as “one of the best female chefs in San Francisco” and “40 under 40: Rising Star.”

    King completed a BA in Cognitive Science at the University of California, Irvine and attended The Culinary Institute of America graduating at the top of her class. She is also a certified level 1 sommelier. Her unique style of cooking combines modern California cuisine with Asian flavors.

    With over 15 years in the industry, King has helmed several Michelin-starred kitchens in San Francisco (Campton Place, Luce, and The Ritz Carlton Dining Room) under acclaimed names such as Dominique Crenn and Ron Siegel. She has cooked for notable figures such as Oprah Winfrey and Al Gore.

    As a proud Asian-American, queer woman, King has a passion for supporting the community—working with non-profit organizations and LGBTQI charities such as The Human Rights Campaign, The Trevor Project, Black Visions Collective, Asian Americans For Equality, and more. She was honored as a Celebrity Grand Marshal for San Francisco Pride and has modeled for Levi’s Strauss Co. in a global campaign advocating for the LGBTQ community. Along with being a chef, television personality, and brand partner, she actively participates in speaking panels supporting women’s empowerment, sustainability, food education, and entrepreneurship.

    King currently lives in San Francisco where she runs her own company focusing on partnerships and culinary experiences. She has a product line called King Sauce, a small-batched sauce and spice line available in her online shop. She also has an apparel line and offers online cooking experiences.

    Melissa King ’07


    Commencement Speaker: Philip H. Jones

    New York Campus—December 21, 2020

    Philip Jones is the current president of Jones Dairy Farm, a family-owned and -operated business and leader in all-natural breakfast sausage for the foodservice and retail industries, that was founded by his great-great grandfather Milo Jones in 1889.

    Prior to joining Jones Dairy Farm, Philip trained to become a chef at La Varenne, a well-respected French cooking school. Following his experience in France, Philip moved back to the United States where he worked for more than 10 years as a professional chef at a number of restaurants across the country.

    In 1991, Philip joined Jones Dairy Farm as the manager of a subsidiary plant located in Delaware. Throughout the 1990’s, Philip took on increasing positions of responsibility at the company including Manager of Maintenance & Engineering and Vice President of Product Development. He assumed his current position of President and CEO of Jones Dairy Farm on September 1, 2001. Philip is also the President of the company’s three subsidiary businesses, including Ralph and Paul Adams, Inc., Habbersett Inc., and Sunshine Burger & Specialty Foods, LLC.

    Philip is a member of The Culinary Institute of America’s Society of Fellows and on the board of directors of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI). The NAMI honored Philip with the Edward C. Jones Community Service Award in 2014. Philip also completed the Harvard Business School’s three-year Owner/President Management (OPM) program.

    Locally, Philip served on the board of directors for the United Way, chaired the 2003 United Way Campaign and was past president of both the Fort Atkinson Community Foundation and the Fort Atkinson Beautification and Development Council. He is currently a member of the Fort Atkinson Industrial Development Committee and on the board of directors of the Premier Bank of Fort Atkinson.

    Philip Jones


    Commencement Speaker: Jonathan Parker

    Texas Campus—December 18, 2020

    Jonathan Parker, executive chef, restaurant consultant, published cookbook author, and ceramics enthusiast has amassed over 40 years in the culinary industry, working alongside renowned Michelin-starred chefs, developing a mastery in fish cookery and classical application of sauces. Jonathan has appeared in local media on TV and radio and was featured as a guest chef at The James Beard House in New York City on numerous occasions. He has also taught several courses at De Gustibus Cooking School in Macy’s in New York City and after writing his cookbook, was a featured author at The Book and the Cook in Philadelphia for three years.

    Since an early age, Jonathan has been destined to become a chef. Growing up in the United Kingdom, his family worked in private stately homes as bakers and household cooks. They sparked within him a love and passion for creating food-based memories. With this fledgling fascination for cooking, Jonathan explored ways to learn more from the cooks he knew best. He helped his mother prepare their family dinner, whether that was fried mackerel freshly caught by their next-door neighbor, juicy beef and dumplings, or to-die-for homemade wild blackberry jam.

    Jonathan then expanded this informal education by attending a technical college in Somerset, England, graduating with two associate degrees in culinary arts. With this culinary foundation and a curiosity for travel, he ventured to London to work in the renowned Michelin-starred restaurants in the West End. This work soon led him to the grand palace hotels along the French Riviera where he met his wife Susan.

    Over the course of his career, he has had the good fortune of working with a number of great chefs at a number of stellar establishments, most notably Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, Gilbert le Coze while working at Le Bernadin, and the prominent Bernard Gaume in London. With their professional influence and having gained the necessary experience, skills, and technique, he become an executive chef, working in restaurants in Los Angeles, New York City, San Antonio, and the Hamptons.

    Whether it be the influence of home cooks in his family or the Michelin-star chefs who showed him the ropes, cooking has been a cornerstone of his life. Jonathan believes being a chef is one of the most rewarding métiers and the arduous long hours are soon forgotten when you create a beautifully crafted plate of food for your guests and the people you love.

    Jonathan Parker


    Commencement Speaker: John C. Metz ’92

    New York Campus—October 22, 2020

    With more than 35 years of restaurant and hospitality experience, John C. Metz knows what it takes to create, run, and maintain a successful restaurant company and has done just that with his many culinary ventures in the Atlanta area.

    As CEO, executive chef, and co-founder of Marlow’s Tavern and Sterling Culinary Management which operates on-site corporate dining café concepts Market Street Café, Bistros, Social Kitchen, Metz has been creating neighborhood gathering places for guests all across the city.

    His experience has also led him to be on the forefront of reopening dining rooms in Georgia in the wake of the COVID-19.

    Metz’s love for the restaurant business originated at a young age when he started as a dishwasher at one of his father’s restaurants, soon moving on to prep cook and eventually running the kitchen. Metz brings knowledge and flavor to the menus of Marlow’s Tavern, Aqua Blue, Hi Life, and Sterling Spoon. Trained by the best, he began his education at, The Pennsylvania State University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management. He then went on to pursue his culinary education from The Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated at the top of his class.

    Metz began his laudable career in New York City at the 21 Club, Tribeca Grill, Park Avenue Café, and Montrachet and Della Famina’s in East Hampton. He served as executive director of research and development for Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, the franchisor for TGI Friday’s, developing brands like of Italianni’s, Front Row Sports Grill, Timpano, and Samba Room. As well, he headed up research and development for Carlson’s international restaurant division opening restaurants in 12 countries around the world.

    In 1996, Metz and partner started their business creating an upscale neighborhood spot, Hi Life Kitchen & Cocktails in Atlanta. Hi Life focuses on fresh and local for a menu of reinvented American cuisine and a wine program that boasts over 50 wines by the glass. “Hi Life put our company on the map at a time when those trends were not as developed as they are today,” says Metz. Aqua Blue Restaurant & Bar, another Metz concept, was opened in 2001 and sold in 2018.

    Metz is the chief executive, co-founder, and executive chef of Sterling Hospitality, co-founding and operating; Marlow’s Tavern, an upscale neighborhood gathering place. In addition, Metz operates an upscale contract foodservice company, Sterling Culinary Management, which specializes in on-site restaurant management. This on-site foodservice and catering company created very unique concepts bringing an upscale, chef-driven, fresh restaurant experience into the corporate space. .

    Metz is very involved in the industry and communities in which he operates his businesses. He is on the National Restaurant Association’s Board of Directors, The Culinary Institute of America’s Board of Trustees, Georgia Restaurant Association’s Board of Directors, The Atlanta Visitors and Convention Bureau’s Board of Directors, and was appointed 2007 and 2008 Chairman of DiRōNA. He is actively involved with the Special Olympics of Georgia and Share our Strength organizations.

    Metz and his companies have received some recognition since its inception; Chain Leader Magazine Protégé Award 2006, Atlanta ZAGAT Guide Top 10 Hosts of the year, He was honored as the 2013 Gold Plate Award winner by IFMA. 2013 Nation’s Restaurant News named Marlow’s Tavern one of its NRN 50 “Breakout Brands” for the year. National Restaurant Associations Good Neighbor Award 2007/2008, DiRōNA award for Hi Life Kitchen and Cocktails and Aqua Blue Restaurant & Bar, Mobile 3 stars, Aqua Blue Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, Jezebel Magazine Top 100 Restaurants for all three concepts.

    John C. Metz ’92


    Commencement Speaker: Todd Humphries ’88

    California Campus—October 2, 2020

    Todd Humphries has been a stellar presence on the national culinary scene for most of his celebrated 20-plus-year career, leading some of the country’s most prominent restaurants and continually raising the standard of excellence.

    In spring 2011, Humphries introduced his newest project, Kitchen Door, a one-of-a-kind social gathering place located in the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa’s Oxbow District. Locals and Napa Valley’s many visitors have an opportunity to enjoy the widely acclaimed chef’s quality cooking in a convenient venue and at an attractive price point. For Kitchen Door, Humphries has crafted an ingredient-driven menu of handmade multi-ethnic comfort food, created with local and seasonal products, selected to complement wine regions and meant for sharing. Cuisine from Humphries’ kitchens at his previous Napa Valley restaurants will be offered to guests in a more accessible form at the much-anticipated eatery.

    In 2001 Humphries opened Martini House, where he further enhanced his reputation with the adventurous and delicious use of wild, foraged ingredients in a daily changing menu that masterfully highlights the freshest ingredients available including locally sourced produce, meats and seafood, from specialty vendors and local purveyors to provide the finest quality ingredients for his dishes.

    Prior to Martini House, Humphries served as executive chef of the Wine Spectator Restaurant at the CIA at Greystone. He took full advantage of working in St. Helena, in the very heart of the Napa Valley wine country, meeting local and international winemakers and growers, and expanding his knowledge of wines and the art of pairing wines with food. These relationships and knowledge have proved invaluable to him at Martini House, where he finds great satisfaction in being “right at the source” of great wines and foods. He not only farms his own garden, but has also become an expert mushroom hunter, personally stocking the larder of Martini House with matsutakes, black trumpets, porcini and chanterelles.

    Humphries began his culinary career in New York with an entry-level pantry job at the Peninsula Hotel under famed Swiss chef Gray Kunz, who quickly recognized his talent and dedication. Humphries remained Kunz’s protégé and executive sous chef for five years, first at the Peninsula Hotel and then at the critically acclaimed Lespinasse.

    Humphries moved to the West Coast in 1993 to take over the restaurant at San Francisco’s Campton Place Hotel. His five years there were a triumph, setting a new standard for hotel dining and reaping the highest praise and awards from local and national critics. It was also during that period that he began to build personal relationships with a diverse network of small-production farmers and foragers.

    Throughout his career, Humphries has earned prestigious critical acclaim, including a Michelin Star, an AAA Five Diamond Award, four-star reviews from major San Francisco Bay Area daily newspapers, inclusion in Saveur Magazine’s “The Saveur 100” list (1999), and consistently laudatory Zagat ratings.

    Todd Humphries is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. He currently resides in the Napa Valley with his wife, Amelia, and their sons, Desmond and Wyatt.

    Todd Humphries ’88


    Commencement Speaker: Carlton McCoy ’06

    New York Campus—September 3, 2020

    Carlton McCoy Jr. earned the title of Master Sommelier in 2013 at just 28 years old. He was one of the youngest people and the second African American to earn this prestigious title. Carlton worked in revered institutions such as Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit, Tom Colicchio’s Craft Steak in New York City and, most recently, as wine director at The Little Nell in Aspen before being named president and CEO of Heitz Cellar in December 2018. To Carlton, Heitz Cellar represents a very particular style of Napa wines: ones that speak to an earlier era in California winemaking. His vision will highlight the winery’s consistent focus on remaining true to its elegant, pure style.

    “There has to be reverence when it comes to these older brands that create the greatest wines in the country,” he states. “It is fortunate that the Heitz family believed in that style and didn’t change it over the years. It makes the wines the unique experience that they are.”

    Carlton McCoy ’06


    Commencement Speaker: Regynald G. Washington, CFBE, FMP

    New York Campus—July 30, 2020

    Regynald G. Washington is currently president of Paradies Lagardère Travel Retail Dining Division. The Dining Division currently operates in 43 airports with 170 locations and 80+ concepts/brands in our portfolio. Prior to Paradies Lagardère acquisition of Hojeij Branded Foods, he was a Morgan Stanley Private Equity portfolio CEO, member of MSPE/HBF board, and equity partner. Regynald’s responsibilities encapsulated leading Hojeij Branded Foods an Atlanta based restaurant company operating 120 restaurants in 38 airports in the United States and Canada with revenue in excess of a quarter of a billion dollars. HBF had over 45 popular and widely recognized brands in its portfolio. Some of those brands include: P.F. Chang’s, Vino Volo Wine Bars (50 locations), Bourbon Pub by Celebrity Chef Michael Mina, Gordon Biersch, Celebrity Chef Cat Cora’s Kitchen, Plum Market, Atlanta Hawk’s Bar and Grill, LongHorn Steakhouse, Chick-fil-A, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Pei Wei, Zingerman’s, Low Country by Celebrity Chef G Garvin, Pinkberry, The Plant Café Organic, Piece of Cake, and Margaritaville are just to name a few.

    Regynald spent 12 years of his career with the Walt Disney Company. He was vice president of food and beverage for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts globally with food and beverage responsibilities for parks and resorts for the following locations: Walt Disney World Resort-Orlando, Disneyland-California, Disney Cruise Line, Disneyland Paris, Disneyland Hong Kong and Disneyland Tokyo. Regynald also had additional responsibilities for new products and concept development for Walt Disney World Resorts. He served as vice president and general manager for Disney Regional Entertainment, where he had responsibility for the strategy, direction and growth of Disney’s ESPN Zone sports entertainment and food and beverage brand, based in Burbank, California. Prior to Regynald’s roles as vice president of food & beverage for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts and Disney Regional Entertainment, he was director of resorts food and beverage operations for the Walt Disney World Company in Orlando, Florida, where he was responsible for all food and beverage operations for 18 Walt Disney Resorts. Previously, he was general manager, food & beverage for Epcot, which entailed leading the operations of 12 internationally themed full-service restaurants, 10 quick service restaurants, 21 outdoor food locations and a multi-million dollar special events and catering organization. Regynald was also responsible for the Epcot International Food & Wine festival, which is the largest food & wine festival in the United States.

    Regynald has occupied significant industry leadership positions, notably as a member of the board of directors and elected chairman of the board of the National Restaurant Association , whose membership includes 878,000 restaurants and food service outlets.

    His previous experience includes ascending through the corporate ranks of Concessions International, Inc., an airport foodservice company operating food & beverage, gift & news and duty-free operations in U.S. airports based in Georgia. Regynald directed the overall operations as corporate executive vice president. Regynald is a graduate of Florida International University, holding a BS degree in International Hotel & Restaurant Administration. He has earned dual certification as a Foodservice Management Professional through the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and as a Certified Food & Beverage Executive, a credential issued by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

    Regynald G. Washington


    Commencement Speaker: Roger J. Riccardi

    California Campus—July 24, 2020

    Roger J. Riccardi was managing director for the opening of The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, in St. Helena, CA. He previously held the position of food and beverage director at CIA’s Hyde Park, NY campus. Roger’s additional work experience includes The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company and The Stanford Court Hotel. He has consulted in the area of food and beverage product development with Mattson and Company and his own firm, Hotbed. Roger is a graduate of Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and holds a master’s degree in Educational Psychology from Marist College.

    Roger is proud to be a member of the CIA’s Society of Fellows, as well as a Trustee of the American Museum of Fly Fishing and a member of the Anglers Club of New York.

    Roger J. Riccardi


    Commencement Speaker: Johnny Hernandez ’89

    Texas Campus—July 15, 2020

    Chef Johnny Hernandez is a celebrated chef, entrepreneur, and founder and President of Grupo La Gloria and True Flavors Inc. He is one of the premier Mexican cuisine chefs in the United States and a recognized authority on Mexican cuisine and culture. He first garnered notoriety as a rising star on the culinary scene in 2010, with the launch of his acclaimed flagship concept, La Gloria. His culinary ventures have since expanded to become Grupo La Gloria, a diverse and growing portfolio of signature restaurants and culinary projects.

    Chef Hernandez was born and raised in a community of first-generation Mexican-American families and grew up surrounded by the foods and traditions of interior Mexico that made their way across the border. Encouraged by his father to become a chef, he attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Johnny began his career at a number of exclusive resort destinations, including the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV and the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara, CA. Upon returning to San Antonio, TX in 1994, he opened his first venture, True Flavors Catering which earned national recognition for catering excellence. Today, his diverse and growing portfolio includes, La Gloria locations, The Fruteria y Botanero, Burgerteca, and Tortilleria La Gloria.

    The most profound influence on Chef Hernandez’s culinary style has been his extensive travels throughout Mexico. His time spent exploring the cultural nuances of each region’s art, agricultural, and street foods has shaped his vision to create authentic and accessible interior Mexican cuisine for American diners. His mission is to celebrate and preserve traditional Mexican food, ingredients and techniques. This mission serves as the guiding principle for creating unique dining experiences that reflect the rich and diverse flavors and culture of Mexico.

    He has been featured in numerous publications and TV shows, but one of his highest accolades came in 2016, when he showcased his culinary expertise and the flavors of Mexico at the White House as Guest Chef for President of the United States, Barack Obama.

    Chef Hernandez has raised more than $350,000 in scholarship funds through his nonprofit foundation Kitchen Campus, from his annual Paella Challenge Competition, which is held at the CIA’s San Antonio campus. He serves as a member of the CIA’s Advancement Committee and chairs college’s Alumni Council.

    Johnny Hernandez ’89


    Commencement Speaker: Ralph Brennan

    New York Campus—June 13, 2020

    A third-generation member of the family whose name is synonymous with New Orleans restaurants, Ralph Brennan got his start at the iconic French Quarter establishment that bears that name. Brennan’s was Ralph’s childhood playground, and in high school, he was granted a summer prep cook job, boning chickens and peeling shrimp by the thousands before being promoted to the line, where he learned the basics—including the not-so-basic sauces at the heart of classic New Orleans cuisine.

    At Tulane University, he majored in economics and earned an MBA, spending six years as a CPA with Price Waterhouse before returning to the family business.

    Today, The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group (RBRG) includes Brennan’s, Napoleon House, and Red Fish Grill in the French Quarter, Ralph’s on the Park in Mid-City New Orleans, café NOMA within the New Orleans Museum of Art and Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen® in the Downtown Disney® District at the DISNEYLAND® Resort, and Ralph Brennan Catering & Events.

    A tireless advocate for the restaurant industry and for the city and people of New Orleans, Ralph Brennan is a past president and chairman of the National Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation; has presided over the Louisiana Restaurant Association and New Orleans Restaurant Association; and is the first New Orleans citizen to serve on the governing board of The Culinary Institute of America. He has chaired the board of the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center and was a director of the U.S. Travel Association. As a respected veteran restaurateur and the author of the critically acclaimed Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook [2008].

    As a private citizen, he makes a point of supporting local businesses, establishments, and markets. Ralph is a long-time board member and past Chair of Children’s Hospital New Orleans and its parent company LCMC Health, a system of five community hospitals. An avid golfer and football fan, Ralph is a member of the governing committee for the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

    Ralph Brennan manages 730 employees, of whom he says, “They’re all family, and no one calls me anything but Ralph.” Kathryn Brennan McLeod and Patrick Brennan, a CIA graduate, work with Ralph at RGRG.

    Ralph Brennan