Commencement Speakers

  • HomeCIA Alumni NetworkNew York CommencementCalifornia CommencementTexas CommencementSpeaker Bios

    Kyle Connaughton

    New York Commencement—December 15 and 16, 2022

    Kyle Connaughton is a chef, culinary educator, and cookbook author. He and wife Katina Connaughton opened SingleThread Farm-Restaurant-Inn in Healdsburg, CA in December 2016. The restaurant received a perfect 4 stars from The San Francisco Chronicle in March 2017 and a James Beard Foundation Restaurant Design Award in May 2017. It was awarded Two Stars in the 2018 Michelin Guide, one of only a few restaurants to earn the rating in its’ first year. The restaurant then received three Michelin stars just a year later in the 2019 Michelin Guide. SingleThread is also a member of Relais & Chateaux, an international organization of the world’s top restaurants and hotels. In 2018 SingleThread received the Miele “One to Watch” award from Worlds 50 Best Restaurants and in 2021 was ranked “#37 Best Restaurant in the World.” In 2020 SingleThread was awarded Forbes Five Stars and AAA Five Diamonds.

    Starting his culinary career in Los Angeles at Spago Beverly Hills, Hama Sushi, Lucques, and the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton. Connaughton’s culinary background includes working for Michel Bras as well as kaiseki and sushi restaurants in Hokkaido, Japan. In 2006, Connaughton was brought on as head chef of research and development at The Fat Duck in Bray, England. He worked with Heston Blumenthal and The Fat Duck team to complete the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ award-winning The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. He also contributed to Nathan Myrhvold’s Modernist Cuisine series. Connaughton was an adjunct professor at the Culinary Institute of America and helped develop the curriculum for the college’s Culinary Science bachelor’s degree program. In 2015, Connaughton co-published Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking and co-founded the culinary research and development firm, Pilot R&D.

    Kyle Connaughton


    Nelson German

    California Commencement—December 16, 2022

    Nelson German, executive chef/owner of alaMar and Sobre Mesa, tells the stories of the African and Caribbean diasporas through cultural foodways at his two award-winning restaurants/bars in Oakland, CA. Not only has German paved his way to national notoriety (highlights in Glamour, Delish, Washington Post, Food & Wine, and commercials for Coca Cola, Impossible Foods, and Pam Cooking Spray), he’s established himself as a community leader and curator of Oakland culture. German’s exquisite menus and architecturally-rich spaces invite a diversity of conversations and connections with Afro-Dominican recipes celebrating his roots. Contemporary techniques meet Chef Nelson’s favorite family dishes from his mother and grandmother’s recipe books.

    Born and bred in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, German began his career in New York City at the popular seafood destination Joseph’s Citarella and the Gramercy Park Hotel with Chef Yugi Wakiya, from whom he learned refined approaches to Asian flavors. Six years after graduating from culinary school, German became executive chef at Absinthe Wine Bar (NYC) and Jerry’s Cafe (NYC). In 2010, German and his wife moved to Northern California and he continued to immerse himself in studying the art of Mediterranean cuisine while cooking through his travels in France, Italy, and Spain.

    AlaMar Kitchen & Bar (est. 2014), a Michelin-recommended seafood destination in Oakland, is German’s first venture as an Oakland restaurateur. Rave media reviews of his braised oxtail, garlic udon noodles, Dungeness and snow crabs, shrimp tacos “quesa style,” and Salmon Tiradito garnered German an appearance on Top Chef (Season 18). German is among the celebrity chefs at the upcoming prestigious Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival (September 2022). He’s a featured panelist at Culinary Institute of America’s Worlds of Flavor® International Conference and Festival (Napa, CA, November 2021), and German participated in the James Beard Foundation’s “Summer Taste America” culinary series.

    An ode to his Dominican roots, German opened the chic Afro-Latin cocktail bar, Sobre Mesa, in March 2020. The term Sobre Mesa (meaning “on the table”) refers to what you do after your meal, when drinks continue and meaningful dialogue begins. Two weeks after its grand opening, Sobre Mesa temporarily closed due to the San Francisco Bay Area’s shelter-in-place orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the closure, German was named one of Plate magazine’s “2020 Chefs to Watch” and chosen as a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef in Portland.

    Sobre Mesa officially reopened in March 2021 and immediately received a glowing review from the San Francisco Chronicle’s restaurant critic Soleil Ho, who raved “Oakland’s Sobre Mesa is a dining paradise fit for a new Top Chef player...one of the funnest places to eat in Oakland...the neighborhood hot spot....”

    Food & Wine magazine’s “2021 Best New Chef” Matt Horn of Horn BBQ says, “For a fancy night out, I start at Chef Nelson German’s seafood spot, alaMar Kitchen & Bar. I order the garlic udon noodles, served with a fried egg on top, and head-on Cajun shrimp…Sobre Mesa has one of my favorite cocktails in the city, the Flor y Canto.”

    Nelson German


    Edgar Rico ’11

    Texas Commencement—December 16, 2022

    Chef Edgar Rico ’11, graduated from The Culinary Institute of America’s New York campus and externed at the Los Angeles outpost of Tom Colicchio’s restaurant, Craft. While working there, he was tapped to be part of the opening team of Son of a Gun, a seafood restaurant operated by James Beard award-winning chefs Vinny Dotolo and John Shook. His career then took him to the world of fine dining, where he assisted in the opening of Chef Ludo Lefebrve’s award-winning Trois Mec restaurant. He even did a stint at the brunch concept Sqirl.

    After leaving California, Chef traveled through Mexico—from Monterrey down to the Yucatan. During this time, he scored a coveted stage at Pujol, fellow alum Enrique Olvera’s restaurant that consistently ranks on the Worlds 50 Best Restaurants list.

    He then moved to Austin and took a position as chef de cuisine at The Peached Tortilla’s event space, Peach Social House, before striking out on his own in 2019 and opening Nixta Taqueria, also in Austin.

    At Nixta, Rico and his team work to transform the landscape of what Mexican-American cuisine can be by providing imaginative creations that are steeped in technique, history, and a maíz revolution, including his now famous duck carnitas taco and beet tartare tostadas. Nixta has been named Eater Austin’s best restaurant for the past two years running.

    Among the other awards and accolades Rico received this year are being named the 2022 Best Emerging Chef by the James Beard Foundation and making the TIME One Hundred list in the One Hundred Next category. This fall, he was one of the featured chefs in the The CIA at Copia’s American Bounty Dining Series.

    Rico is also devoted to his community, creating the Nixta Community Fridge, a free community refrigerator located at the taqueria that is used—and replenished—by people from all walks of life in and around Austin. The fridge provides not just food, but also daily essentials, clothing and supplies to anyone in need.

    Edgar Rico ’11