Speaker Bios - 2014

Speakers/Schedule Subject to Change. Please check back often for updates.


Peter Askin
Southern World Vacations

Peter Askin was born in New Zealand and moved to the USA in 1987. With over 35 years Travel industry experience, Peter started his travel career with Air New Zealand as a management trainee in1976 and has held management positions with Diners Club Travel and Air Pacific. Currently, Peter’s position is with the Southern World Group is Vice President Sales & Marketing, North America and is a partner in all three companies; Southern World Australia, Southern World New Zealand and Southern World Fiji.

Chef David R. Blackmon


Chef David Blackmon's first love is the passion for cooking and the excitement in the kitchen. With 20 years of experience as a professional Chef, his food testimonials are bar-none. Chef Blackmon sharpened his skills working under top chefs in some of the finest restaurants around Chicago.  David’s career started with a family owned catering company where he was quickly promoted to on-site kitchen manager while attending high school. After graduating, he worked a year for a popular cruise line out of Miami. David received his culinary training at Kendall College in Evanston. Ill.


Chef Blackmon’s culinary approach has a Southwestern, Italian, Southern, and Asian flair. He tries to incorporate these flavors into several of his dishes. Having a chance to work with so many different types of foods and ingredients that the city has to offer, David enjoys Chicago’s vast cultural and culinary differences, and tries to bring them all to a happy medium in each of his dishes. Never forgetting his family’s deep roots in soul food, David does updated dishes using some of the same soulful ingredients but with a healthy twist. He refers to it as “Neo Soul Food.” 


During his down time, David enjoys spending it with his wife and their twin children, son David II and daughter Maya. He is currently working on his first cookbook entitled, “The Way to Her Heart”. David enjoys playing golf and is an avid SCUBA Diver. And yes, he does cook occasionally at home.

Samantha Brown
Travel Expert & Great Escape Artist
Click Here to Learn More About Samantha Brown on the Travel Channel.

Samantha Brown has spent more than 14 years living in airports, hotels and out of a suitcase. She’s taken viewers on intimate, off-the-beaten-path journeys discovering exotic destinations, whether around the world or in their own backyard. Samantha has hosted a number of shows on the Travel Channel including “Passport to Europe,” “Passport to Great Weekends” and the upcoming “The Trip: 2014”.

An inspirational resource for prospective travelers, Samantha has truly enjoyed showing how extraordinary it is to be a part of everyday life in another part of the world. Her travel goal is to always show that if she can do it, you can do it. People follow Samantha and her advice not only because of her experience and knowledge, but because of her genuineness and passion for travel. No matter where she takes you, Samantha will find delectable food, fabulous shopping and an authentic taste of the region you won’t find in a tourist guidebook.

Follow her at
website: www.samantha-brown.com
twitter: @samanthabrown
Facebook: www.facebook.com/RealSamanthaBrown

Todd Carmichael
Host of Travel Channel’s “Dangerous Grounds”, Adventurer, Entrepreneur and Coffee Crusader
Click Here to Learn More About Todd and Dangerous Grounds.

Todd Carmichael is a successful entrepreneur, world-record holder, philanthropist and adoptive father of four. His multi-million dollar coffee company, La Colombe Torrefaction, provides coffee for some of the world’s top chefs, high-end restaurants and specialty home stores. As La Colombe’s main sourcer, Carmichael is challenged with finding the best coffee in the world, which is often found in some of the most perilous places on Earth – Haiti, Bolivia and Uganda to name a few.

Travel Channel’s “Dangerous Grounds” follows Carmichael as he hunts down rare strains of coffee in some of the most fascinating and unseen places in the world. Travel is his life, and coffee fuels his passion for adventure. Viewers have the rare opportunity to join him; one dangerous ground at a time.

A thrill-seeker his entire life, Carmichael ran his first ultra-marathon at the age of 20 and soon after sailed solo across the Atlantic. In 2008, he set the still-standing world-record for the fastest unsupported trek to the South Pole – 39 days, 7 hours and 49 minutes. Carmichael also participates in a number of humanitarian efforts, including working with the Clinton Global Initiative to raise over $500 million towards starting a coffee university in the mountains of Haiti and developing a coffee blend alongside his business partner and Leonardo DiCaprio, of which 100 percent of the profits go to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

Deborah Childs
AAA Group Specialist

Deborah’s accomplished career as a Group Travel professional includes 20 years with AAA Chicago. In addition to crafting customized itineraries for groups traveling to all seven continents, she has escorted hundreds of groups worldwide. Deborah’s expertise is honed for special interest groups and notable loyal clients have included several Chicago radio station hosts, top chefs, and professional sports teams.

She is involved in the development of Travel’s Custom Vacation Collection and will present highlights from the 2014 portfolio of exclusive AAA departures.

Dave Eckert
Poducer and Hst of Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert, which aired for 11 years on Public Broadcasting, Wealth TV, and ATT-Uverse, and continues to run on cable across the country.

Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert is an award-winning food, wine, and spirits program devoted to uncovering the delicious and distinctive in destinations around the world. Eckert produced, hosted, and wrote some 275 half-hour episodes on six continents.

Eckert’s background is television journalism, working as an anchor and reporter for stations in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Chicago, among other cities. Eckert has won two Emmys and a Gabriel for his work. He has also been recognized as one of the top wine writers in the country, and continues to ply his trade there in a weekly blog for the Kansas City Star daily newspaper.

Eckert’s love and knowledge of wine is well-known. He has visited and profiled wineries in nearly all of the major wine producing regions of the world, and collects wine for his personal cellar, which he uses in the pursuit of two of his favorite hobbies-cooking and wine and food pairing.

Eckert lives in Liberty, Missouri with his wife, Denise, and their two children, Conor and Fiona.

Chef Dwight Evans

Chef Dwight Evans, the 2013 ACF Chicago Chefs of Cuisine Chef of The Year, has over 28 years of global experience in the culinary arts. He has been featured in national and regional publications including a recent “Chef Profile” in Food Industry News (May, 2013). For the past 7+ years, Dwight has been employed as executive chef at Covenant Village of Northbrook, a suburban Chicago senior living facility managed by Sodexo, the world leader in quality of life services.

He is a spokesperson / corporate chef for Best Chicago Meat Company, a major Illinois based wholesaler and owner of the Moo & Oink brand where his responsibilities include public speaking engagements, appearances in television and radio commercials, printed press releases and internet blogs.

Dwight recently signed on for representation by the National Speakers Association (NSA) which plans to promote an aggressive public speaking schedule.

An eager philanthropist, Dwight hosts the annual benefit dinner for the Roy C. Buley Center in his home community of Muncie, Indiana. He volunteers time to many other charitable organizations, including Chefs in the Classroom, Chefs Move to the Classroom, No Kid Left Hungry, Taste of the Nation, ACF Chef and Child, and La Rabida Children’s Hospital.

A portion of proceeds from sales of From Ghetto to Gourmet will support Dwight’s non-profit G2G Foundation. In street lingo, G2G is an acronym for “Gangster to Gangster.” As a respected OG (“Original Gangster”), Dwight aims to encourage young men through G2G to “drop the gun and pick up the knife” (for culinary purposes) and stop the senseless violence that plagues American cities.

Pauline Frommer
Editorial Director of the Frommer Guides and Publisher of Frommers.com 

Pauline Frommer is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host. The Travel Show, which she co-hosts with her father, travel legend Arthur Frommer, is now heard in every state in the nation except Alaska. She also pens an internationally syndicated newspaper column on travel for King Features. You may recognize her face as Pauline created weekly travel segments for CNN's Headline News for 3 years. She's also appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Early Show, The O'Reilly Factor, NPR's Marketplace and Talk of the Nation, CNN, FOX, MSNBC and every local news station you can name. She was the founding editor of Frommers.com and edited MSNBC.com's travel section for two years. Pauline is the proud mother of two well-traveled daughters and wife to physical therapist Mahlon Stewart.

Jara Haas
Visit Anchorage

Jara is an outdoor enthusiast who has called Alaska home for the past ten years. She enjoys hiking, camping, mountain biking, and pack rafting her way around the state with her family. Even though she has graduated from sleeping in a tent to sleeping in a motor home, she finds happiness getting off-the-beaten-path and exploring the last frontier. Jara has worked in the tourism industry for 7 years and loves sharing her passion of Alaska with visitors.

Chef Joe Heck

"A local favorite for cake creations,” Joe Heck’s boutique bakery within the Landmark, provides brides the style and quality usually reserved for locations such as LA and NY.

With 13 years experience in Manhattan, this Culinary Institute of America graduate honed his skills in a very competitive and demanding market. Joe’s talent and experience allows a bride to enhance her theme or décor, whether traditional or innovative into a breathtaking centerpiece."

He will be making Dead River Chocolate Espresso Cake Truffle.

Martina Kavanagh
Ireland Travel Director, Trafalgar and Brendan Vacations

Martina has been a Travel Director for 33 years, 27 of them have been with Brendan Vacations, visiting Rathbaun Farm and sampling the wonderful fresh scones made by Frances is one of my favorite things to do in Ireland!

Jimmy Kennedy

He’s a self-taught professional cook, an entrepreneur and restaurateur, a champion bass fisherman who teaches fishing to kids, a TV personality, a pianist, an artist and an all-around amateur athlete. And what this Vermont-by-way-of-Mississippi Renaissance man can do best is tell wonderful stories and enliven, even excite any on-air interview.

Upon graduation from the University of Mississippi, Jimmy worked as a legislative assistant to a Mississippi congressman. But his love as a competitive bass fisherman preceded him to Washington, and led to an appointment to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, where he met people interested in promoting Southern catfish to Northern restaurants. Jimmy moved to New York and began distributing “Mississippi Gourmet Catfish,” which was soon the new “in-thing.” He became a start-up partner in two of the hot NYC restaurants of the 1980s: Acme Bar & Grill in trendy SOHO and Nadine’s. “Crazy,” he now says of that time, “absolutely crazy – and more fun than I’d ever had in my life.”

Jimmy, a professional bass fisherman since his teens, competes on the B.A.S.S. and FLW circuits, has been a featured guest on “Charlie Moore Outdoors,” and been featured in national outdoor publications. In 1986 he discovered Vermont – and bass fishing in Lake Champlain. You’d never know it from his Mississippi accent, but Jimmy Kennedy is now a real Vermonter. He’s a “Let’s Go Fishing” instructor with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Service, founder of the Twinfield High School Fishing Club, and a mentor for other high school programs. And he’s developing a TV series for fishing and cooking with kids.

Whitney Lennon
Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Whitney Lennon was educated and has been employed in the tourism industry since 1990. She is currently the Marketing Manager for Mammoth Lakes Tourism and promotes the area globally. If you ask her about her position she will tell you, ‘it’s my dream job!’ Her travel tips and knowledge are based on her travel experience and past residencies in Alaska, Utah, Idaho, California, Arizona, New Zealand and Washington, D.C. Whitney’s passions are skiing; traveling; and assisting in creating ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities for other travelers.

Lou Macaluso
Regional Sales Manager, Universal Orlando Resort

Lou brings twenty five years of travel and tourism experience to his position. His industry background includes marketing and sales positions with a Bermuda/Caribbean tour operator, the Hong Kong Tourist Association and most recently with the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Chef Tim Matthews

Tim Matthews grew up in a small coal mining village in Yorkshire, England. While attending school, he worked weekends peeling vegetables at Monk Fryston Hall, a small hotel nestled in the countryside. This early exposure to kitchen life developed into a passion for cooking.

Tim took his apprenticeship and attended Thomas Danby College in Leeds in the north of England. At the age of 18, Tim had his chef’s papers and landed a job working for Silvano Trompetto at the prestigious Savoy Hotel in London. After 2 years working with the 120 chefs and 4 departments of the Savoy kitchen, he got the opportunity to work in the pastry shop at the hotel Kempiniski in Berlin. He entered a pulled sugar display in the Berlin Culinary Salon in 1978 and won his first gold medal. After one year, Tim took a chef du partie position at the Loews Hotel in the south of France and a junior sous chef position at the Sheraton Hotel in Stockholm Sweden.

Tim came to Thunder Bay in 1980 and worked at the Airlane Hotel as a dining room chef and with C.P Hotels as executive chef. In 1986, he joined the hospitality team at Confederation College and coordinated the Culinary Management Program.
In addition to earning his Chef’s papers in England and Canada, he is a graduate of Confederation College’s Culinary and Hotel Management Programs, chef of the year in 1991 (Association of Chefs De Cuisine) and received a recognition award for outstanding service in 1996 from Confederation College.

In May 2001, Tim was awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award from the University of Texas and Confederation College’s Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. He also has a degree in Business Administration from Athabasca University.

Tim has written over 200 articles on food preparation and cooking. In his career, he has won 13 gold medals and a number of challenge trophies for his food exhibits in Germany, Ireland, the United States and Canada.

Mary Murrin
Business Development Manager, River Cruise Sales Specialist, Tauck
With 18 years in the travel industry, Mary has personally experienced most of the destinations within Tauck's expansive portfolio of culturally-immersive itineraries. For most of the last decade, Mary lived and worked in Europe as a Cruise Director on Tauck¹s Jewel Class fleet of luxury riverboats. Throughout her career, she has developed a deep appreciation for what she refers to as 'the many gifts of travel,' as well as a keen sense of what appeals to the luxury consumer. In her current position as Business Development Manager / River Cruise Sales Specialist, Mary's focus is to help people understand the many ways in which the Tauck portfolio of beautifully handcrafted, escorted travel experiences is unique within the marketplace.

Dr. Antonia Neubauer
President, Myths and Mountains

Traveler, humanitarian, and teacher, Toni is the guiding spirit behind Myths and Mountains, and founder of READ Global, a nonprofit global organization dedicated to inspiring rural prosperity by building rural library community centers and seeding sustaining businesses as catalysts for development. READ Nepal was selected as recipient of the 2006 Access to Learning Award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Toni also has received the Walk the Talk Global Citizen Award, The Friends of Nepal Award, the Northern Nevada International Center's International Visionary award, and is the Conde Nast Nepal Top Travel Specialist. Myths and Mountains has also been the recipient of Travel & Leisure's Global Vision Award and most recently the Ambassador of Peace Award from the International Institute of Peace Through Tourism.

For more than a quarter of a century, Toni has traveled within Asia and Southeast Asia, getting to know the people and their way of life. These intimate experiences are the heart and soul of every Myths and Mountains trip, and this is what makes each journey so unique. Toni speaks six languages, holds a Doctorate in Educational Administration as well as a Masters in French Literature, and has visited 60 countries around the world. She has spoken for diverse organizations as Sister Cities, Yale University, The Center for the Study of the Vietnam Conflict, and The Adventure Travel Trade Association, and been a frequent guest on a variety of radio shows.

Cynthia O’Kelley
Insight Vacations

Cynthia has been touring Europe for 30 years and with Insight Vacations for 25. She has traveled extensively and is excited to share her insights to help you have the most memorable vacation. Specifically, Cynthia enjoys family vacations and wants to enlighten you on the most seamless, yet enjoyable vacations whether you travel solo or in a group.

Paul Anthony Pepe
Manager of Tourism for the City of Thunder Bay, marketing lead for Northwest Ontario’s touring and outdoor adventure programs, Chair of Cruise Ontario

A lifelong resident of Northwest Ontario, Paul has a passion for the natural environment he’s fortunate to call his big back yard and loves sharing the experiences of the Northwest with friends and visitors alike. He has spent time exploring the coast of Lake Superior by trail and kayak, travelled by floatplane to northern communities and lodges, motorcycled his way along the Norwester route, explored overgrown logging trails by mountain bike, sailed the Big Lake and is a regular at the farmer’s markets. A graduate of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, Paul has an academic background in Political Science and Aboriginal Studies. Prior to joining the city of Thunder Bay, Paul held a number of positions with both the Ministry of Northern Development and the Ministry of Tourism at Fort William Historical Park. Paul has also undertaken entrepreneurial endeavors in the trucking, contracting and economic development consulting fields. In addition to being the Chair of Cruise Ontario, Paul is also Co-chair of the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition and Chair of the Confederation College Travel and Tourism Advisory Committee. Paul is an avid motorcyclist, kayaker, cyclist, skier, carpenter, gardener, cook and wanderer. A lifelong resident of Thunder Bay, Paul and his wife Bambi enjoy travelling with their two dogs and restoring 107 year old home in the Port Arthur neighborhood of the city.

Carolyn Pope
Trade Development Consultant, Tourism New Zealand

Carolyn Pope is Trade Development Consultant at Tourism New Zealand based in Los Angeles. Originally from Australia, she has spent the past eight years living in the US promoting the South Pacific, and in particular the wonderful country of New Zealand. Some of her favourite places in New Zealand are Kauri Cliffs in the Bay of Islands, Akaroa just outside of Christchurch and the beautiful mountain resort town of Queenstown.

Susana Romero
Global Sales Manager and Galapagos Expert, Celebrity Cruises

Sunnie Rossi
President, Aussie Experts (affiliated with InConcert Travel)

In 1994, Sunnie made her first visit to Australia and New Zealand and fell in love and developed a passion for Australia and New Zealand. Since that time she has made yearly visits to both countries in order to enhance her knowledge, maintain contacts, and stay in touch with current developments. Sunnie is a certified destination specialist with Australia (premier Aussie Specialist), New Zealand (Kiwi specialist), Fiji (Mati specialist) and Tahiti (Tiare specialist). In addition, Sunnie is a two time winner of the prestigious Opal award given by the Australian Tourist commission for excellence in planning and selling Australian vacations. The Aussie Experts is a full service South Pacific travel company (affiliated with InConcert Travel) with the ability to issue airline tickets, custom design a perfect itinerary and instantly issue visas for Australia. In brief, Aussie Experts has the background, knowledge, and the expertise to tailor a trip to your specifications, time frame and budget!

Patricia Schultz
Author, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die

Patricia Schultz has a dream job: traveling the globe and writing about it. She is the author of the international #1 bestsellers, 1,000 PLACES TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE (with over 3 million copies in print and translated into 25 languages) and 1,000 PLACES TO SEE IN THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA BEFORE YOU DIE. With these works, she has reinvented the idea of travel book as both wish list and practical guide. She was chosen by Forbes as one of the 25 most influential women in travel, and was executive producer of the Travel Channel’s TV show based on her first 1,000 PLACES book.

The second edition of 1,000 PLACES TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE came out in November 2011, with 200 entirely new destinations, 28 new countries, full-color photographs, and more than 50 percent new material woven into the revised and expanded entries, which emphasize comprehensive travel experiences instead of single sites.

Family legend, never proven, is that Patricia’s family is somehow related to Mark Twain, who was a preeminent globetrotter of his day. Patricia’s own wanderlust began on the beach at Atlantic City, when she set off from the family beach blanket seeking adventure and was returned to an apoplectic mother several hours later by some relieved lifeguards. “I had heard the siren call of the great, global beyond,” she recalls, “and I had answered. I was hooked. I was four years old.”

While her college classmates headed for Wall Street, Patricia grabbed her passport and made a beeline for the airport, and soon discovered that she could make a living from her passion. Many guidebooks and articles later, she embarked upon the first 1,000 PLACES book, spending seven years augmenting the knowledge she gained from her own travels with information from hundreds of books and magazines and first-person reports from colleagues, tourist agencies, and individual travelers. How did she winnow it all down? “The common denominator I chose was a simple one: that each place impress upon the visitor some sense of the earth’s magic, integrity, wonder, and legacy. And sometimes places that were just plain fun.”

Patricia Schultz has written about travel for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Everyday with Rachael Ray, and Travel Weekly, and for guides such as Frommer’s and Berlitz. She is a popular speaker at travel shows, museums, associations, and organizations both in the U.S. and abroad. In more than 25 years of travel writing, she has never lost her curiosity or passion. “Some people can speed from New York to L. A. without registering a thing,” she writes. “I can walk around my mid-Manhattan block and come home with a carton of milk and stories to tell. In the end, the number of miles covered has nothing to do with the real pleasures of travel–the inherent beauty of the world and the discovery it promises are all around us.”

Rick Steves
Travel Writer, Host of Rick Steves Europe and Travel with Rick Steves, Europe Through the Back Door

Rick Steves grew up in Edmonds, Washington and studied at the University of Washington where he received degrees in Business Administration and European History. But his real education came in Europe — since 1973 he's spent 120 days a year in Europe. Spending one third of his adult life living out of a suitcase in Europe has shaped his thinking. Today he employs 80 people at his Europe Through the Back Door headquarters where he produces over 50 guidebooks on European travel, the most popular travel series in America on public television, a weekly hour-long national public radio show, and a weekly column syndicated by the Chicago Tribune. Rick Steves lives and works in his hometown of Edmonds, Washington. His office window overlooks his old junior high school.

Fabio Viviani 
Chef/Culinary Personality/Restaurateur/Cookbook Author

Chef Fabio Viviani has possessed a passion for food since his childhood growing up in Florence, Italy. At age 11, Viviani worked nights at a local bakery (since he was too young to officially join the staff) and, over his teenage years, held several positions in the restaurant industry, even serving under the mentorship of Simone Mugnaini, an iconic figure in the Italian restaurant scene.

Between his training in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine at IPSSAR Saffi and working with culinary luminaries such as Simone Mugnaini, Alessandro Panzani and Saverio Carmagini, Viviani owned and operated 5 restaurants in Florence, a Farm House and 2 nightclubs by the time he was 27. Although a well-respected business man in Italy, he was ready for a change and moved to Ventura County, CA. There he opened Café Firenze in Moorpark and, soon after, popular Los Angeles Italian eatery Firenze Osteria in North Hollywood. Teaming up with the Chicago’s most innovative restaurant consulting group, Dine|Amic, Viviani opened a third restaurant called Siena Tavern in Chicago in February 2013. Siena Tavern has received accolades from Michigan Avenue, Chicago Tribune, Thrillist, and others.

Fabio Viviani is perhaps best known for his appearance on season 5 of Bravo’s hit reality series Top Chef in 2008, earning the “Fan Favorite” title. Viviani returned to Bravo in 2010 to compete in their Top Chef All Stars edition and a spinoff culinary reality show, Life After Top Chef. His on screen appearances have propelled him to become one of the fastest growing household names in the country. A gregarious host and entertaining guest, Viviani has appeared in a number of television cooking segments and is a recurring guest on television shows such as Good Morning America, The Talk, The Chew, Ellen, Good Day LA, Access Hollywood, and he hosts a regular spot on QVC channel with various kitchen appliances and products. He is also the host of the award-winning web series Chow Ciao! on Yahoo!, the #1 lifestyle and food show on the internet.

Off screen, Viviani is a regular headliner at global food events and festivals, sells a line of ceramics cookware at Bed Bath & Beyond, and is a proud endorser of beloved brands such as Bialetti Cookware, Bertolli Olive Oil and Yahoo.com. He has authored two successful cookbooks, Café Firenze Cookbook, and his latest release Fabio’s Italian Kitchen, and also his series of Ebooks about various food subjects appeared on multiple Amazon bestseller lists within weeks of release. He has another cookbook in the works due in early 2014 that will showcase Fabio's passion for food made simple. Viviani regularly shares recipes with his fans through his online Magazine, “Fabio’s Kitchen Academy.” Rounding out the Fabio Viviani brand, Viviani offers elite restaurant consulting through his partnership in DineAmic Group.