Savor For Students – Benefiting LFLA Students

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets

Join us for the Second Annual Savor for Students Grand Tasting, as we gather at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis to meet and mingle with the city’s finest chefs.  All proceeds benefit LIFT FOR LIFE ACADEMY. Attendees can engage and interact directly with the chefs as they delight in memorable tapas-style bites showcasing the best of the local restaurant scene. For those lucky foodies who attend, tastes will be highlighted by selections from Kevin Nashan, recently named best chef in the Midwest by the prestigious James Beard Foundation.

Savor for Students was conceptualized by Melissa Lee, Executive Assistant Manager – Culinary/Food & Beverage for The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis, and a supporter of LIFT FOR LIFE ACADEMY. Her invitation to the chefs was simple: “Please help us to make a difference in the lives of children in St. Louis. With your support, we can ignite the passion in these young hearts, and encourage and inspire them to pursue their dreams.”

Admission to this savory event is $99 per person plus processing fees and includes tastes, musical entertainment and a one-of-a-kind chance to mingle with great chefs and foodies from throughout the region. Beer, wines and specialty cocktails are also included in the ticket price. To purchase tickets, click here.



Qui Tran

Qui Tran and his family left war-torn Vietnam in 1978. They immigrated to St. Louis in 1980, and five years later Qui’s mother opened the first Vietnamese restaurant in St. Louis. Qui grew up in the family business and has worked his way around the kitchen and the front of the house since he was 13 years old. Now, he is the face of successful Vietnamese restaurant, Mai Lee.

Gerard Craft

Chef Gerard Craft is the executive chef and owner of Niche Food Group in St. Louis, MO. As a Food & Wine Best New Chef, Food & Wine Innovator of the Year, and 2015 James Beard Foundation Award-winning Best Chef: Midwest and Inc. magazine Star Entrepreneur, Craft has been a pioneer for the Midwest dining scene.

A native of Washington, D.C., Chef Craft became addicted to the restaurant life while living in Salt Lake City as a snowboard photographer. Chef Craft went on to cook at Bistro Toujours in Park City, Utah and Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, California as well as a stage at Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey before making the leap to open a restaurant of his own.

Always a believer in following intuition, Chef Craft settled on the boarded-up building in the Benton Park neighborhood of St. Louis, a Midwestern city that he had never visited, to open his first restaurant, Niche, at the age of 25 in 2005. Niche moved locations and has since evolved to Sardella, but one thing remains constant: his dedication to “The Truth” for his growing restaurant group.

Kevin Nashan

Raised in Santa Fe, Kevin Nashan grew up in the family that owned La Tertulia, a beloved northern New Mexican restaurant founded by his Hispanic grandfather. After graduating from St. Louis University, he enrolled in New York’s Culinary Institute of America, which led to an internship at Commander’s Palace under Chef Jamie Shannon and, later, an immersion in French cuisine under the guidance of celebrated Chef Roland Liccioni at La Français in Chicago. In 1998, Kevin moved to Spain’s famed three-star restaurant, Martin Berasategui, returning to New York after a year to take a position at Daniel, working under the watchful eye of Chef Daniel Boulud. He later returned to his adopted hometown of St. Louis to purchase Sidney Street Café — named 2013 Restaurant of the Year by St. Louis magazine.

Kevin seamlessly incorporates his wide variety of culinary experiences, as well as his French training, New Mexico heritage and tenure in Spain, into his dishes. In 2014 he opened his second St. Louis restaurant, The Peacemaker. He won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest in 2017, after being a finalist in the category in 2014 and 2016 and a five-time semifinalist as well. He has cooked for President Barack Obama, won the 2013 Cochon 555 Barbecue competition in St. Louis. , and competed in Esquire Network’s show “Knife Fight” in 2014. When he’s not in the kitchen, you can find Kevin training for triathlons and ironman competitions (he’s done six!).

Nathaniel Reid

Chef Nathaniel Reid is the chef and owner of Nathaniel Reid Bakery in Kirkwood, Missouri. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris with a Grand Diploma in Culinary and Pastry Arts, Chef Reid worked in top pastry kitchens around the world such as Michelin 3-star restaurant, Joël Robuchon, in Las Vegas to the AAA Five Diamond St. Regis hotel in Dana Point, California. Specializing in both contemporary and traditional baked goods with perfected European techniques, his dedication to the pastry craft resulted in accolades such as Dessert Professional Magazine’s Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America to Pastry Chef of the Year at the U.S. Pastry Competition. With a dedication to creating only the finest quality pastries, cakes, confections and sandwiches, Chef Reid opened Nathaniel Reid Bakery in 2016 in his home state of Missouri to showcase his care for the community and pastry craft.

Ben Grupe

A St. Louis native, Chef Grupe built his career from the ground up, starting as a dishwasher. He quickly fell in love with the energetic and team-based atmosphere of the kitchen, and – at the age of 18 – began cooking. He entered the hospitality program at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, during which time he also apprenticed at The Racquet Club Ladue under Chef Chris Desens. In 2006, he left St. Louis for West Virginia, where he entered the Greenbrier Culinary Apprenticeship Program under the guidance of Chef Peter Timmins. The intense, competitive program fueled his career track. He returned to St. Louis in 2010 and worked in some of the area’s top private clubs. In 2010 he also made the U.S. Culinary Olympic Team at the age of 26, before joining Bengelina Hospitality Group’s flagship, Elaia, as Executive Chef in 2016.

Antonio Park

Antonio Park’s tutelage as a world-renowned chef started in his mother’s South Korean kitchen, in Argentina/Paraguay. Thanks to a fresh garden that spanned acres, and his mom’s insistence on creating everything from scratch, the drive for perfection, sustainability, and farm-to-table cooking became his raison d’être. This mantra carried him through years of training under Japan’s most revered cooking masters, fed his ambition to work his way up from a dishwashing station to running two of the most noted restaurants in Montreal, and moonlighting as a judge on one of Food Network Canada’s top-rated programs–‘Chopped’.

In 2012, Park launched Restaurant PARK in the heart of Montreal, where he aimed to present the purity of Japanese sushi emboldened with the South Korean and South American flavors of his heritage. His insistence on cooking with organic and sustainable produce saw Park procure private seafood and Wagyu/Kobe beef import licenses (rarities in Montreal). This respect for the produce and animals, along with his creativity, vaulted PARK to critical acclaim, as the restaurant was recently named one of Canada’s top 100 restaurants, one of the 50 best Canadian restaurants, and a global selection by Diner’s Club World’s 50 Best Academy.

In 2014, Chef Park opened Lavanderia as an homage to his Argentinian roots, blending his obsession for fresh produce with the rich and sumptuous flavors of charcoal grilling. The restaurant has its own rooftop garden, offering clients the freshest produce possible during the capable months.

Mike Emerson

Mike Emerson is a seventh generation Missourian, who grew up hunting and fishing. His love for BBQ started early, when he would hang around campfires with other family members.

After years of working for, and under some of St. Louis’ best restaurant families, Mike was introduced to a new world of slow-smoked BBQ by his longtime friend, hunting companion and business partner, Skip Steele. In 2008, Mike opened Pappy’s Smokehouse, in St. Louis.

Over the years, Pappy’s has won numerous awards, including being voted Best BBQ in St. Louis, five years in a row and Best Ribs as voted by Food Network.

Simone Faure

New Orleans-born pastry chef and couture cake artist Simon Faure got her start at The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans and later became Executive Pastry Chef for The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis. Simone’s love of pastry, fashion and pop culture has shaped her distinct style and caught the attention of regional and national publications. She was named Top Pastry Professional by Martha Stewart Weddings and has been seen whipping up whimsical spring desserts on Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship, and on Cake Wars. Her signature Chocolate Heels, Handbag Cakes and flavorful French macarons can now be found at her award-winning bakery La Pâtisserie Chouquette, where she is Co-Owner and Pastry Chef. Simone’s work has been highlighted in American Way magazine, The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as Better Homes and Gardens and Martha Stewart Weddings.

David Choi

Operating a popular food truck-turned fast casual restaurant, Seoul Taco founder David Choi has always valued the sense of community that a restaurant or food vendor can create as much as making great, authentic food. “Just seeing the way our truck became a fixture of a neighborhood, I want any place that we open to have that real sense of community around it,” he says.

Since launching his Korean-Mexican fusion truck in 2011, Choi has opened brick-and-mortar Seoul Taco locations in St. Louis, Chicago, Columbia, Mo., Champaign, Ill., and most recently Chesterfield, Mo. With a focus on neighborhoods with large student and young-professional populations, he hopes the affordable, fun menu of fusion tacos, burritos, nachos and gogi bowls will resonate.

“Having the tie with young professionals and students alike, they’re looking for something fast and affordable, and we do both,” he says. “I know I’m not the first one to bring a Korean BBQ taco anywhere, but I really take pride in my recipes, and my family’s Korean barbecue, and I think we do it really well.”

Though he didn’t attend culinary school, Choi grew up in a home where food and cooking were at the epicenter. There, three generations of Korean-Americans would battle it out over whose Korean BBQ beef was superior. But Choi also learned a lot in that highly competitive kitchen. “I incorporated certain elements I like from my grandma and flavor profiles from my mom into my marinades, but the interpretation you get at Seoul Taco is really my own,” Choi says, adding with a laugh: “We each think ours is the best though.”

Kenny Hayden

Kenneth Hayden, Jr. is the Executive Chef at Lift For Life Academy, St. Louis’ very first charter school. Chef Kenny, as he’s affectionately referred to by the students and staff, has over 30 years of culinary experience. He started his career at the Fedora Cafe as a prep cook under the tutelage of Bill Cartwell and Bobby Vickers. It was at the Fedora Cafe where he found his passion for cooking. He then followed Chef Vickers to the Racket Club Ladue for three years, where he learned garde mager, saucier, and grillardin. Chef Kenny then found his way to Forest Hills Country Club for four years, where he was reacquainted with Chef Agnew, a fellow chef from the Fedora Cafe. It was there that Chef Kenny became Chef de Partie and eventually Sous Chef. He then made his way to Meadowbrook Country Club where he was named the Executive Sous Chef and then to Saint Albans Country Club, where he became the Banquet Chef. Chef Kenny then moved on to the Junior League of St. Louis, where he was the Executive Chef for close to ten years.

Chef Kenny has been featured in St Louis Homes and Lifestyles and Alive magazine. His ability to provide delicious and home cooked meals to over 500 students daily has been featured several times over the years on local news channels.

Jesse Mendica

Jesse, a Webster Groves native, started in the business at 16 years old working at her hometown favorite, Two Nice Guys. She quickly realized that along with the fun and excitement of working in a kitchen came great reward and pride. The feeling never left her, and she strives to share her love of playing with food, laughing, and enjoying hard, dirty work with everyone who will listen. Prior to leading the kitchen at Olive + Oak, Jesse worked as Executive Sous Chef at the award-winning Annie Gunn’s restaurant, known for its rustic farm-to-table fare. There she developed her own style, using the best possible ingredients to create approachable, tasty food for her guests. In 2007, Jesse joined her team from Annie Gunn’s to cook at the prestigious James Beard House, and, in 2012, she burst onto the scene as the only female competitor in the St. Louis Sous Chef Iron Chef Competition. Since opening Olive + Oak, she has been named to St. Louis magazine’s “Dream Team” and was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Midwest award.

Loryn Feliciano-Nalic

In December 2016, Chef Loryn Feliciano-Nalic opened Balkan Treat Box as a roving purveyor of food from the Balkan countries. Though she’s not a native of Bosnia, Nalic insists that her food is every bit as authentic as if she’d been doing it her entire life. Nalic hopes to have a brick-and-mortar one day, but in the meantime, she’s busy on the truck, stoking the wood-fired oven and making every last item from scratch.

Ben Poremba

Ben Poremba is the Chef/Owner of Bengelina Hospitality Group, the St. Louis-based, award-winning operator of Nixta and Bar Limón, Elaia, Olio, Parigi, and La Patisserie Chouquette. Poremba is a three-time James Beard Award semifinalist in the category of Best Chef-Midwest, and he continues taking the St. Louis dining scene by storm.

An Israeli native, Poremba learned the art of cooking (and eating) from his mother, Rachel, who had a 40-year career as a chef and culinary educator herself. Poremba moved to St. Louis to earn a BA in philosophy from the University of Missouri.

Poremba began his culinary career in the states as a private chef, and then transitioned his experience into launching a catering company, Taste Fine Catering, while still in college. He held roles as Executive Chef at The Maryland House at Brennan’s and Executive Chef of Winslow’s Home (both in St. Louis), and also attended Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomich (University of Gastronomic Studies) in Parma, Italy where he studied Food Culture and Gastronomy. In 2008, he started Bengelina Hospitality Group with his wife, Angela, opening their first venture Salume Beddu. He then went on to open Elaia and Olio, La Patisserie Chouquette, Old Standard (now closed), Parigi, Nixta, and Bar Limón.

“I aim to create food that takes you somewhere,” says Poremba. “Either somewhere familiar that invokes memories, or to a place you’ve never been before. Diners don’t need to go to the theater for a full night out; I want my restaurants to be the show itself for guests. I aim to transport diners, whether it’s to Baja at Nixta, or Brooklyn at Olio.”

Marie-Anne Velasco

A Montreal native, Chef Marie-Anne Velasco describes the house she grew up in as the gathering spot for her family. It was rare that someone wasn’t over at her house cooking, and large parties with food laid out on tables were regular occurrences. “I don’t know of any other way to grow up,” Velasco says. “There was always an aunt or a grandma coming over saying, ‘Eat this’ or ‘Can you make that one thing again?’ It’s just how it always was.”

Her sushi skills brought her to St. Louis, where she worked for the Ritz-Carlton before leaving for a chef de cuisine position at the Chase Park Plaza. From there, Velasco was recruited to teach at a local culinary school, where she relished the opportunity to share her knowledge with aspiring students.

These days, Marie-Anne Velasco is busy with Nudo House, the much buzzed-about ramen restaurant she opened with business partner Qui Tran.

Kevin Willmann

Kevin Willmann is the Chef and owner of St. Louis’ beloved Farmhaus Restaurant. Willmann was born into a farming family in Greenville IL and self-taught in the culinary arts in the Florida Panhandle before returning to St. Louis. Willmann was a finalist for James Beard Foundation, Best Chef Midwest in 2016 and 2017. Chef Willmann was chosen as a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2011, participated in Food & Wine’s Chef’s Club restaurant at the St. Regis in Aspen, Colorado in 2012, appeared on Bizarre Foods America, 2013 and was featured in the 2016 title “Reel Masters, Chef’s Casting About with Timing and Grace.”

Jayshree Nathoo

Jayshree Nathoo is a renowned Indian event planner and culinarian who brings her talents to St. Louis for special dining events. Based at The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando, her work has dazzled at Indian weddings in Missouri, California, Florida, Colorado, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, Louisiana — and internationally as well. Jayshree has traveled extensively, has lived in both Europe and Africa, and has specialized knowledge of Indian and Pakistani cuisine – including delicacies from diverse regions within these countries. She participates in Florida’s Epcot Food and Wine Festival and Naples Food and Wine Annual Festival.

Jeanine Edmonds-Mott

Jeanine Edmonds-Mott grew up in Pennsylvania reading cookbooks like novels. After pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and working in an office for several years, Jeanine returned to school, earning an Associate’s Degree in patisserie and baking from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in 2005. Her experience with The Ritz-Carlton has included positions at Maestro at The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, and at The Ritz-Carlton hotels in Philadelphia, South Beach and New Orleans, where she worked with St. Louis’ own Chef Simone Faure. In 2009, Jeanine arrived at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis as Pastry Supervisor. In 2015, she was promoted to Pastry Chef. She currently leads a strong pastry team for the hotel and also has personally advanced to the level of desserts for The Grill and stunning showpieces for brunches and special events.

Melissa Lee

Founder of Savor for Students, Chef Melissa Lee serves as Executive Assistant Manager – Culinary / Food & Beverage for The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis. She grew up in southern Ireland, where her family owned and operated multiple Cantonese restaurants, and by the age of nine she worked side-by-side with her father, learning this cuisine. She chose to pursue a culinary career, joining Marriott International in Dearborn, Michigan in 2001, transitioning to a role as a cruise chef aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2, and then returning to the U.S. in 2004 as a banquet kitchen supervisor and trainer for The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City.

Melissa later joined The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island and The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando Grande Lakes, steadily increasing her responsibilities and winning numerous leadership and culinary awards along the way. In August 2012, she accepted the position of Executive Chef for The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis where her talent in the culinary arts continues to tantalize and inspire all individuals touched by her passion. The best dish Chef Melissa has ever made? “A childhood favorite: Cantonese style duck, and Napa cabbage, with a sweet soy glaze – trained by my Dad.”


Ticket-holders are invited to spend the night at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis and enjoy a relaxing and luxurious stay following the event. A special event room rate is offered at $159 USD plus tax, based on availability. To reserve, please call 800-960-7056. Room rate includes overnight parking on August 30.


Are there ID or minimum age requirements to enter the event?

No. However, you must be 21 or older with a valid ID to order alcoholic beverages.

What are my parking options for the event?

Complimentary self-parking is available in The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis parking garage.

What can I bring into the event?

No outside food and beverage is allowed.

How can I contact the organizer with any questions?

For additional information, please contact The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis at 314-719-1433.

What’s the refund policy?

Tickets are non-refundable as all proceeds go to support LIFT FOR LIFE ACADEMY.