2020 Talent



Robyn Almodovar
Winner of Food Network's CHOPPED and Cut Throat Kitchen, Staten Island native and Florida resident Chef Robyn Almodovar knows how to give you “A Party in Your Mouth”. With a half Puerto Rican, half Italian background, Almodovar’s childhood was filled with culture, vibrancy and a deeply ingrained passion for food. By age three, Almodovar was rolling meatballs alongside her grandmother for Sunday’s Gravy. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Almovodar's diverse career has ranged from executive chef of a 172’ yacht on the high seas to South Florida restaurants including The Forge, Danny Devito's Devito South Beach, and the Royal Palm Hotel. Casted for FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen Season 10, Almovodar finished as a Top Finalist. In 2011, Almodovar purchased a 24’ food truck and founded “Palate Party”, a fresh, mobile café that utilizes locally sourced ingredients. Palate Party was the first female-owned food truck in South Florida with a stage on top for live entertainment. In 2013 Miami New Times voted Palate Party as the Best Food Truck in Miami and in 2014 Almodovar served as judge for Food Network's Food Truck Face Off. Welcome to the Virgin Islands, Chef Robyn!
Negust Kaza
Chef Negust is a celebrated award winning former member of the Virgin Islands Olympic Culinary Team, who has spent over a decade learning from and working with gold standard chefs like Todd Grey and Govind Armstrong. With a heritage that spans from Portugal, to Trinidad, to Brooklyn, and finally to St. Croix for the last 15 years, Chef Negust Kaza is quite at home creating dishes with flavors of the island while targeting the key ingredients that will provide the daily nutrients for a complete healthy body. Chef Negust’s passion for food anthropology has developed into his most recent project Kaza House, where he explores his creative side through a myriad of unique projects that allow him to not only bring exquisite original recipes to the public, but also educate and promote Health and Wellness to families across the island.
Thomas 'Lolo' LoPresti
Thomas ‘Lolo’ LoPresti is the chef owner of The Shack in Covington, LA where he serves up Louisiana’s best Latin fusion and a favorite spot for fresh food made from scratch. Having his first beginnings in the restaurant business as a busboy at the age of 12, LoPresti knew he was meant to be in this industry. By the age of 16 he worked as a prep cook in a high-end seafood joint on the water in Babylon New York. At 18, he attended University of Massachusetts Amherst majoring in communications and Afro American studies. But his love for the restaurant business kept him working summers as a line cook on Martha's Vineyard. After graduating he moved west to Colorado, where at age 22 he held his first sous chef position at a steakhouse called Russells. Not the settling type in 1995, LoPresti ventured to Alaska. In Seward, on the Kenai Peninsula, he worked in a seafood restaurant gaining experience with some of the worlds freshest gems of the sea. Footloose and fancy free in 1997, LoPresti took off for the beaches of St. Croix. For 11 years he worked in some of St. Croix’s finest kitchens, including Tutto Bene, Kendricks, and Bombay Club just to name a few. He also tended bar at many of St. Croix's fine drinking establishments, noting "The best side of the bar is the side you're sitting on”. LoPresti left St. Croix for a brief stint in 2001 to help open Rendezvous Bistro in Jackson Hole Wyoming. Consulting opportunities had him on the move to Amarillo Texas in 2005, where he managed and consulted for the newly opened wine bar Bodegas. The Shack opened in 2016. LoPresti currently resides in Covington, Louisiana, with his wife Christine and his four children Delaney, Althea, Matthew, and Marley.
Danielle Conner
Chef Danielle Conner is originally from Cynthiana, Kentucky but grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. Chef Danielle attended and graduated from Sullivan University's Culinary program in 2013. She has interned in New York City and has worked in prestigious fine dining restaurants in Lexington. Her passion is for all things sweet while aspiring to take classic desserts and create new takes on them. Danielle relocated to St. Croix in July of 2019 and is currently working at Balter Stx as a cook and pastry assistant.
Mathayom 'Mat' Vacharat
Chef Mathayom 'Mat' Vacharat has been cooking for his family since the age of 8 and professionally working with food since 1993. He was Executive Chef at several of St. John’s premier fine dining restaurants from 1998 until 2004, when he opened his catering company, where he has served both private families and celebrities alike for nearly two decades. Although his original culinary background is Asian Fusion, owing much to his father's Thai roots and his mother's kitchen prowess, he also leans heavily on Caribbean flavors from his years of living in the US Virgin Islands, which share many of the sub-tropical ingredients that can be found in Southeast Asia.
Hugh 'Chef Irie' Sinclair
Hugh Sinclair, a.k.a. Chef Irie, the Global Culinary Architect, is the Executive Chef of Chef Irie Spice Inc. - Personal Chef and Catering Services, providing services to the tri-county area of South East Florida. Chef Irie hails from the Caribbean Island of Jamaica, where he grew up on a sugar estate, Caymanas Estate. Before settling in Florida, Hugh first migrated with his family to New York. He completed his college career at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida earning a BS from the renowned School of Architecture. Hugh always had a passion for cooking and felt right at home in the kitchen. After working several years as an architect, the yearning to create culinary masterpieces vs. architectural aesthetics overtook his desires. It was then that Hugh enrolled in Johnson & Wales University’s Culinary Arts program in North Miami embarking on his culinary journey. Graduating with an Associate Degree in Culinary Arts, he has taken on the South Florida culinary landscape by storm! Being a personal chef has allowed him to work with entertainers, professional athletes and many of South Florida’s elite. Irie’s highly anticipated and critically acclaimed TV cooking mini-series, “Taste the Islands with Chef Irie”, debuted nationwide on April 4th in 135 PBS markets. Taste the Islands is the only original Caribbean produced television series featuring a Caribbean born chef on a television network or otherwise. Chef Irie has competed and made it to the second round of Food Network’s ever popular series, Cutthroat Kitchen. Chef Irie has also been guest chef at the James beard House and the United Nations representing Jamaica. Chef Irie provides services throughout South Florida and is available to travel upon request.
Brian Wisbauer
Brian was born in New Jersey, staring at the Big City and its restaurant haven. Although he did break through in New York, it was on St. Croix where he really caught stride. Taking experience & techniques taught from NYC Giants David Burke (Park Avenue Café) and Alfred Portale (Gotham Bar & Grill), he exploded on the scene here in the VI, taking full advantage of fresh Caribbean ingredients & putting his own creative touch to French, SouthEast Asian & Italian classics. He's been through 4 islands in the Virgins, but has always considered St. Croix home. Brian is currently working on a Virgin Islands cookbook & documentary, comparing & contrasting the culinary nuances from island to island. He is left-handed, sits when he pees, and likes swimming with no clothes on.
Jade Smyth
Jade Smyth is an importer and distributor for Kysela Pere et Fils. 2013 Wine Enthusiast’s Importer of the Year. He has level II certifications from both The Wine & Spirit Education Trust and The Guild of Master Sommeliers. He is also a member of The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington DC. Jade’s thirteen years of distributor experience, six of them in the VI, has been driven by his passion and curiosity for all aspects of the wine and spirits industry. He believes that the big picture can only be seen by understanding all the small aspects that make up the whole. Wine doesn’t have to be pretentious or overly complicated. Jade looks forward to expanding Kysela’s portfolio to the rest of the Caribbean and beyond. He currently resides in the Washington DC area. He can be reached at jsmyth@kysela.com. Please visit our informative and easy to use website at www.Kysela.com.
Pierre Philippe Saussy
Pierre Philippe Saussy graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in France, Belgium, New York, Los Angeles and Miami. He has trained under legends like Roger Vergé and David Bouley and worked in such classic restaurants as Melisse Restaurant in Los Angeles, La Grenouille and Bouley in New York City and Moulin de Mougins in France. In between, he opened a French-American restaurant in the town of San German, Puerto Rico that he ran for five years. He currently lives in Puerto Rico where 3 years ago he opened Hen House, a fried chicken place in Lote 23, a gastronomic park located in the heart of Santurce, Puerto Rico and in July 2019 inaugurated a brick and mortar Hen House in the Condado neighborhood.
Charles Mereday
With over 25 years in the industry, Chef Charles Mereday has gained experience from all over the world, from Philadelphia and France to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Throughout his career, Mereday has owned and operated various restaurant concepts from fine dining to pizzerias, with locations through the Midwest, Florida and the Virgin Islands. He has worked as a Hotel and Resort Executive Chef and as well a Chef Instructor. Additionally, Chef Charles Executive produced a Culinary and travel show for television called “Back of the House with Charles Mereday”. A graduate of Johnson & Wales University at Charleston, Mereday spent time training at many notable restaurants, including the New York Times four-star Ryland Inn and France’s Michelin three-star restaurant, La Maison Troisgros. Mereday’s most recent project is The Galleon Steaks and Seafood Restaurant at Green Cay Marina St. Croix. He is excited to re-open the Virgin Islands landmark as Owner/Chef. The original restaurant dates back to 1984.