The Trotter Project's Third Annual Excellence Gala: Women & Innovation



The Trotter Project, Chef Charlie Trotter’s legacy foundation, hosts their marquee event of the year, the Third Annual Excellence Gala: Women & Innovation. This year, the gala is celebrating women innovators as well as the achievements of its culinary scholarship recipients and legacies of Chefs Charlie Trotter and Homaro Cantu. Presented by The Trotter Project’s founding corporate sponsor United Airlines, the gala returns on Friday, October 18  from 4:30pm – 11:30pm at The Lakewood (1758 W. Lake St. Chicago IL). 

Gala co-chairs and women to watch, Belinda Chang (James Beard Award-winning American sommelier, writer, and restaurateur) and Deb Gross (entrepreneur, philanthropist, One Million Degrees gala chair, Trotter Project Board Member) have created an unforgettable evening. Guests will enjoy a multi-course dinner by celebrated Chefs Elizabeth Falkner, Antonia Lofaso, Tanya Holland, and more, with the support of an all-star team of Trotter and Cantu chef alums who will help create a culinary night to remember. James Beard nominee and Charlie Trotter’s pastry chef alumna, Michelle Gayer, has joined the star-studded roster. Curated experiences within the gala will wow guests and will highlight the best in wine, food, and more. Master Sommelier Brian Cronin and active member with the Court of Master Sommeliers, has created a unique experience for the night. 

Excitingly, Chef Trotter’s longtime friend and mentor, Chicago’s Chef Carrie Nahabedian, will be this year’s honorary chair. Chef Nahabedian has a long history with Chef Trotter and The Trotter Project and was a headlining chef alongside Chef Norman Van Aken at the inaugural gala. They were credited with giving Chef Trotter his first break in a kitchen and were instramentental in his career. 

The Trotter Project is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides education and mentoring opportunities to aspiring culinary professionals through its Pillars of Excellence Program. Proceeds from The Excellence Gala support the foundation’s core initiatives, including the Pillars of Excellence Program’s scholarships, culinary arts summer camp, and farm-to-classroom initiatives and more.

“Our Excellence Gala is a time to celebrate the best in the hospitality industry, while honoring the achievements of our culinary scholarship recipients and the legacies of Chefs Charlie Trotter and Homaro Cantu,” said Derrek Hull, Executive Director, The Trotter Project. “This year’s theme, Women & Innovation, is a timely tribute to all of the women powerhouses in our field. We’ve assembled a team of the top female talent who’s creativity is so inspiring. We will all be working together to create a night to remember for our guests and scholars to enjoy.” 

Elizabeth Falkner is a celebrated chef, author, and artist working and living in Brooklyn, New York. She worked her way up in kitchens in San Francisco in the 1990s and owned and ran several restaurants throughout 2014. Today she does recipe development and consults for numerous products and brands. Falkner has appeared on over 40 of the television cooking competition programs on Food Network, Cooking Channel, and Bravo, NBC, as well as made appearances on many other shows. She has been featured in many food magazines and has received multiple awards, as well as a nomination for a James Beard Award (2005). A graduate from San Francisco Art Institute with a BFA in film, Falkner has produced two short films with food themes in 2018; “Food Games-Sustainability” which she also hosted, and a documented performance piece called “Croquembouche Samurai” she performed at SoHo House in NYC.

Antonia Lofaso is a well-known chef, TV personality, and cookbook author. Inspired by her Italian-American heritage, Lofaso opened Scopa – Italian Roots in 2013, which was immediately well received. Lofaso’s interpretation of old-school Italian is hailed as one of the most compelling restaurants for Italian cooking in Los Angeles. She rose quickly through the ranks at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and went on to transform various high-profile kitchens of Los Angeles while working closely with many high-profile celebrities. In 2011, Lofaso partnered with Sal Aurora and Mario Guddemi to debut Black Market Liquor Bar in Studio City, LA. Her memorable performance on Top Chef: Chicago and Top Chef: All Stars celebrated her individuality outside the kitchen, and her talents continue to shine in front of the camera as a judge on CNBC’s Restaurant Startup, and recurring roles on The Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, Man vs. Child, and ABC’s Real O’neals. In 2012, Lofaso joined with Penguin to release The Busy Mom’s Cookbook: 100 Recipes for Quick, Delicious, Home-cooked Meals, which also tells the story of the challenges she overcame while studying at the elite French Culinary Institute, and simultaneously raising her daughter, Xea.

Tanya Holland, executive chef/owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen, is known for her inventive take on modern soul food, as well as comfort classics. She is also the author of the Brown Sugar Kitchen Cookbook and New Soul Cooking; was the host and soul food expert on the television series Melting Pot; and competed on the fifteenth season of Top Chef. Holland has appeared as a special guest on countless national television shows including the Today Show, Vh1′s Soul Cities, Sarah Moulton’s Cooking Live, Ready, Set, Cook! and The Wayne Brady Show. She has contributed to The Huffington Post, Food & Wine, Signature Bride, and Wine Enthusiast magazines, and has been featured in articles in The New York Times, Gourmet, O Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Savoy, and Travel & Leisure, just to name a few. Holland has served as the president of the prestigious Les Dames d’Escoffier San Francisco chapter. The City of Oakland declared June 5th, 2012 as Tanya Holland Day for her "Significant Role in Creating Community and Establishing Oakland as a Culinary Center". As a chef, Holland has traveled extensively in pursuit of more experience and knowledge. In France, she trained with Michel Sarran at Le Mas Du Langoustier on the Island of Porquerolles and with Jean-Michel Bouvier at Restaurant L’Essential in Chambery. She spent two summers cooking on Martha’s Vineyard Island at The Oyster Bar and L’Etoile, interrupted by a winter at Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston. She received rave reviews as the Executive Chef of The Delux Café in Boston and The Victory Kitchen in Brooklyn. Intrigued by the burgeoning West Coast food movement, Holland decided to move to warmer weather where she returned to the front of the house and garnered stellar reviews in her starring role as Creative Director at Le Théâtre in Berkeley, CA. This lead to the opening of the now famed soul food eatery, Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland CA.

The Third Annual Excellence Gala, presented by United Airlines, returns Friday, October 18 from 4:30- 11:30 p.m.  at The Lakewood (1758 W. Lake St. Chicago IL). Tickets for the event are $375 for General & $475 for VIP per person. Click here to purchase. Tables ($4,000) and corporate sponsorships are also available. Contact Derrek Hull at for more information. 

For more information on The Trotter Project’s Pillars of Excellence program, please visit Keep up to date and informed of upcoming events on Instagram @thetrotterproject and Facebook @thetrotterproject