Can’t-miss speakers coming to ChefConnect: Minneapolis

Monday is the deadline to register for ACF’s ChefConnect: Minneapolis before the price increases by $100. If you’re still on the fence about attending (or signing up for Conference On-Demand — more details coming soon!), here’s a list of just a few of the culinary industry giants who will be at Minneapolis Marriott City Center on March 31-April 2, 2019. Click here to see the full schedule.

Merges_MatthiasMatthias Merges

Matthias’ passion for hospitality is evident from the moment a guest steps foot into any of Folkart’s restaurants or taverns. Every plate of food we serve, every glass of beer we pour and every craft cocktail we mix, is a product of a lifetime dedicated to a love of food and service.

Matthias began working at restaurants at age 14 and formalized his training at the Culinary Institute of America. He went on to refine his skills and direction in the years following culinary school at Chicago restaurants including Carlos’, the 95th, LaTour at the Park Hyatt, Charlie Trotter’s and Gabriel’s. With the tools gained from these experiences, Matthias opened Metropolitan in Salt Lake City as chef and co-owner. Metropolitan received several accolades including “Best Restaurant Inter-Mountain West” and was nominated for a James Beard Award.

He was lured back to Charlie Trotter’s from Metropolitan and spent the next 14 years at Charlie Trotter’s, directing all culinary, service and strategic operations. In 2011, Matthias struck out on his own, founding Folkart, and the rest is history.

Matthias is as passionate about giving back as he is about hospitality. He is the co-founder of Pilot Light, a Chicago-based charity that partners chefs and teachers, using food to support effective teaching and learning in the classroom.

Matthias is the proud husband of Rachel Crowl and father to Kaitie, Gretl and Tatum. In his free time, he’s an amateur photographer and climber and, for reasons unclear to the rest of us, studies sailing routes and oceanic currents even though he doesn’t own a boat.


Yia Vang

Yia Vang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and his father and mother moved their family to the US in 1987. He is co-founder of Union Kitchen, a Twin Cities-based Hmong pop-up restaurant. He is passionate about making the food he grew up with more accessible to non-Hmongs, while also passing traditions down to the next generation of Hmong Americans.

Sherman,SeanSean Sherman

Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota, born in Pine Ridge, SD, has been cooking across the U.S. and the world for the last 30 years. His main culinary focus has been on the revitalization and awareness of indigenous foods systems in a modern culinary context. Sean has studied on his own extensively to determine the foundations of these food systems which include the knowledge of Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting and fishing, food preservation, Native American migrational histories, elemental cooking techniques and Native culture and history in general to gain a full understanding of bringing back a sense of Native American cuisine to today’s world.

In 2014, he opened the business titled The Sioux Chef as a caterer and food educator to the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area. In 2015 in partnership with the Little Earth Community of United Tribes in Minneapolis, he also helped to design and open the Tatanka Truck food truck, which features pre-contact foods of the Dakota and Minnesota territories. Chef Sean and his vision of modern indigenous foods have been featured in numerous articles and radio shows, along with dinners at the James Beard House in Manhattan and Milan, along with teaching and sharing his knowledge to gatherings and crowds at Yale, the Culinary Institute of America, the United Nations, and many more.

The Sioux Chef team continues with their mission statement to help educate and make indigenous foods more accessible to as many communities as possible.


Jacquelynn Quinn

Jacque has been in the industry for over 15 years working every position of the kitchen as well as the front of house. Currently she is the head chef/kitchen manager at Holly Lanes as well as teaches children culinary and pastry skills. She also has her own personal chef/catering business. Her focus on business management and merging front and back of house into one entity has changed the face of Holly Lanes and allowed them to expand substantially since she began her process.

Johnson_J. J.JJ Johnson

Joseph “JJ” Johnson is the James Beard-nominated chef best known for cooking food of the African diaspora at the beloved Harlem restaurants, The Cecil and Minton’s, where he most recently served as Executive Chef. Chef JJ‘s signature style of transforming simple cuisine with bold flavors and unexpected ingredients was inspired by the Caribbean flavors he grew up with, combined with African and Asian tastes acquired from his travels around the world. Now, Chef JJ has created a new restaurant group, InGrained Hospitality Concepts, and has teamed up with Will Sears on two new restaurant projects, including an upcoming grain and rice concept, ingredients that JJ has spent the last several years studying alongside Glen Roberts of Anson Mills.

During the Fall 2017, Chef JJ previewed new dishes and flavors from his latest culinary ventures at Chefs Club, a restaurant located in New York City’s NoLiTa neighborhood, where he serves as the first chef in residence. Having cooked a completely sold-out three-night dinner series at Chefs Club’s fast casual concept, Chefs Club Counter, this past summer, JJ continues to preview dishes from his forthcoming solo venture to New Yorkers. At Chefs Club, JJ cooked a menu of “Afro-Asian” cuisine, something he feels is tangible evidence of the migration of people, and the creativity that it begets. Dish highlights, inspired by a melting pot borne of the diaspora, include Con’Con — Jollof sticky rice with eggplant curry, coconut and basil and Short Rib for Two with Carolina gold rice, hoisin and house-made roti.

In February 2018, JJ debuted his first cookbook, “Between Harlem and Heaven.”

Kaysen_GavinGavin Kaysen

There is nothing quite like the frenetic and fleeting seasonality of the upper Midwest to inspire a soulful cook. For Chef Gavin Kaysen, an old soul at heart, this idea beckoned him back home to Minneapolis to open Spoon and Stable, a 2015 James Beard Award Finalist for Best New Restaurant, in the North Loop neighborhood in fall 2014.

Further planting his roots in Minnesota in early 2017, he opened French-inspired bistro, Bellecour, in Wayzata, MN. His second restaurant is a nod to his friends and mentors, Chefs Daniel Boulud and the late Paul Bocuse, and their time spent together in Lyon, France.

The chef refined his dexterity in contemporary American fine dining by dedicating time to some of the world’s best restaurants. After graduating in 2001 from the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, VT, Kaysen worked at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, CA; L’Auberge de Lavaux in Lausanne, Switzerland; and the famed L’Escargot in London, before becoming executive chef at El Bizcocho in San Diego, where he was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs.

In late 2007, he joined Chef Daniel Boulud as chef de cuisine of Café Boulud in New York City, where he later earned the James Beard Rising Star Chef award and a coveted Michelin star. While there, he discovered so much more than tangible, technical skills. “It was like getting my master’s and Ph.D. with Daniel and his organization,” he explains. “I learned so much about hospitality, about the business, cooking—but more importantly, I learned a lot about soulful food.” In 2018, Kaysen took home the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Midwest.

Today, Kaysen helps the next generation of young culinarians refine their skills in the kitchen. He is one of the founding mentors of the nonprofit ment’or BKB Foundation (formerly Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation), and currently serves as Team USA’s head coach in preparing for the famed biennial culinary competition that showcases the world’s best up-and-coming chefs. Kaysen brings an intimate knowledge of the Bocuse d’Or competition. In 2015, he successfully led Team USA to a record-breaking second place victory, the first medal and podium placement for the United States. 2015 set the stage for future success, and in 2017 Team USA claimed first place for the very first time. Kaysen lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two sons.

Voltaggio_BryanBryan Voltaggio

Chef Bryan Voltaggio is a true son of the Chesapeake, born and bred in Frederick, Maryland. By the young age of 20 and after having served as sous chef and executive chef at two regional hotel restaurants, Voltaggio made the decision to enroll at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. Upon graduating, Voltaggio staged at Aureole, in New York City, where he met his mentor chef Charlie Palmer. Following a stint at Michelin three-star Pic restaurant in Valence, France, Voltaggio reunited with Palmer as executive chef at Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington, DC. After almost a decade with Palmer, Voltaggio took a leap of faith and returned to Frederick, Maryland to open VOLT in 2008.

Voltaggio is now the executive chef and owner of a portfolio of restaurants including VOLT, Lunchbox, Family Meal, RANGE, AGGIO, and the recently-opened Voltaggio Brothers Steak House at MGM National Harbor, his first restaurant venture with his brother, Michael. In late 2017, Bryan and brother Michael Voltaggio will debut their second project together, Monger by The Voltaggio Brothers, located at Downtown Miami’s highly-anticipated food hall Central Fare.

As a finalist on “Top Chef” Season 6 and “Top Chef Masters” Season 5, Voltaggio is the first chef to compete on both “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters.” The James Beard Foundation Award finalist co-authored the cookbook, VOLT.Ink, with his brother, Michael, and released his cookbook. “HOME,” in 2014. As a father and chef, Voltaggio is a passionate philanthropist and supports Share Our Strength in their fight against childhood hunger. He has raised over three quarters of a million dollars over the last five years to support innovative school breakfast programs, meals for achievement, and the national No Kid Hungry campaign. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their three children Thacher, Piper and Ever Maeve in his hometown of Frederick, MD.