We Proudly Stand on These Shouders


Tonya’s career began in marketing as a qualitative researcher, insights interviewer and a brand strategist for food, beverage, wine and premium spirits brands at both multicultural and mainstreams ad agencies in Los Angeles and New York. These experiences helped fuel her unique perspective on ethnic and mainstream American food cultures and led her to new ventures as a food and wine scholar, expert and writer. As an entrepreneur, Tonya founded ThoughtCo: Commentary on Things Culinary and Cultural, a qualitative consulting service and The Food Griot, a multi-media platform through which she provides historic and contemporary culinary content, narrated dinners, tastings and events.  A talented legacy cook and mixologist, Tonya is a contributing writer and researcher of multiple entries for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (OUP: 2004, 2012, 2013); Food for the Soul: Recipes and Stories from The Congregation of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church (Random House, 2005);the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, FoodwaysVol. 7 (2007). She has also written for Essence Magazine, Food Forum Quarterly, and Food History Newson a range of topics including African influences on new world foods, rum and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.   

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Tonya has received training in wine and spirits at the Wine Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and a course completion award from Windows on the World Wine School. She has also beentrained by and worked with the international Listening and Storytelling Company, Narativ. Throughout her career Tonya studied food history and culinary arts while working in support of a number of food and wine organizations including the Association for the Study of Food in Society (ASFS), Culinary Historians of N.Y., French Culinary Institute Scholarship Fundraising, and the Harlem Vintage Advisory Board.  She is a past President of Women for WineSense, NYC Chapter. In 2013 Tonya was commissioned by the NY Underground Railroad Historic Association to research and tell the untold story of chef Anne Northup (wife of Solomon Northup, author of the 1853 memoir: “12 Years A Slave” and 2013 film of the same title) . In 2014 Ms. Hopkins conceived and conducted a tribute dinner – Anne Northup: Portrait of a Professional Cook in 19th Century NY” at the Jumel Mansion in New York City where Mrs. Northup was employed as a live-in cook in 1842 after her husband’s abduction. In 2015 Tonya served as the food historian, events director and wine specialist for the James Hemings History on a Plate Dinner at theMid-Atlantic Food and Wine Festival where she spoke about the significance of the Mid-Atlantic region on the development of a uniquely American cuisine strongly influenced by generations and centuries of black American cooks and chefs. She is currently leading research and writing on the heritage of cookery and the lasting legacy of early professional black American cooks on the development of American cuisine and fine dining throughout the northeastern United States. Tonya works as a Wine & Food Pairing Specialist and also facilitates strategic communications and special events at Good Wine: A Food Lover’s Wine Shop in Park Slope Brooklyn: http://goodwine.nyc/   

Follow Tonya on TwitterInstagramTumblr, and Facebook.


Growing up in a family where generations of inventive cooks and gourmands are in the DNA, it’s no surprise that Martell is a lifelong foodie, semi-professional chef and a wine connoisseur. Martell’s culinary and cultural experiences in far-off lands as a young woman cemented her belief that food is the greatest ambassador. 

A digital marketing and branding pioneer since 1995, Martell launched the Vermont Vacations travel and leisure brand, and created one of the first and largest interactive tourism portals online. Food-related clients Martell has served include: American Dairy Association, Beach Point Specialty Foods/Prince Edward Island, Charlie Palmer, D’Agostino’s, Dallis Brothers Coffee, Medallion Salmon, Miracle-Gro, Mistic Beverages, Moore Market, Not Milk, and more. Martell and team have even tackled recipe development for factory production.

Martell has worked with Chef Ashbell McElveen for more than 15 years in project development and marketing. She has served as creative consultant and promoter for his restaurants, food products, endorsements and moonshine liquor, as well as TV and digital projects. Martell helped McElveen’s FoodStop website achieve a top 100 position in its category.

Martell frequently appears in the media and at events as an expert on digital marketing and industry trends, including: Brooklyn Savvy, Ecommerce Times, EFactor, Media Bistro, Open Topic, Ragan PR Daily, The Takeaway, Tech News World, Wall Street Journal, Women’s Wear Daily and more.

Follow Karma on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Dennis Williford has successfully married his passions for both food and photography for many years. Through his commercial photography company “Dennis Williford Studios,” he has photographed chefs, restauranteurs, food stars, celebrities, gourmet food, and events for more than 30 years. Williford is well known for his photography portraits of chefs Lidia Bastianich, Daniel Boulud, Juan Mari Arzak, Marcus Samuelson, and Matthew Kenny among others. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, Chef Williford has worked in New York and London alongside Chef Ashbell McElveen and has garnered more than 20 years of experience working in hotels, restaurants and in his own catering business. Dubbed “The Photo Cook”, he has recently returned from a three-year consultancy in Turks and Caicos for Club Med. Dennis served as the Executive Sous Chef for the James Hemings History on A Plate Dinner at the 2015 MidAtlantic Food and Wine Festival.

Our Council of Advisors



A longtime resident of Park Slope, with two daughters who attended 321, 51, and now Beacon, Heather worked out of her home kitchen as a test chef, recipe writer, and author for many years for publications such as Essence and Saveur, and as a producer of wine and food events for many private and institutional clients. She is a Grand Diplome graduate of the French Culinary Institute, now ICC, and also holds a Level 3 Advanced Certificate from the Wine and Spirits Trust of London. She is also a graduate of Harvard University. Her YouTube cooking channel, SoGoodTV, launched in 2006, was one of the earliest Google Channel Partners. Her focus has always been on translating professional and restaurant recipes to ones usable by the home cook.


Sara Lomax-Reese is the President and CEO of WURD Radio, LLC, Pennsylvania’s only African-American owned talk radio station. She is also the co-founder of The Next Majority, LLC, a new multi-media initiative geared towards mobilizing Black and Latino millennials towards greater civic engagement.

Prior to her work with WURD and The Next Majority, Sara co-founded HealthQuest: Total Wellness for Body, Mind & Spirit, the first nationally circulated African-American consumer health magazine in the country.  

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Sara has written for The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Essence Magazine, American Visions Magazine and Modern Maturity. Most recently Sara has contributed to a new book of essays from Black mothers of sons. Sara also served as an adjunct professor of communications at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA. She has taught a collaborative course at the University of Pennsylvania with Dr. John Jackson titled “Urban Ethnography” which taught students how to create audio documentaries that aired on 900AM-WURD.  

Sara has received numerous awards including: the Woman of Substance Award from the National Medical Association; the “Tree of Life” award from the Wellness of You; and, HealthQuest Magazine received the Beacon of Light Award from the Congressional Black Caucus for outstanding health coverage. Sara was recognized as one of the “100 People to Watch” by Business Philadelphia Magazine, and in 2010, she was selected for the “Women of Distinction” award given by the Philadelphia Business Journal. Additionally, Sara received the 2012 PECO “Power to the Community” award given by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women of Pennsylvania. 

Sara sits on a variety of boards including The Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Community of Leaders. An avid yoga and meditation practitioner, Sara is also co-founder of Philadelphia’s People of Color meditation group.

She is married to Tim Reese and is the mother of three boys, Langston, Elijah and Julian.


Michael W. Twitty is a noted culinary and cultural historian and the creator of Afroculinaria, the first blog devoted to African American historic foodways and their legacy. He has been honored by First We Feast.com as one of twenty greatest food bloggers of all time, and named one of “Fifty People Changing the South” by Southern Living and one of the “Five Cheftavists to Watch” by TakePart.Com. Twitty has appeared throughout the media, including NPR’s The Splendid Table; has given more than 250 talks in the U.S. and abroad; and his work has appeared in Ebony, the Guardian, and on NPR.org. He lives in Rockville, Maryland.

Widely acclaimed for interpreting the experience of enslaved African Americans through food and its preparation, among others he has spoken at Yale, Oxford, and Carnegie Mellon universities, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Twitty  has appeared on NPR’s The Splendid Table, Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern and Many Rivers to Cross with Dr. Henry Louis Gates, and has been a judge for the James Beard Awards. He is also a Smith fellow with the Southern Foodways Alliance and most recently a TED 2016 fellow and speaker.

Our Financial Advisory Board


James S. J. Liao is president of Salem Consultants Inc., a management consulting firm performing financial and business advisory services. He is an adjunct professor lecturing on in International Business at Skidmore College. He serves as Board Treasurer of Flushing Town Hall, Board Secretary for Villa Maria Academy, director of Asian CineVision and director of Asians In Energy.   

He is co-founder of a comedy club in Flushing, Queens, NY – Laff Lab.

Previously, he was V.P. and general manager of Crossings TV for stations in NYC and Chicago. Crossings TV nationwide fulfills the entertainment and information needs of Asian American communities providing programming in Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, and Russian.

He served as a senior executive at two non-profit organizations – The Municipal Art Society of New York, The Jockey Club and, was President of Christiansen Capital Advisors LLC. He also served as a director of fiduciary and financial auditing at Siemens Corp., manager of financial and litigation services at Touche Ross, and vice president of Asia-Pacific and Europe for Manufacturers Hanover Leasing Corp. 

Liao earned his M.B.A. in finance from NYU and his bachelor’s degree in finance (Magna Cum Laude) from Fordham University.