Speaker Bios - 2014

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


Lee Abbamonte

Lee Abbamonte is the youngest American to visit every country in the world (193 UN nations). He's visited 312 total countries and is one of the world’s most-traveled people. Lee is a travel writer, travel expert, travel television personality and global adventurer. He appears regularly on Fox News, HLN, Travel Channel, NBC, CBS, CNN, BBC, AJAM, ESPN and many others. He has also been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Discovery, Today, Travel Zoo, Yahoo!, Smart Money, Slate, OK! Magazine, and many others. Lee is also attempting to become the youngest person to visit all 324 countries and unique destinations in the world per the Travelers Century Club list. The record is 37 years, 9 months and 17 days and he aims to beat it as Lee is only 35 and nearly there. Lee is an active member of the Travelers Century Club, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and a member of the Circumnavigators Club. He's also a sports fanatic and loves the New York Yankees.

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

Warren Brown

Warren Brown is the founder and owner of CakeLove bakery.

In 2000 Mr. Brown left a career practicing law to pursue his passion for baking. He has been recognized for his entrepreneurial spirit by local and national media outlets including the Oprah Winfrey show, the Today show, People magazine, NPR, and was featured in national advertisement campaigns for American Express and Dell computers.

He is the author of three cookbooks, CakeLove, United Cakes of America, and CakeLove in the Morning and was the host of “Sugar Rush” on the Food Network.
He resides in Washington, DC with his wife and two daughters.

Robert Van Camp
Creator and Producer, "Great Scenic Railway Journeys" TV Series 

For the last 21 years Robert Van Camp has been traveling the world filming some of the most historic and scenic rail journeys. His career started as a TV news producer/photographer for a CBS news station. In 1993 Van Camp set his camera on a small tourist railway in southwest North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The program garnered his first Emmy. Twenty-one years later he has been awarded 13 Emmy's for his programming on Public Television. In November of 2013 he received American Public Televisions prestigious “Program Excellence Award”.

Great Scenic Railway Journeys has not only become the longest running rail program on Public Television, its popularity has made the series one of Public Televisions top fund-raising shows. Robert Van Camp now travels to 40 plus PBS station every year doing live appearances during the shows station breaks offering many of his guide books and show DVD’s along with local rail adventures to help raise much needed funding for those stations.

Covering the tourist railway industry for two decades has led him to a passion to help preserve and present our railways great legacy. Over the years he has acquired four historic rail-cars from the stream-liner era. Several have been restored and put into service with plans to finish restoring the others in the near future.

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.

Kathy Donnelly
Business Development Manager, Carnival Cruise Line

Kathy Donnelly began her career at Carnival Cruise Line in Miami, FL in November of 1993. As a 20 year veteran of the cruise industry Kathy held numerous positions in Miami as a reservation agent, inside sales representative and also worked in the sales and marketing department. In 2000 Kathy joined the outside sales team as the Business Development Manager for Hudson Valley/Bronx. In 2003 Kathy moved from Westchester County, NY to the Mid Atlantic area where she now covers Delaware, Maryland, DC and Virginia.

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.

Matt Greenham
Air New Zealand Vacations

Air New Zealand Vacations Matt Greenham is our resident Australia and New Zealand specialist. Hailing from Perth, Western Australia, Matt moved to the USA in 2007 and has worked in the travel industry ever since. After spending some time in the cruise industry, he now has the perfect role to fuel his passion ­ promoting the unique destinations of New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific islands. His presentation style is both educational and entertaining, with focus of creating excitement about New Zealand and the incredible South Pacific region.

Cher Harris
Executive Pastry Chef of The Hotel Hershey

Chef Cher Harris returned to Hershey from Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pennsylvania. Prior to her time at the casino, Harris was the assistant pastry chef at The Hotel Hershey. Earlier in her career, she was the pastry chef and education specialist at Harrisburg Area Community College in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the pastry cook at Bent Creek Country Club in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

As Executive Pastry Chef of The Hotel Hershey, Harris oversees a staff of up to 15 employees that creates everything sweet for all dining outlets at the Hotel.

Harris looks to enhance the flavors and textures of each dessert the pastry shop produces under her direction. She believes that guests are no longer wowed by items that are structural and impressive-looking, and feels that instead they’re looking for clean yet complex combinations that make sense. Overall, Harris’s goal is to deliver high-quality sweets to guests while challenging new trends in pastry.

Harris thrives on the attention to detail and exactness needed for pastry. She also enjoys baking, which is different from pastry and includes making breads and danish. She enjoys the challenges of bread and acknowledges that it takes even more patience and a different handling style. But Harris’ true passions are specialty wedding cakes and plated dessert composition.

What is Harris’s favorite thing about working with chocolate? She loves that it’s like pairing fine wines with food in that the different cocoa contents create many flavor depths and compositions.

John Hoover
Freelance and Assignment Photographer

John Hoover is a freelance and assignment photographer specializing in Travel, Portraits and Architecture. John began his career as a traditional black-and-white photographer and used a large-format view camera for his portraits, landscape and architectural image making. With the evolution of digital photography John embraced and incorporated the technology into all his work. A shaping force in the development of John's creative vision was the training he received in large-format photography, which John credits as teaching him the patience and contemplation necessary to distill the essence of the world he sees through careful composition. John has been fortunate to travel extensively through Europe and Asia and loves to share his techniques and experiences with other photographers.

Chef J. Jackson

Chef J. Jackson, a name that has become synonyms with great food, is a successful caterer based in Washington, D.C., Jackson has created his own personal style by mixing his love of food with that of techniques from some of the best chefs in the country and beyond.

Forced into the kitchen at an early age by an overworked single mother, his first experiences in the kitchen were not memorable. Despite early meals of burnt eggs, raw turkeys and rock hard cookies, he chopped, mixed and sautéed his way into great cooking. After stints in 4-star hotels as a catering manager, Jackson devised the perfect recipe for success: Entrée Metropolitan. He created his Washington, D.C-base Catering and Event Planning firm in 2008 to cater to the needs of those who wanted great food with panache. The mission is simple to “make my love for food contagious.” Today, Entrée Metropolitan enjoys catering to Grammy award-winning artists, politicians, the nation’s elite and food lovers throughout the country and abroad.

Jackson prides himself on being self-taught but believes great chefs are always learning. So, his training continues. He has studied at The French Culinary Institute and Institute of Culinary Education both in New York City.

His passion for food has translated into food writing. On the 1st annual National Food Day, Jackson introduced his food adventures with the blog, “Foodies and Fatties.” He has traveled extensively in the U.S. and around the globe from Tokyo to Belgium capturing the food experience to share with other foodies and fatties. www.entreemetropolitan.com

Chris Kaiaokamalie
Director of Sales for the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau (MVCB)

A 23-year veteran of Hawaiʻi's hospitality industry, Chris has worked in sales and marketing as well as restaurant operations for various organizations across Maui. Currently Director of Sales for the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau (MVCB) for the past thirteen years, Chris works closely with airlines, Travel agents, and wholesaler partners throughout the United States and Canada educating and promoting many offerings of Maui Nui.

For the last twelve years 2001 - 2012, he has served as overall chairperson of Hula O Na Keiki, Maui's signature keiki hula competition hosted by Ka’anapali Beach Hotel and most recently elected to serve on the board of Directors for Friends of Moku’ula. (a political and spiritual center for all of Hawai‘i and ancient home of Maui's high chiefs). He also volunteers with the American Cancer Society and numerous community events on Maui and abroad.

A proficient and seasoned hula dancer, Chris has competed in various hula competitions for more than 25 years including Hilo's prestigious Merrie Monarch Festival from 1982 – 2007 with Hula Halau Ka Ua Kani Lehua, Kumu Hula, Johnny Lum Ho and Hula Halau Kauluokala Kumu Hula Uluwehi Guerrero for the past 10 years. He has performed all over North America, Japan, Germany and various numerous lu’au and conventions here in the state of Hawaii. He takes great pride in accurately presenting and sharing his native Hawaiian culture with all those he meets "on the road" on his travels for MVCB and Maui Nui.

An avid outdoorsman, Chris enjoys stand up paddling, surfing, running, working out and hiking the beautiful mountain trails of Maui Nui.

Patrina Mack

Patrina serves as the Interim Head of Marketing for TravelZingo. She is responsible for launching the consumer travel application and mobile app, TravelZingo, in the United States. Patrina specializes in helping companies in the U.S., Europe, Russia and Israel expand their business to the US. Patrina works with clients to optimize their product and business strategy to enhance customer adoption and market penetration. She has more than 25 years experience in business-to-consumer and business-to-business product, marketing and operational strategy and implementation. Her industry expertise spans the Internet, cleantech, telecom, software, financial services, and consumer products.

Andrew McCarthy
Award-Winning Travel Writer and Actor

Andrew McCarthy is an editor-at-large at National Geographic Traveler. He has written for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic, to name a few. The Society of American Travel Writers named him their "Travel Journalist of the Year" in 2010, and in 2011, the North American Travel Journalists Association awarded him their Grand Prize. His recent travel memoir, The Longest Way Home, became a New York Times bestseller, with the Financial Times of London naming it one of the Best Books of 2012. Despite all this he is perhaps best known as an actor, having appeared in dozens of movies, including such iconic films as Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo's Fire and Less Than Zero.

Chef Viktor Merényi
Embassy of Hungary

Embassy Chef Challenge Judges’ Choice Winner 2012, Embassy Chef Challenge “Challenge Sweden” Winner 2010

Two-time silver medalist of "Culinary World Cup Luxemburg" (2002 and 2006) and winner of the "Best Creative Foods" category at the Traditional and Evolution High Class "Live Kitchen" competition (2008). Chef Merényi has experience cooking in world-class restaurants in Budapest, New York City, and Wexford, Ireland. Chef Merényi received the "Challenge Sweden" award at Embassy Chef Challenge 2010 for his smoked catfish served with chicken-celery salad, mesculun lettuces, cauliflower foam, and beet-root "caviar."

Chef Padua Player aka SugaChef

How do you find your voice and express yourself when you are the youngest of seven children? The answer: You take a lifelong passion and turn it into a sweet, artistic success! Pastry Chef Padua Player is as dedicated as they come and he is serious about his desserts! Coming from humble beginnings and the home of a single parent, Chef Padua learned a lesson very early, in work ethic and tenacity. Chef Padua has been praised for his work by Vice President Biden, featured in The Washington Post, on TLC’s Platinum Weddings and was a competitor on Food Network’s Sweet Genius hosted by famed Pastry Chef, Ron Ben Israel. His latest victory includes winning The 2013 Capital Food Fight’s High Stakes Cake Battle in DC, hosted by Duff Goldman. Chef Padua has provided his sweet delicacies to countless singers, comedians and actors. He is also launching his line of signature dessert sauces and jams this spring.

Chef Sindre Risvoll
Royal Norwegian Embassy

Embassy Chef Challenge Participating Chef, 2014

Chef Risvoll begin his culinary career at age 15 with culinary school and apprenticeship, as well as a short-term exchange period in France. At age 19 he received his chef certificate after passing the final exam. Since then Chef Risvoll has engaged his culinary expertise to create dishes around Norway in both local countryside hotels and high-end à la Carte and Tapas inspired restaurants. In November 2013 he was hired as the Norwegian Ambassador’s Chef here in Washington, DC.

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.

Christina Tarasova
Marketing Manager Owadan Tourism Turkmenistan

Born in a small village in The Netherlands, and after having studied Slavic Languages and International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands, Christina moved permanently to Central Asia in 1997. She worked for 5 years as Tour Leader for the largest adventure tour operator in The Netherlands, taking her on travels through Central Asia, Iran, Russia and China, and then joined Doctors Without Borders, where she worked for over 8 years in several management positions in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. When she completed her last assignment for Doctors Without Borders in Turkmenistan in 2008, she decided to stay and share her management and travel experience with interested local DMC¹s, starting with the privately-owned innovation-driven agency Owadan Tourism in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. She experienced the challenges of operating a local DMC, worked as guide and office manager, and crossed the country by jeep, in search of new and exciting tourism destinations. Today, her birthplace has become her home town again, from where she runs her own private company, offering tourism consultancy services to local incoming DMC¹s located in Central Asia. She continues to support the marketing of Central Asia as travel destination, and Owadan Tourism (Turkmenistan) and Samarkanda Tours and Travel (Uzbekistan) are among the DMC¹s that make use of her services. She returns to the region frequently, to stay in tune with new developments, to seek new travel destinations and to support service improvements.

Michelle Bernier-Toth
Managing Director, Overseas Citizens Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs

Michelle Bernier-Toth joined the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in 1987, and has served as a consular officer in Damascus, Syria; Doha, Qatar; and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. She has also served domestically in the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), the Foreign Service Institute, and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

Ms. Bernier-Toth has served as Managing Director of CA’s Overseas Citizens Services directorate since February 2011. She previously served as Director of the Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (2005-2011), the Director and later Deputy Director of the Office of Children’s Issues (2002-2005), and as Special Assistant for Overseas Citizens Services (2001-2002).

Ms. Bernier-Toth has three children. In her free time, she enjoys biking, dancing, and flea markets. She earned a Masters Degree in Arab Studies from Georgetown University in 1985, and a Bachelors of Art in Near Eastern Literature and Language from Yale University in 1982.

Don Wildman
History Explorer and Museum Enthusiast, Host of Travel Channel's "Mysteries at the Museum"

As host of Travel Channel's “Mysteries at the Museum,” “Monumental Mysteries,” and "Greatest Mysteries," Don Wildman pulls back the curtain on an unseen America. In his first series for the network, “Off Limits,” Wildman crisscrossed the United States, going behind locked doors to uncover the secrets of our country’s man-made world. Whether unearthing notable tales behind artifacts and monuments across the U.S. or exploring hidden turfs, he discovers the fascinating behind-the-scenes of our everyday life. Wildman embraces the meaning of being a traveler, and shows how lifting the veil on our surroundings – from museum relics to buildings and bridges – can reveal unforgettably adventurous stories.