Advisory Committee

Charles Carroll headshotChef Carroll is currently the Executive Chef of River Oaks Country Club in Houston, Texas. He is also the award winning author of Leadership Lessons From A Chef: Finding Time To Be Great and  Tasting Success “Your Guide to Becoming a Professional Chef.” 

From 1996 to 2000, Chef Carroll was the Executive Chef at Oak Hill Country Club. He then worked as the Executive Chef at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, a four-star four-diamond resort located in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, for thirteen years. He also served as Apprenticeship Coordinator for one of the country’s leading apprenticeship programs.

Chef Carroll serves as a Coach for the 2008 United States Culinary Olympic National Team. This will mark his seventh Olympic Team.

Over the years, Chef Carroll has received over seventy national and international awards, including Chapter Chef of the Year in 1988 and 2005 and the American Culinary Federation President’s Medallion three times in 1989, 1999 and 2005. In 2008, he was the regional and national winner of the Chef’s Professionalism Award. He received the Central Regional “Good Taste Award” in 2006 and Sharing Culinary Traditions Award from the American Academy of Chefs in 2008.

He was nominated twice for ACF regional Chef of the Year.

The James Beard Foundation selected Chef Carroll as one of the Great Country Inn Chefs of 1993. He was awarded Educator of the Year by the ACFEI in 1993. In July of 2000, he was inducted into the World Master Chefs Association. The next year, in July of 2001, he was inducted into the American Academy of Chefs and then, in March of 2002, he was inducted into the Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs. Most recently, in August of 2005, he was inducted into the Honorable Order of the Golden Toque.

He has been guest speaker at several ACF meetings, regional and national conventions, as well a culinary classes, colleges and universities.  Chef Carroll serves as President to the Board of Trusties of Culinary Institute LeNôtre and Secretary Treasurer of the Les Amis d’ Escoffier Society Houston. In 2008, Chef Carroll was appointed chairman of ACF certification appeals committee and, in 2010, was appointed chairman of the World Association of Chef’s Society World Congress held in 2012 in Daejeon, Korea.

Diane D’Agostin

Diane headshotChef D’Agostino is the owner of Elegant Edibles, a specialty food manufacturer which produces all natural and gourmet confections, snacks and recipe-ready ingredients. Elegant Edibles products are sold to a number of different specialty food stores.

The kitchen at Elegant Edibles also serves as the commissary for Relish Fine Foods, a family owned and operated take-out market specializing in gourmet prepared foods and foods from Texas producers. Relish is a member of the Slow Food® movement.

Chef D’Agostino, after practicing law for 20 years, attended the Art Institute of Houston Culinary Diploma Program. Many of the products she has developed at Elegant Edibles have been written about in Saveur Magazine, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Business Journal and the Houston Chronicle.


Randy headshotRandy Fournier

Chef Fournier graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and is currently the Food and Beverage Director of Hess Corporation in Houston as well as President of the Houston Food and Beverage Managers Association.

He is also the President of the Culinary Endowment & Scholarship, a professional charitable organization, which raises money for scholarships for culinary students of merit.


Fritz headshotFritz Gitschner, CMC

Austrian born, Master Chef Fritz Gitschner is the Executive Chef of the Houston Country Club.

In the past, he also worked as the Executive Chef at several five star hotels and resorts around the world including the Golden Tulip Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, Marriott’s Riyadh Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the Restaurant Admiral Tegetthoff in Vienna, Austria.

Chef Gitschner is a Certified Master Chef (CMC), one of only 55 to have successfully completed the Master Chef’s Examination, the most rigorous culinary testing a professional chef can obtain. He is committed to training young chefs with his over thirty years of experience in the culinary field.


Thomas HeadshotThomas Preuml

Thomas Preuml, Houston Racquet Club’s General Manager and Chief Operating Officer, is originally from Austria, where he was also classically trained as a Chef. He came to Houston in 1984 and initially worked at a German restaurant on Houston’s west side. He worked in many facets of the hospitality industry and expanded his culinary knowledge at well known Houston establishments such as the former Inn on the Park Hotel (now the Omni), the Warwick Hotel (now Hotel Zaza), and Vargo’s Restaurant. In 1991, Chef Preuml entered the world of private clubs at the former Heritage Club in Houston. From there, he went on to become the Executive Chef and eventually the Food and Beverage Director of the Greenspoint Club in 1994, then entered club management training at the Westlake Club, and continued training at the Plaza Club in downtown Houston in 1998. In 1999, Chef Preuml moved to Denver, Colorado, to become the General Manager of the Metropolitan Club. In 2002, he returned to Texas and managed the combined operations of the Houston Center Club, the Plaza Club and the Metropolitan Racquet Club (also known as the Met) before becoming the General Manager of the Houston City Club in 2004. In 2008, after a brief supporting role at Sugar Creek Country Club, Mr. Preuml became the General Manager/COO of the Houston Racquet Club.

Claire Smith headshotClaire Smith

Claire Smith is the Proprietor and Co-Executive Chef of Shade Restaurant in  Houston, Texas. From 1988 to 1993, Chef Smith worked at various restaurants around the U.S. as the Chef and Sous Chef. From 2000-2003, she was moving around the country – Houston, TX, Chicago, IL, and Stamford, CT – managing the operation of a small catering and events business. From 1994-2000, she worked as the Proprietor and Executive Chef of Daily Review Café in Houston.

Chef Smith holds a degree from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, CA, graduating Valedictorian of her class of 110 students. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Art and in Art History from Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Mary Grace Gray headshotMary Grace Gray

Hotel Granduca

Ms. Gray, a native Houstonian, began her career at Four Seasons Hotels in Houston and Dallas. She joined Interfin in 1999 as General Manager of Villa d’Este Condominium. She then opened Montebello, the second condominium in Uptown Park in 2004. As plans were developed for a third project, Hotel Granduca, Ms. Gray assembled the team for a fall opening in 2006 and continues to manage the hotel.

Her leadership has seen her successfully develop numerous partnerships and alliances that have benefited all of the Uptown Park projects. Ms. Gray serves on the Board of the Galleria Chamber of Commerce and chairs the International Committee.


Sandra headshotSandra Alonzo Shafer

Chef Sandra Alonzo Shafer lives in the Houston area where she cooks with great passion using local sustainable foods. After many years working in international transportation for a French petrochemical company, Chef Shafer decided to change careers and pursue her chef degree at The Culinary Institute LeNotre in both Cuisine and Baking & Pastry.

In just a short period of time, she has developed many skills while working in various culinary roles: at country clubs, for a prepackaged healthy meals company, as a private chef for a family and performing event designs with local catering companies.

Chef Shafer continues to develop her culinary skills. This past summer she traveled to France to work at a Michelin Star-rated restaurant and an artisanal pastry and bread shop with more than 40 types of flours based on regional origins. Discovering the Loire Valley and staying in the Green City of Europe, she enjoyed her summer abroad as Nantes was always on her bucket list.

Most days you will find Chef Shafer at different venues volunteering her time, including The Gaston LeNotre endowment fund and the Board of Directors, Les Dames D’Escoffier Houston chapter, Houston Food Bank at the Keegan Kitchen, American Heart Association Latina Leadership Circle or at elementary schools assisting instructors in teaching Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ classes. She is also a member of the American Culinary Federation, World Chef’s Association and Professional Chef Association Houston.

At the moment, Chef Shafer has joined the Houston Sommelier Association, where she is studying to present her First Level Sommelier Exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers in the Spring of 2015.

Chef Shafer’s leisure activities include working in a large vegetable garden, where she has been experimenting on a sustainable lifestyle, riding the MS150 from Houston to Austin, downhill skiing or hitting golf balls at Memorial Park. She will also be running the Chevron half Marathon 2015 in Houston, Texas, next January.


Ernest Pekmezaris headshotErnest Pekmezaris

Ernest Pekmezaris served as an Adviser of Luby’s Inc. from April 20, 2007 to January 31, 2010. Mr. Pekmezaris served as Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Luby’s Inc. from March 2001 to April 20, 2007 and served as its Treasurer until April 20, 2007. He served as Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of Pappas Restaurants, Inc.

  • BBA, Accounting and Finance From Nichols College, Dudley, Massachusetts
  • 3-Years in Public Accounting – Ernst & Young
  • 2-Years in Private Industry, on the Control Side
  • 20 Years in the Banking Industry
  • 19 Years in the Restaurant Industry-Pappas Restaurants-Treasury and Finance


Ruffy headshotRuffy Sulaiman

Executive Chef at Hilton Americas – Houston. At the age of 16, Ruffy Sulaiman left his native Lagos, Nigeria for England to pursue a career in the culinary arts.  After five years of cooking in various restaurants he moved to Mayo, Ireland to work as chef apprentice at Belleek Castle Restaurant, which specialized in Provincial French cuisine.

In the early 1980s, Sulaiman left Europe and enrolled at the University of Houston to study Industrial distribution and Marketing.  While attending college, he served as the chef de cuisine for the Marker Restaurant at the Adams Mark Hotel, eventually moving up the ranks to the executive sous chef position.

Sulaiman enjoys his role at Houston’s largest hotel, where he currently oversees the food operations of the banquet department. His skill in preparing American and International cuisine helps him create dynamic, inventive dishes with global influences.   Chef Ruffy joined the Chefs Advisory board in 2008 after we held our Blue Plate Special Lunch with Dr. Oz at his hotel.  Now you will never see him miss a month with the kids and he often joins us for special events.


Dominic headshotDr. Dominic A. Aquila

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Dr. Dominic Aquila has 32 years of experience in public and private higher education. Aquila is also a Trustee of the American Academy of Liberal Education, the Crossroads Cultural Center, a member of the Council of Independent Colleges Chief Academic Officer and Chief Financial Office Task Force, and the Children at Risk Institute.

His areas of research and expertise include music and culture, Catholicism and American culture, and higher education administration. He can also speak on American and European History.

Education

  • B.M., The Juilliard School, Percussion and Composition
  • M.B.A., New York University, Marketing and Management
  • D. Litt et Phil., The University of South Africa, History