TEAM

TEAM

Our expert event culinary team is the secret ingredient and the core of who we are. The CxRA catering approach is bringing the trifecta of flavor, creativity, and operations to the table together under one roof. We love what we do, and that’s not even the half of it!

Dean Martinus

DEAN MARTINUS

PRESIDENT
As President for Restaurant Associates' Catering Division, Dean oversees CxRA in New York City, Mazzone Hospitality in Albany, Max Ultimate in Boston and Occasions Caterers in Washington, D.C. Dean is a graduate of Paul Smith's College and had joined RA right out of college. He went on to oversee multiple PGA Championships including the Ryder Cup, the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, and the annual US Open Tennis Tournament in Flushing Meadows, NY. Dean then joined Great Performances and was named President two years later. Under his leadership, the company quadrupled in business as he oversaw its off-premise catering business, Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Plaza Hotel Banquets to name a few. In 2019, Dean rejoined Restaurant Associates.
Alex Metz

ALEX METZ

SALES
Do you know someone who speaks 6 different languages and is also fluent in the “language” of hospitality…we do! Alex Metz was born and raised in Brazil where hospitality is truly a part of the culture. After leaving Brazil to study hospitality, she was determined to make it here in New York City as the best of the best, and she sure has. She started her career at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and fell in love with events and the rest is history. She loves being a step ahead knowing what a client needs before they do. To Alex, there is nothing more rewarding than exceeding the expectations of a colleague, vendor, client, or guest, one event at a time.
Tim McLaughlin

TIM MCLAUGHLIN

CULINARY
With an impressive restaurant roster – and a lifetime in the food industry – under his belt, Tim McLaughlin oversees all aspects of CxRA culinary executing production, trucking, design, and beyond. Tim has been the Great OZ in New York City’s largest and most important events. He also oversees the Corporate Hospitality at the US Tennis Open each year. But one of his proudest accomplishments is the design and build of our 15,000 square foot state-of-the-art CxRA Kitchen in Woodside Queens complete with a full pastry department, tasting room, in-door loading dock and design center. On a night off, Tim is home in Montclair with his wife and daughters (whose friends always materialize in force on the nights he’s cooking).
Samantha Semel

Samantha Semel

SALES
Let’s get one thing straight: Samantha was born a planner. At a young age, she would help her grandma set elaborate holiday tables—making sure the napkins were folded just right and the soup was served hot. She has since turned her passion into a career as a Director of Catering for CxRA. Whether surrounded by fine art or under a 94-foot-long whale, you can find her at the helm of the most elaborate events. When she's not working, you can find Samantha at home in Brooklyn with her husband and 5-year-old son—her most opinionated client to date!
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Jack Becker

SALES
Meet Jack Becker who really has hospitality in his blood! He started in the industry at 13 years old and went on to get a bachelor's degree in Hotel & Hospitality Management from Johnson and Wales University. He has worked at some of NYC's most prestigious hotels and hospitality groups including The Plaza Hotel, Mandarin Oriental New York, and Cipriani. He has a deep passion for the industry and loves the excitement and challenges of Off Premise Catering and having the opportunity to work in so many venues and have relationships with so many incredible people. He lives in Westchester with his wife and three boys and family is everything to him! Any chance he gets, you can find him outdoors hiking, biking, boating, skiing, and fishing, just to mention a few. And at the end of a great day, there's nothing better than finishing it off at a local brewery.
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Felix Rice

CULINARY
Would you believe us if we said Felix stumbled upon cooking out of nowhere? But with a Ukrainian Jewish grandma and an unforgettable French Napoleon, culinary runs in his blood, and he was destined to follow in her footsteps. In Israel, he started in catering and then continued to culinary school at the New York Restaurant School and the rest is history. From the New York Stock Exchange to country clubs, his experience and travels have led him create the most unique and breathtaking dishes or should we say pieces of art packed with exciting flavors. At home, he has a green thumb and is passionate about gardening, so we are always spoiled with the best garnishes. When he isn’t in the kitchen or garden, you can still find him out in nature visiting all the national parks!
Gina Prior

Gina Prior

SALES
Nothing can stop Gina, our very own Italian Brooklynite who knows the power of food bringing people together. From bussing tables as a teenager to graduating with a Masters of Hospitality & Tourism Management, Gina fell in love with hospitality early on. She is an off-premise guru who loves to see NYC through the lens of our venues and events and the challenge of learning new spaces, kitchen build outs, and event logistics. And if she isn’t running the Dior Gala, this mom of two is sure to be found trying new recipes, hosting friends, or tagteaming with her husband the robust family calendar. You could say she keeps busy, and we love that when we asked her son Austin what she does for a living, he said “cook”. No argument there, she does it all!
David Klar

David Klar

CULINARY
Our own CxRA character and personality of the kitchen, David Klar! Turns out his mom was a bad cook, so he decided to study hospitality at Johnson & Wales University. David is not only one of our rockstar chefs but also a problem solver. He is obsessed with preparing plan b in case and is always finding solutions and ways to adapt. We respect that most days he goes to the gym at 4:30am before work. He loves hanging out with his family and agrees to cook for them if they do the dishes. On a day off, he enjoys the opposite of the busy kitchen and enjoying the quiet with tennis, golf, reading, and a cold beer.
Elayna Fotinatos

Elayna Fotinatos

SALES
Elayna Fotinatos does it all, and well we love that about her. As one of our amazing Directors of Catering Sales, specializing in events at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, she has an eye for detail and a passion for food that makes her events no matter virtual or in person, small or large seamless and memorable. We love to hear where it all began. “Growing up my Mom and I would watch Julia Child everyday on PBS. I wanted to be just like Julia! When she made ice cream with her Donvier ice cream machine, I INSISTED we go and buy a Donvier ice cream machine. At 4 years old, I had already found my passion for kitchen gadgets! We made the best ice cream for years just like Julia.” Fun fact: she still has the machine today and can’t wait to make ice cream and food memories with her daughter Chloe and husband Mike.
Courtney Cecchini

Courtney Cecchini

SALES
Courtney always had events on her mind ever since she was a wee college undergrad studying Hospitality Management. She is known for her meticulous paperwork and making sure all her i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed – a true organized Taurus, and we love her for it. If she offers to help with paperwork for 1000 guests at AMNH under the blue whale or to explain the steps of service, do the right thing and take her up on it. And don’t even get her started on books, she reads everything she can get her hands on! One of her favorite books is Tiny Hot Dogs, a memoir about catering. When she’s not running events, you can find her on the Upper West Side trying different restaurants with her husband or having a picnic in Central Park. Anytime you incorporate food with an activity, you are speaking Courtney’s language!
Mark

Mark Bartley

OPERATIONS
Have you or someone you know lived in 33 towns in 11 countries and speak 6 languages? Meet Mark Bartley, originally from Edinburgh, Scotland who has lived almost everywhere from Belize to Nicaragua to Costa Rica managing eco-lodges in the jungles, mountains, and beaches. Mark not only has a degree in traveling but also a Bachelors in Philosophy and Economics from Drew University, a Masters in Philosophy from University of Amsterdam, and a Masters in Management of Hospitality from Cornell University. Impressed? So are we! The list goes on but as you can imagine he has all the experience to handle whatever comes his way as VP of Operations.
Melissa Miller

Melissa Miller

SALES
Melissa is a CxRA Barbie girl, living in the catering world! She started her career in tech sales and was brought into the CxRA family by her twin sister. She has gone from operations to sales to menu committee to everything in between. With an eye for combining good food, drinks, and design, she knows what every party needs and makes it possible. When she is OOO, she is eager to hit the beach and once a year you can find her in Turks and Caicos soaking up the sun probably with her favorite dirty martini with blue cheese olives in hand. She is never one to back down from anything blueberry flavored and on the weekend, you can find her with her hanging out with her niece, nephew, and Bichon Poo Lily.
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Nina Durante

SALES
If you know Nina, you love her! Beside being able to free style about anything, she does it all! She opened Georgia Aquarium in 2005 and has bounced all over from The Morgan Library & Museum to Time Warner Conference Center. She has her real estate license, is a board member of her country club, and all around mom of the year to her daughters Sophia and Ella. Our favorite Nina memory is when she got stuck on a yacht in the Hudson River with the US women’s soccer team after they won the World Cup! She is quick on her feet to problem solve and pivot or get the crowd going- always a good time when Nina is around!
Kareem Syed

KAREEM SYED

OPERATIONS
Kareem is the best! He has an impressive 20+ years of experience in the catering world from as far as Toronto to Miami. Fresh out of college, he joined Restaurant Associates and sure did make a name for himself. He not only has a strong operations background but also loves people and building strong relationships, the perfect recipe for the Assistant General Manager of CxRA Woodside. We love his empowering leadership that motivates our staff. He picks the right people and gives them the right opportunities to succeed and just brings the best vibes. He is a busy guy, but when he has time off, you can find him snowboarding the Canadian Rockies or whisking his family halfway across the world to some amazing destination.
Pamela Zinstein

Pamela Zinstein

SALES
It’s no coincidence that Pamela has had great tremendous success as the Director of Sales for the Intrepid at CxRA - this woman is fearless! From intimate gatherings of 25 overlooking the Hudson, to hosting Superbowl events for over 5,000, Pamela loves a challenge of any size. There’s a reason why she’s considered one of the industry’s best. Winner of the Rainmaker Award, Pamela is a mover and shaker with attention to detail and bold vision that has contributed to the success of some of NY’s most prestigious and unforgettable events. From naming a specialty cocktail to securing a venue for thousands, Pamela delivers one-of-a-kind experiences that create memories of a lifetime. In her free time, Pamela enjoys trying new restaurants all over the city and always eating dessert first.
Kayla Castellano

Kayla Castellano

SALES
Kayla is what they call a go-getter! Hailing from the land of the Jersey Shore, Kayla knows all about a good celebration and vibe. She is a verified globetrotter always looking for where to travel next. With all the go-getter vibes, where is Kayla’s happy place? Facilitating large event logistics to ensure the clients’ event is delivered flawlessly. And after a successful event, Kayla celebrates with a delicious pasta dish at the most authentic NYC spot or she makes at home. Seriously, save us some!
LC Harrell

LC Harrell

CULINARY
LC Harrel, Senior Sous Chef, has a “let’s get it done” energy and is always cookin’ up something fun. With an impressive resume, he sets high culinary standards and serves as a strong dance moves and leadership in the kitchen. We love that he brings innovation, integrity, and positivity to the Team, plus he loves Beyonce! We are in love with his Leek Soup with Crab Profiterole and Crispy Leeks and story behind the dish. “Growing up in the Miami, Florida, I remember so many days shucking corn on the porch with my grandma who was from Georgia. She would make the most amazing creamed corn every week for our family from the fresh ears of corn we shucked for fish fry Fridays. This was my inspiration for this dish, fresh corn biscuits, fish, and ‘chef it up’. I think she would be proud of the dish she inspired.”
Kim

Kimberly messano

DESIGN
Kimberly Messano, being born in Queens and raised in Brooklyn, made New York her cultural stomping ground as soon as she could ride the B train. Whether figure drawing in a basement on Prince Street, gallery hopping in Soho, buying art supplies at Pearl Paint or congregating around the Astor Place Cube after weekend Cooper Union classes, the NY creative culture has always made an impact on her. This influence led Kimberly to Rhode Island School of Design where she received a BFA followed by an eclectic design career that included textile design and prosthesis sculpture. She soon found the event industry more than any other, combined her love of composition, concept design, food and service. When she’s away from the CxRA family, she lives in Jersey City and loves to dance, paint, bike, travel, garden, and even finds time to volunteer as head design lead for Sustainable Jersey City.
Joshua Fiene

Joshua Fiene

SALES
Josh Fiene is the espresso martini of NYC event execution—elegant, sophisticated, with a delicious finish. Born a Midwesterner, his work ethic, conscientiousness, and genuine care and concern for others are evident in his relationships and organizational skill set. Combining classy with a flair for awe, Josh’s creativity is often described as “limitless” and “masterful.” A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate in communications and visual arts, he prioritizes the details of conversations as well as attending to the big picture “look” of the event. Expect exceptional and professional from Josh, as your every wish is within his command.
Marissa Finizio

Marissa Finizio

SALES
Marissa really is a powerhouse who does it all or as we say, “everything but the kitchen sink”. From a young age, she loved baking with her grandma and was obsessed with the Food Network. She always knew she wanted to be in the food industry so it’s no surprise she went on to study Hospitality Management and straight into CxRA’s heart. Marissa has never met a spicy margarita she didn’t love and enjoys traveling around the world to find the best one. She really is a CxRA secret weapon with her attention to detail, organization, and creativity that does not go unnoticed. A perfect day is hanging with her husband, beautiful kids, and Bernedoodle Charlie with a marg in hand!
Celeste Garcia

Celeste Garcia

CULINARY
Meet our very own pastry queen Celeste who comes up with some pretty sweet pieces of art every season. From Lima, Peru, her passion for pastry came from watching her mom and the rest is history. Celeste came to the U.S. with sweet dreams and started with Ed Brown at The Sea Grill as a summer job. She went on to become Sous Chef and Executive Pastry Chef and has quite an impressive resume from La Fonda Del Sol to Eventy Hotels to Met Opera and more. Her inspiration comes from nature and imagining everything through the eyes of her daughter. She is all about colors, textures, and flavors- make sure you always save room for her desserts!
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jordan bortnick

SALES
Growing up on Long Island, Jordan was born with a love for food and event production. After studying Hospitality at Indiana University, she immediately stepped into a Gossip Girl scene working at The Palace Hotel. Then she discovered the world of catering and everything clicked combining all things she loved- people, food, event production, and beyond. She was a part of the team to open Peak Events at Hudson Yards with exciting events like Justin Beiber’s Amazon Documentary, Succession Season 3 Premiere, and Bill Clinton’s 75th Birthday. We love her passion for events and seeing an event from start to finish. But what we really love about her is her love for cheese. Don’t believe us? Check out her @cheesy_travelers.
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ryan ruda

CULINARY
Ryan Ruda is joining us with over 15 years of event experience in New York and Boston. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Ryan got his start with our sister company, MAX Ultimate Food as their Executive Pastry Chef back in 2010. Since then, he has had to opportunity to create desserts for some of NYC's largest and most prestigious events. Ryan is also passionate about reshaping how the event world thinks about food waste and is working towards his Master's in Food Sustainability.
JERRY

JERRY SANTOS

OPERATIONS
Cool, calm, and collected is the Jerry Santos way. Even in the face of the most challenging events, Jerry is the calm we love. He loves to know the ins and outs of how things work and the most efficient processes so the transition from server to back of house was a no brainer. After many PGA Tours, U.S. Opens, and countless galas, he became our expert back of house guru. He went on to become the Director of Operations at the Met and then Director of Catering Operations at Google, and to return back home to CxRA as our Director of Logistics. He is the biggest family man we know, and we love his goal to build the best future for his son!
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Amberlyn Wemmer

MARKETING
Things every Social Media Manager needs: Endless coffee, topic date calendar, notebook full of ideas, and organization. Amberlyn Wemmer is the Swiss army knife of CxRA honing her skills in hospitality, art, and beyond. From a butler to admin to sales to marketing, her career in writing and experience in styling with an eye for detail has added just the right spice to the team. She’s a versatile asset in CxRA marketing from developing social media strategies, to art directing food shoots, to designing everything in between. Whether in life or at office, Amberlyn approaches a problem with an empathetic, strategic and creative touch. She is usually to be found in a dance class after work, and her only weakness is that she can’t say “no” to her cat Stanley.
Travis Kratt

Travis Kratt

SERVICE
Ever thought of catering like a dance? Travis certainly has! Like an expertly choreographed dance piece, Travis Kratt, CxRA Service Director, knows the pathways, back of house secrets, and staffing logistics of every event and has established a service flow like a work of art. Of course, it’s no coincidence he is a SAG actor and classically trained dancer who studied with Boston Ballet and NYU. He really believes in the power of teamwork and that anything is possible if you put the right people together. We love his attention to the tiniest details and his commitment to ensure that CxRA has the very best staff in the biz. Oh and if you need to find him in the summer, you know he is on Fire Island being fabulous!
Francesca Ferrara

Francesca Ferrara

SERVICE
Francesca is a Brooklyn native, who began her hospitality career as a butler at the US Open many moons ago. Shortly, after that she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, and continued with Restaurant Associates, working as a Butler at the Music Center in Downtown, LA. Her first event as a Captain happened to be the Governor’s Ball for the Oscars, which she nailed, of course. The transition into event management eventually led her to helm the staffing department for Wolfgang Puck Catering for many years. She was headed back to NYC and joined CxRA, and is now the Operations Manager overseeing staffing logistics and service standards across the regions. All the while maintaining her acting career, and now teaching career, teaching acting at the acclaimed HB Studio on the weekends.
Jessica Marrocco

Jessica Marrocco

SERVICE
Where is Jessica? We are always amazed by her busy schedule and an expert level frequent flyer points. A true Brooklynite who fell in love with hospitality early on, Jessica has done it all from planning to staffing and beyond. Her happy place is with animals and has the biggest heart for dogs and really anyone in need. She is a cross fitter and really might be the strongest person we know. We love that she always has three beverages in hand and never says no to coffee, nachos, and ice cream.
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Nancy Vaccariello

OPERATIONS
Once upon a time, Nancy was a chef! Coming up in a family full of pastry chefs and bakers plus an Italian mom and grandma in Brooklyn, she was “proofed” to be in the culinary world. Always surrounded by lots of fresh pasta and nonna’s gnocchi and a family owned Pasticceria in Naples, Italy, she knows what she is talking about. Nancy started making her own custom cakes at age 16 and ran her own business for 7 years while working full time. She went on to culinary school and worked in pastry for 11 years being a part of opening Dumbo House with new American style desserts and Milos with Greek style desserts. We are so excited she decided to switch it up to culinary operations with CxRA, and not to worry, she still cooks at home with her adorable daughter Gigi.
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kennedy ofori

CULINARY
It’s all in the details, and every detail goes through our amazing equipment manager aka behind the scenes hero Kennedy! Originally from Ghana, Kennedy came on as a dishwasher in 1999 and proved his eye for design and organization early on. His laid-back gentle approach gives our equipment room a Zen vibe always and organization that would make Marie Kondo proud. He is a packing guru and makes sure all of our design equipment makes it to and from the event and has systems for how all to be kept in place. He is a big Manchester United fan and loves to spend his weekends in the park with his kids.
Stephen H

stephen hernandez

SERVICE
Our very own cocktail savant, Stephen Hernandez, Associate Director of Beverage, has a real superpower to know exactly how much event product you will need and how to make any event happen! Born and raised in the Bronx, Stephen grew up in a Puerto Rican household with the hospitality gene and a mom who made sure events were a frequent thing. He was a champion wrestler in high school and now he tackles some of our biggest events. He is always calm under pressure and dare we say makes the best espresso martinis in NYC. Stephen loves to keep it fresh from new garnishes to improving our bar services to making any crazy cocktail idea a reality. Outside of work, he stays super active with triplets plus one and coaches basketball- you could say he is busy! Stephen has really grown up in this business and always demonstrates that beverage is truly an art!
Yannicko 3

yannicko kemper

SALES
Born in Amsterdam, Yannicko caught the hospitality bug early. Hailing from a family passionate about food, wine, and travel, she went on to get her Bachelor Degree in International Hospitality Management, which makes perfect sense! She studied wine in South Africa for 6 months, lived in Barcelona for 3 months, and started doing events in Miami. She married a chef, and they are proud parents to their Goldendoodle named Noodle!
Jacob

Jacob kaltenberg

SERVICE
Hailing from Wisconsin, Jacob’s hospitality roots run deep from growing up on a dairy farm to milking cows to working for a family restaurant. Nowadays he works with much larger animals, like the Whale at AMNH. He studied voice and theatre in college, and loves being surrounded by the arts while doing events all around NYC. After 10+ years in the CxRA family, he has built some incredible friendships within the team and wouldn’t trade them for anything. Some of his favorite CxRA event include CNN Heroes, Kennedy Center Honors Dinner in DC, and the US Open. When he’s not working, Jacob is busy showing off photos of his nieces and nephews or enjoying time traveling and spending time with the people he cares about most.
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Allison Henriques

SALES
Coming from a Greek Italian household in Worcester, Massachusetts, Allison knows all about diverse cuisines and good flavor! From a young age she showed a keen interest in hospitality from cooking with her family to creating loving memories and conversations centered around the dinner table. This really set the stage for future endeavors in the food and beverage world. After graduating culinary school, Allison cooked in various NYC establishments and eventually worked her way up to the position of Executive Chef, helping to open a 100% plant-based café on New York’s Upper East Side. With her unique culinary background, Allison is just the right piece to the CxRA puzzle!
Michael

michael titone

SERVICE
Michael is our little taskmaster. A former figure skater, Michael knows it’s all about balance. He loves the artistry of presentation, the graceful elegance of service, and has the skills needed to be successful at both. He excels at balancing form and function, and knows how to put in the hard work but make it look effortless. Meticulous and straightforward with a touch of whimsy, Michael produces events both bold and elegant with an execution that is thoughtful and deliberate. And he’s funny too! What can we say? You’re welcome.
CHRIS

CHRIS LAVELY

SERVICE
Ask anybody who has spent time with Chris, and they will all say the same thing: “He has the best stories!” Before joining the CxRA family over fifteen years ago, Chris expressed his love of storytelling by enjoying success as an actor, singer, and conductor. Now he combines that talent with a passion for hospitality and an eye for detail (and perhaps a dash or two of panache) to manage incredibly memorable events. For Chris, every new event is an untold story, with a compelling beginning, middle, and end with the power to delight! It is this sense of delight that Chris tries to instill in each new hire he trains. Chris’ greatest delight? The family of CxRA colleagues he is honored to know and work with every single day. To quote one of his favorite musicals, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, “This is why we tell the story.”
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BEATRICE KRAFT

OPERATIONS
Beatrice or as we say Bea is a piece of the CxRA pie holding down the administration in the kitchen. We love that she is extremely organized and always motivated to “get it done”. Growing up in Tenafly, NJ she dreamed of being a part of events in NYC. At the College of Charleston, she studied Hospitality and Tourism Management and really fell in love with events in beautiful hotels to restaurants to amazing rooftops. Beatrice is all about details and really loves being a part of each event. She says she loves making people’s lives easier and happier, but really she does this for us every day and we are so lucky!
lydell

LYDELL SMITH

SERVICE
Not all heroes wear caps, but they certain do arrive first and leave last. Lydell Smith is one of our leading pantry senior supervisors who not only has all the experience and knowledge to be the heart of the event in the back of house but is the stylish “fly guy”. He is a proud New Yorker and credits his flyness to growing up in Harlem in the 80s and 90s. We love his extreme organization and obsession with details that really makes the back and front of house in every event succeed. He is a proud father of 5 children and 7 grandchildren. When he isn’t at work, you can find him working out and enjoying time with loved ones.

CONTACT

CONTACT

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