Speaker Bios - 2014

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


Chef Edward Blyden

Chef Edward Blyden was born in Nigeria. His father, a Harvard-educated diplomat from Sierra Leone, and his mother, a Columbia University graduate from Boston, raised their seven children on three continents. Dr. Amelia Blyden recalls her son as a creative child with busy hands and an active imagination. His sister remembers her ten-year-old brother inventing berry compounds at camp in Russia and announcing to all the children (in Russian) that he wanted to be a chef when he grew up.

Chef Blyden's gastronomic education was as creative and deep as his love for natural, healthy food. His earliest memories are in his aunt's kitchen in Sierra Leone where he learned West African recipes for jams, wines and confectionaries made of exotic tropical fruits such as star fruit, carambola, guava, papaya, tamarind and sunarian cherries. Later, he built on these traditional West African and Caribbean influences with formal culinary training in some of the world's best restaurants from New York and Munich to Switzerland and the British West Indies.

While in New York, Chef Blyden worked with Terrance Brennan at Anabelle’s, Patrick Clark at the Café Metro, Alison Price at Alison on Dominick Street, Jane Epstein at Jane's Bar and Grill, and David Bouley at Bouley. He worked with Hans Haas at the highly acclaimed Tantris restaurant in Munich before becoming a Sous Chef for Uli Steinle at Nouvelle in Zurich. Jumping at a chance to work with local Caribbean fish and produce, he became the Executive Chef of the Rendezvous Bay Hotel in Anguilla. This position was quickly followed by an invitation to launch a new restaurant in San Francisco. As Executive Chef and founding partner of the trendy SOMA 21st Amendment, Chef Blyden was able to perfect his unique brand of International Cuisine, developing a number of signature dishes that packed the restaurant and caught the eye of west coast reviewers and publishers.

Taking a break from the Bay Area, Chef Blyden traveled to Chiang Mai to study traditional northern Thai cooking techniques. The experience left an indelible mark on his craft, his heart, and his imagination.

Chef Blyden's philosophy is to "keep it simple." In his words, "Food is like music. You can compose a simple song or a sophisticated symphony using the same musical notes. In the kitchen, you can combine herbs, flavors, colors, and the best natural ingredients to create a snack or a gourmet meal. All you need to do is build on the integrity of the ingredients to allow the simple elegance of the food to shine through."

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

Prince Damons

Out of the soul of Mississippi comes a young talented musician, songwriter, and producer. Prince "BlkMagic" Damons is one of the hottest new producers in R&B, Soul, and Hip Hop. Though the "Dirty South" claims Damons as one of the area's top producers, his hot tracks are being heard all over the world. He is the musical force reconstructing the soul of today's music. Damons has produced hits for some of today's hottest artists as well as seasoned veterans like Atlantic Records legendary recording artist "Mr. Tighten Up" Archie Bell . You can even hear Damons' bangin' tracks in the background of several CW Network TV shows and movies including "90210," "Tyra Banks Show" and "TMZ."

Born in a small town in Northeast Mississippi, Damons started playing his first instrument around the age of four. His profile now includes 13 different instruments including piano, drums, bass and guitar. After earning his bachelor's degree in commercial music at the University of North Alabama, he relocated to California and landed a deal as a freelance music producer and ghost writer, allowing him to work with several major record labels around the country.

Damons is currently finishing his highly anticipated solo project, Atmospheric Soul, and has teamed up with old friends and multi-platinum selling artists such as Lenny Williams (Tower of Power), Dwele, E40, Too Short, Goapele, "American Idol" (Season 3) finalist LaToya London and the legendary Archie Bell, amongst many others. Buzz around this album rumors Damons to be the "Quincy Jones" of a new era. Atmospheric Soul takes Soul to the next level embracing and compressing the sounds of R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz, Spoken Word and a hint of Country influence.

He just earned his first Grammy® nomination for his work on the soundtrack for the movie “Django Unchained.”

Joe Diaz
Co-founder of AFAR magazine and AFAR Media

Joe passionately believes that experiential travel is the best form of education and the more people who travel in a curious and open-minded way, the better our world will be.

Lee Foster
Author, Northern California Travel: The Best Options

Lee Foster is a veteran, award-winning travel writer/photographer with an enduring love for Northern California. Lee’s books, ebooks, apps, articles, and photos on Northern California and other worldwide destinations can be seen on his website at
www.fostertravel.com. From his base in Berkeley, Lee travels the world. Over the years, his travel journalism has won eight prestigious Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers. Lee’s latest book/ebook is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Lee is also the San Francisco Area Travel Expert for Answers.com, the #23 most trafficked site on the Internet.

Jeff Gambardella

Artesano’s recipe for success is due in large part to the food savvy of one of SF’s rising culinary talents, Executive Chef and Partner Jeff Gambardella. Gambardella was instrumental in creating Artesano’s popular menu and setting up the well-run kitchen. He created the menu’s signature items, including the Albondigas, the Coconut Lime Grilled Shrimp, the Churrasco Steak and the Cubano Sandwich.

As an East Coast transplant, Gambardella first developed his skills for French cooking at Vermont’s prestigious New England Culinary Institute, where he trained and apprenticed under NECI founder and Master Chef Michel Le Borgne. Gambardella went on to further develop his techniques at Boston’s renowned Olive’s Restaurant, working and training alongside Todd English and Executive Pastry Chef Paige Retus.

Around the turn of the century, Gambardella packed his tools and headed west to San Francisco, inspired by the fresh organic produce and local ingredients of Northern California.

In SF, Gambardella got his feet wet working in the kitchen of Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio. Later, he honed his management skills by working as the General Manager of a Pluto’s restaurant, and was the Opening General Manager of the first two locations of Beautifull.

Gambardella decided to test his entrepreneurial spirit when he partnered with San Francisco businessman Doug Mathieux to create Rigolo Café, a very popular French café in the upscale Laurel Heights neighborhood. A signature item at Rigolo, his Baker’s Crust Pizzas have been featured on the cover of San Francisco Magazine. Gambardella’s personal favorite is the often-requested Smoked Salmon Pizza. Gambardella had another hit with his Famous Mac-n-Cheese dish, which was featured in 7x7 Magazine.

With one success under their belts, Mathieux and Gambardella decided to partner and try their luck again. When a spot became available in the trendy Laurel Village shopping strip in San Francisco, they jumped on it. Gambardella pointed out the absence of Latin American food around Laurel Village. How could they fill this customer craving with a bold, forward-thinking concept? They knew that the pallet of SF foodies was evolving. Sophisticated diners were slowly broadening their interest in Latin American cuisine to countries throughout Latin America, including Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Peru, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and more. So they decided to create a new concept inspired by simple, crave-able dishes popular throughout Latin America, without restricting themselves to one particular country, and Artesano was born.

On his days off, Gambardella hits the golf links with friends and enjoys skiing in Tahoe. But most of all, he enjoys checking out the local dining scene with his wife Donya and his children Parisa and Grant.

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.

Tania Hancock
Tourism Sales Manager, Visit Anchorage

Tania Hancock has been fortunate to call Alaska her home for the past 37 years. As a Tourism Sales Manager with “Visit Anchorage” (formerly Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau) for 16 years, her main responsibility and specialty has been cruise marketing and Alaska destination training. Tania has hosted live and webinar training for thousands of travel agents at conferences and trade shows, nationwide, to help increase their knowledge base, comfort level and success in selling Alaska. She has also worked closely with major cruise and airline reservation agents, and travel trade consortiums, to help maximize pre/post cruise options and cruise tour sales. Five years ago, she developed and launched Visit Anchorages’ first online Alaska destination training program on the travel trade section of www.anchorage.net Tania is an Alaska Destination Specialist (DS), Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC) and an Anchorage Wild Expert (AWE) who has genuine passion and enthusiasm for America’s Last Frontier.

Bert Kreischer
Comedian and Host of Travel Channel’s “Trip Flip.”
Click Here to Learn More About Bert and Trip Flip.

In Travel Channel's popular show “Trip Flip,” professional fun-seeker Bert Kreischer gets two people to spontaneously agree to a surprise adventure. Kreischer delivers an action-packed and customized itinerary stacked with the kind of VIP-access, accommodations, gourmet food, unexpected twists and celebrity appearances that only Travel Channel can deliver.

When Kreischer is not passionately discovering local traditions, thrills and experiences for Travel Channel, viewers can find Kreischer touring comedy clubs and colleges throughout the United States. Prior to becoming Travel Channel’s adventure-seeker on his first series for the network, “Bert the Conqueror,” he began his career at the Boston Comedy Club. His hilarious storytelling grabbed the attention of Hollywood A-lister Will Smith, who signed him to a television development deal. He has co-hosted FX’s “The X Show” and made his acting debut starring in the CBS/20th Century Fox pilot, “Life with David J'’ with Elliot Gould. Kreischer had his own stand up special, “Bert Kreischer: Comfortably Dumb,” and hosted Spike TV's “Fresh Baked Video Games.” His numerous television appearances include Comedy Central’s “Shorties Watchin’ Shorties,” FX's “Hurt Bert,” and “The Shield,” and NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” Kreischer has also guested on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Rachael Ray Show.”

Chef Berlin Lillard II
Owner and Chef of 4ork ‘N the Road Catering

For more than 20 years, Berlin Lillard shared his cooking talents with friends, family and clients. From dishwasher and short order cook to personal and executive chef, he has a proven record for delivering a delicious culinary experience.

A Danville, Ill. native, Berlin is the owner of 4ork ‘N the Road Catering which provides indoor and outdoor luxury catering services and specializes in Creole, Cajun, Caribbean, Central and South American cuisines.

He started his career in the culinary industry at Bistro 51 in Carbondale, Ill. after graduating from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale with a Bachelor of Science in Hotel Restaurant Management and Travel Administration in 1997. While working at Bistro 51, owner and chef Bill Pharris encouraged him to attend the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and the rest is history. He has cooked for a list of celebrities that include actor Robin Williams and culinary legend Julia Child and has worked for a variety of companies such as Wente Vineyards, Nordstrom, Discovery Kingdom and Hornblower Cruises.

Berlin is also the head chef for the food, wine and travel magazine, Cuisine Noir, with recipes featured in print and weekly online in his column Simple Gourmet at Home with Chef Berlin Lillard. The column aims to teach foodies that gourmet doesn’t mean a lot of money or fancy ingredients. Just a little time and a great imagination.

When he is not with clients or Cuisine Noir’s test kitchen, he is a true champion of change conducting healthy cooking classes and demonstrations throughout Northern California for the American Heart Association, African-American Community Health Advisory Committee and other faith-based organizations. Being a diabetic himself since the age of 19, he has learned to manage this chronic disease through a diet and exercise routine. Now off his medication, enjoys helping others to live healthier lives one ingredient at a time.

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.

Liam Mayclem

Liam Mayclem is an Emmy award-winning Radio/TV personality known to Bay Area residents as the host of CBS 5’s “Eye On The Bay” and as “The FOODIE CHAP” on KCBS.

The Irishman with an English accent is also a much in demand auctioneer and emcee. Liam has helped raise millions of dollars for causes and organizations close to his heart including:

  • 49ERS Foundation
  • Edible Schoolyard
  • Michael J.Fox Dream Foundation
  • Project Open Hand
  • SF & Marin County Food Banks
  • Share our Strength (NO KID HUNGRY)

Liam also leads international tours and has upcoming trips to Taiwan & Thailand with AAA Sojourns. When not broadcasting or hosting events Liam can be found enjoying local cuisine, music and theatre.

Brent Nixon
Marine Research Naturalist and Chief Executive Officer/President, Nature Talks

Brent Nixon has spent over 30 years learning about and experiencing nature. He has published several books and contributed video footage to National Geographic, Animal Planet, and the Discovery Channel. He has participated in extensive research studies on both the Humpback and Orca whales evaluating the effects of increased human presence on cetacean behavior. Most of all, he's put his passion for wildlife to work with the creation and supervision of several non-profit wildlife protection and education organizations. To many an audience's delight, he has shared his enthusiasm for wildlife conservation through his high energy lectures around the world. Brent is currently the expert Naturalist onboard the Celebrity Solstice sailing Alaska from Seattle.

Bora Özkök
Owner of Cultural Folk Tours

Bora Özkök, owner of Cultural Folk Tours, is a Berkeley educated architect and world-renowned teacher of Turkish culture, music, folk dance and folklore. He has authored several books, produced his own folk music albums, playing a variety of instruments, produced several videos on Turkey and is the only director of a major tour operating company who also leads several of his company's tours. He has appeared numerous times on Turkish national television and has given workshops and lectures on four continents and all over the United States. In addition, he is the builder, architect and owner of the Cappadocia Cave Suites hotel where all of his company’s tours spend three nights. Since 2009, his company and Cappadocia Cave Suites have been featured on two travel channel programs and a PBS program.

Austin Perkins
Executive Chef

A Petaluma native, Austin Perkins grew up enjoying the West Marin coast, its natural beauty and abundant farm produce. Raised in a family where his father was the culinary patriarch, Perkins has had an appreciation for food from a young age, often cooking with his father on a variety of pastas, stews, steaks, chicken and experimental sauces.

This foundation extends into his current cooking philosophy where now he can’t imagine himself as anything other than a chef. “I like to keep it simple and let the natural flavor of each ingredient do the talking,” he said. “Minimally manicured dishes that are delicious, seasonal and comforting are what I’m most excited about.”

At the helm of Nick’s Cove, Oyster Bar & Cottages since August 2011, Perkins creates the finest seasonal, sustainable California cuisine sourced from the area’s abundant farms in Marin and Sonoma County as well as fresh seafood and Tomales Bay oysters year-round. Since joining the restaurant in 2008, working his way up to the role of Executive Chef, he has built many relationships with the area farmers, sourcing local ingredients for the menu such as fresh cheese from Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes and goat and veal from Rossotti Ranch. His menu of seasonally-changing dishes ranges from seafood classics such as the signature Clam Chowder with applewood smoked bacon and the Original Tomales Bay BBQ’d Oysters with housemade BBQ sauce and garlic-parsley butter ($18), to comforting dishes such as the Dungeness Crab Mac & Cheese ($17); and Rossotti Ranch Goat Meatballs and Arancini with Point Reyes Toma, leek-tomato sauce and McEvoy Ranch olive oil ($13). His dedication extends beyond the daily-changing menu, with ongoing winemakers’ dinners, a Chef’s Tasting Menu, a Chef’s Table Experience and other special events highlighting local vintners and farmers.

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.

Ralph Velasco
Travel Photography Instructor, Author and International Tour Guide

Travel photography instructor, author and international tour guide Ralph Velasco has organized and led cultural photo tours around the world which have included Egypt, México’s Copper Canyon, Central Europe, Morocco, Spain, Death Valley, Bhutan, Nepal, Cambodia, Chicago and San Francisco. Additionally, as of this writing he’s organized ten fully-licensed People-to-People programs to Cuba.

He’s the author of Ralph Velasco On Travel Photography: 101 Tips for Developing Your Photographic Eye & More and in it he discusses photography and travel tips and tricks he’s learned from the road, as well as provides over 100 sample images and interesting quotes. Ralph’s newest eBook, Essence of a Place: A Travel Photographer’s Guide to Using a Shot List for Capturing Any Destination is available both in an enhanced version for the iPad or as a PDF for viewing on just about any other device. As creator of the My Shot Lists for Travel app for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch®, Ralph has taken the age-old concept of maintaining a shot list and brought it into the 21st century. Designed to help all travelers to bring back a more well-rounded set of images from any destination, the app is a powerful organizational tool, no matter the user’s photography skills or type of camera used. Connect with Ralph at: RalphVelasco.com, Facebook.com/ralphvelascoculturaltours, Twitter.com/ralphvelasco, Google+, LinkedIn