Our Chefs

Our cooking classes are educational and comfortable, and we want you to feel as comfortable here as you do in your own kitchen.

The kitchen is the soul of your home where you and your family flourish and thrive.

With extensive backgrounds in the kitchen and beyond, our talented, accomplished, and experienced chefs will help cultivate this comfort while fueling your desire to perform and create here and at home!

Select a chef from below to learn more.

Keith Rhodes

Executive Chef & Restaurateur, Catch

Chef Rhodes, an accomplished restaurateur, was voted the city’s best chef for three consecutive years and was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as a finalist for Best Southeast Chef. He is also well known for participating in Bravo TV’s Top Chef season 9.

When Chef Rhodes’ and his partner, Angela, founded Catch, they had one simple concept: to serve the best local ingredients to support the local North Carolina seafood market. However, that is not all the chef has done for the Wilmington community. When he is not running a kitchen, he is partaking in outreach projects that serve local children, as well as mentoring up-and-coming young chefs.

Dean Neff

Executive Chef & Restaurateur, Seabird

Chef Dean Neff has called Wilmington, NC his home since 2015. In May 2015 he opened PinPoint Restaurant with a seasonally driven farm-to-table menu on the Cape Fear River. In February 2019 he left the restaurant, only to be named a 2019 James Beard Semi-finalist for Best Chef Southeast before the month was over.

Neff plans to open a new concept restaurant, Seabird, in downtown Wilmington in the 2020 summer to further emphasize local, seasonal ingredients including sustainably farmed seafood. His approach and menu will revolve around celebrating the seasonality of Wilmington’s seafood and other ingredients available to him in Eastern North Carolina in a sophisticated, yet approachable way.

Sam Cahoon

Executive Chef & Owner, Savorez

Executive chef and owner Sam Cahoon is a true born-and-bred Wilmington, NC native. He has spent the last 12 years working his way up through the ranks at several of the most successful and well known local restaurants in the area, such as Dockside, Sweet N’ Savory, and the k38 restaurant group, while also graduating with honors from Cape Fear Community College’s Culinary Arts program.

Most recently he served as executive chef at Ceviche’s, where he developed his signature style and dishes, such as the BLT Arepas and Tiny Tuna Tostadas.

After leaving Ceviche’s, Sam decided it was time to go into business for himself. Combining his palate for flavors and colors with a unique vision of art, music, and community, Cahoon established a local Wilmington restaurant, Savorez.

Savorez is located on the corner of 4th and Chestnut Street in downtown Wilmington. Do not be deceived by the small stature of the modest brick building, inside we are booming with big bold flavors and a benevolent staff excited to indulge you!

The name says it all! Savorez is our evolution of the Spanish word Sabores, meaning flavors. Sabores… Savor…Savorez! Here we are inspired by the vibrant flavors and colorful cuisine of Latin cultures. While sourcing locally and staying true to his North Carolinian roots, Chef Sam Cahoon has successfully honed his own style of cooking. His beautifully crafted cuisine is his southern take and tribute to Latin flavors.

Gwen Gulliksen

Culinary Arts Instructor, Cape Fear Community College

My culinary experience is extensive with a well-rounded depth of knowledge in many areas. I am passionate about food and sharing it with others in delicious and beautiful ways.

After receiving my Master’s degree in art history from UVA, I spent time in Italy and France where I realized I had a deep interest in food; where it came from, how it was grown, how it was prepared and served, and the history behind it. That led me to continue my education in the culinary arts. After completing my culinary degree, I had the opportunity to be mentored by and work for several extraordinary people including Jean Louis Palladin (Executive Sous Chef), Robert Mondavi (Executive Chef), Madeline Kamman (School for American Chefs), and Julia Child (Les Dame d’Escoffier).

Working in the fine dining industry as a chef with these culinary greats prepared me for the challenge of becoming the founding executive chef of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, CA. At the Getty I created all of the food and wine menus for five culinary venues and led a team of 101 cooks feeding the large national and international stream of guests and celebrities, feeding over 20,000 daily all the while featuring farmer’s market produce and other local foods. While at The Getty I was also the consulting chef for Chateau T. Shida Winery in Japan where I worked two months setting up their Napa-style restaurant.

I also guest cheffed on Crystal Cruise Lines three times (Hong Kong to Perth, Panama Canal, and Greece to Italy) and taught regular cooking classes at Draeger’s in San Francisco, CA.

In 2000 I received a Julia Child Grant taking me back to France to study specialty produce and farmer’s markets in Paris. Upon my return, I began focusing my career on specialty produce and continued working with and featuring sustainable family farmer products. I became vice president of Pro*Act Specialties in LA where I created the first organic bagged kale salad (still available in stores today). During this time I also enjoyed teaching culinary arts at the Santa Monica Art Institute.

After the death of my father, I moved to North Carolina to be closer to my family and now teach culinary arts full time at Cape Fear Community College where I’ve started two culinary scholarships for our students and am actively involved in the Wilmington culinary community.

Ramón Villaseñor

Executive Chef & Owner, Los Portales, Tequila Comida & Cantina

Chef Ramón Villaseñor discovered his passion for cuisine at age six while helping his father Enrique Villaseñor prepare the mixtures for the food that he made. Chef Villaseñor inherited his mother’s seasoning abilities and perfected the secret recipes of his father’s sauces, just as his parents have made for decades in Jalisco, Mexico.

Villaseñor attended Cape Fear Community College to refine his cooking techniques and the flavor fusions of his cultural heritage, learning how to infuse the rich culture of Mexican flavors with his cooking style in every dish he created. While studying, one of the things Villaseñor developed was the ability to curate a mixture of flavors from the recipes of the Cochinita Pibil (from the Yucatan state), the Pipián, and the Mole Poblano, to which he brings a touch of in his personal cooking style to this day.

From the unconventional to the delicious, Villaseñor and his brother continue to fuse and serve up some of Wilmington’s most dynamic dishes in their kitchens including Duck in Hibiscus sauce, Tamarindo sauce, Mole pipián, ceviches of Corvina fish, and Adobo marinated fish cooked in Banana Leaf, among others.

Allegra Grant

Chef & Founder, Fenomenom

Allegra Grant is a chef with a thirst for adventure and a passion for sustainability. She has been working in the hospitality industry for over 10 years wearing many different hats.

After graduating from Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte she moved to Asheville to work with Katie Button at The Nightbell and Curate.

Not only does Allegra love to cook, but she also enjoys the details and thrill of event planning. In the winter of 2016, she moved back to her hometown of Atlanta, GA for the next adventure as the Culinary Events manager for a national culinary tour visiting 20 plus cities. After hopping around on the rock and roll tour of heritage pigs she worked as a Culinary Project Manager for Gumbo Marketing.

Allegra recently started her own private chef and events business, Fenomenom in Wilmington, North Carolina where she currently resides and is open for client bookings, partnerships, and collaborations. Spanish cuisine with ethically farmed and sourced ingredients is her specialty, but she equally loves cooking global cuisines.

Judie Kesson

Chef & Instructor, The Seasoned Gourmet

Chef Judie Kesson moved to Wilmington in January of 2019 after making Mexico her primary residence for the past 30 years. She considers “the world my neighborhood” and has enjoyed the luxury of traveling, cooking, and eating in more than 140 countries, most recently Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Iran. While most of her traveling was done with her late husband, she continues to journey and just returned from Singapore and Bali.

Judie loves to cook and especially loves to entertain. She enjoys serving new and unusual foods but wants to make sure she is part of the fun, so make-ahead meals are her favorites. Judie has incorporated her love of travel and meeting people around the world by sharing her experiences through meals with friends. She’s been a Guest Chef at various fine restaurants in Mexico, taught cooking classes in California, and used preparing food in great team-building events throughout her career.

Kesson has taken cooking classes in Turkey, Indonesia, Thailand, Romania, and Suriname and has sat in many international kitchens watching and learning from other cooks. Kesson also worked internationally for many years as a local government management consultant in Romania, Jamaica, Suriname, Indonesia, Armenia, and more.

“I love to cook with other travelers, whether they’re National Geographic armchair lovers of the world, or as lucky as I’ve been to see so much of our planet,” Judie says when speaking about working with The Seasoned Gourmet. “Sharing food is sharing life.”

Annemarie Clark

Chef & Instructor, The Seasoned Gourmet

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Michele Griesmer

Chef & Author, How to Make the Best Cookies

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Jennifer Wright

Job Title, Company

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Mike Summerlin

Sommelier, Port City Wine Education

Mike Summerlin has over 27 years of experience in the wine industry. He is a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and has a love for wine and culture and how it plays in today’s world.

Mike also has an affinity for wine education. He has been an educator at world-renown restaurant Angus Barn and is a requested guest speaker at UNC-Wilmington, Cape Fear Community College, and many Wilmington area wine shops. He has also conducted several 18-month seminars on wine history, culture, and tasting and has an extensive list of classes and lectures that encompass a variety of wine-related cultural concepts. His ability to curtail his lectures and classes to participants of any level make him an invaluable asset to the Cape Fear Food and Wine Club.

Join Mike for his monthly wine education classes and monthly collaborative wine pairing dinners with chef and culinary instructor Gwen Gulliksen.

Julia Castellano

Job Title, Company

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Ranse Leembruggen

Born in Southeast Asia, Chef Ranse began traveling the world at a tender age.  While he attended schools in Malaya, Hong Kong and England, Ranse began his professional cooking journey at the age of 18 at The Grand hotel in Charring Cross, Glasgow, Scotland as apprentice chef, later joining “the Gold Medal Chefs of Italy”, Mario Romano and Enzo Rippa, as sous chef.

Fueled by his ambition to train with Europe’s finest chefs, Ranse returned to London and procured a position under Exec Chef Anton Edelman at the Savoy Hotel to be followed by 2 years under Exec Chef Anton Mossiman at the acclaimed Dorchester Hotel.

In his early 30’s and eager to create his own unique signature style dishes, Ranse opened 3 of his own restaurants in the English countryside featuring multi-ethnic and cross-cultural dishes, and later authored his first cookbook, ‘Easy Asian Cooking’.

During his 40-year career span, Ranse served as Chief Marketing Advisor to the Australian Meat Marketing Board and to the United States Department of Commerce, as well as a consultant with MARS Corporation in their design, development and catering operations.

He has been a Presenter/Demonstrator at multiple International Culinary Exhibitions and a keynote speaker at International seafood Conferences, was guest chef for the BBC’s Pebble Mill at One show and has tutored both domestic and professional cooking courses both at home and abroad.

Now retired, Chef Ranse remains devoted to his mantra: “Look to the quality of your raw ingredients” and enjoys exploring new recipes using local fresh produce, seafood and meats.  he continues to pursue his passion for cooking, especially modern Italian dishes, and enjoys entertaining family and friends at his homes in Virginia and here in Leland.

Brett Levan

Chef Brett Levan started his culinary career in the kitchen washing dishes at the age of sixteen. He became fascinated with the environment and worked his way up to line cook shortly after. Graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Marshall University and then decided to further his culinary education at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. After graduating from Johnson & Wales, Chef Levan moved to Las Vegas for a Sous Chef position at The Mirage focusing on Japonise (Japanese French Fusion). Moving back to North Carolina he began working for Scott Crawford at The Umstead. Looking to expand his career he moved to New York City , where he found himself on the line at Dovetail, a Michelin Star Restaurant. Looking to be closer to his family, he returned to Charlotte, where he became Executive Chef of The Portrait Gallery (A Farm to Fork Tapas Style Restaurant). When the pandemic hit he decided it was time for a fresh start in Wilmington. Looking forward to planting roots in the area he is eager to work within the community and focus on seasonal ingredients.

Karen Schmoke & Erin Swidorski

Karen and Erin are a mid-west mother daughter duo who love baking, cooking and creating edible masterpieces together. Both originally from a small town (Manistee) in northwest Michigan; Karen moved to Wilmington in 2012 and Erin, who had been living in Huntington Beach, CA, made her move to Wilmington in 2013. Karen is a seasoned home chef as well as a retired nurse of 35+ years and is now a stay at home grandma of two adorable grandsons. Karen began making cakes for friends and family when Erin was just a newborn, which eventually led to Karen becoming her home town’s go-to wedding and special occasion cake maker. Growing up Erin was surrounded by cakes and over time picked up the skills and techniques needed to make cakes and sugar art; specifically gum paste flowers. 

Once reunited in Wilmington, Karen and Erin started an online shop where together they created and sold beautiful custom gum paste flowers that were shipped all over the US. In 2018 Erin took on the role as Executive Assistant to George Taylor, an entrepreneur here in Wilmington, and they have since closed their online store. However, Karen and Erin continue to make wedding and special occasion cakes along with gum paste flowers for local friends, family, and their church. 

Together they have won multiple baking awards, including the local Star News annual cookie competition with their Scuppernong Tort Cookie. They regularly host dinner parties and love every part of it. Starting with the tablescape, to a signature cocktail at each party, menu planning and prepping a multi course meal, and finishing with the perfect pairing of an after dinner cordial. Food is love – and they are so excited to share their love through baking classes at The Seasoned Gourmet.  

Michelle Rock

Chef, T’Geaux Boys

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Nandini Sharma

Job Title, Company

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