Melanie has worked as a Culinary Educator for 25 years, teaching at The Institute of Culinary Education in NYC in the Professional Pastry and Baking program, as well as in recreational and kids classes. For the past four years, she has taught high school culinary and baking arts in the Career and Technical Education Department. She is licensed to teach in New York and Connecticut. Passionate, engaging, and committed to her student's growth, she thrives by connecting with others and teaching them not only techniques but also how to develop confidence, creativity, and calm in the kitchen. For teens, Melanie's philosophy is educating students to think both critically and creatively.
From Melanie, “I’ve observed time and again the many ways learning to cook and bake enriches lives - connecting with oneself, friends, and family to creating community, to developing self-confidence. ”
Melanie’s enthusiasm for fresh and organic food developed as a child on her family farm in Loudoun County, Virginia, where she began cooking at age four with her grandparents. Her grandmother, Eloise, taught her to bake with intuition and discernment. Her grandfather, Charlie, would invite the community over for butchering in the winter, canning in the summer, and these roots of connections began to solidify. Her family instilled this appreciation of food, family, and friends. In high school, she began working at a bakery, but never considered this as a career choice. Quickly realizing this was the ONLY career choice. She apprenticed in Washington, D.C., before moving to New York, where she opened The Four Seasons Hotel and worked at The Plaza Hotel, Torre di Pisa, and other celebrated New York City restaurants.
In 1996 she transitioned to teaching and found her true passion as a cooking and baking instructor for professional and recreational programs at the Institute of Culinary Education while also teaching private cooking classes, and speaking about cooking, creativity, and how to bring it to the workplace. Her book, Making Artisan Cheesecake was published in 2015, (Quarto Books) and she has been a contributor to numerous cookbooks.
Melanie is currently working on her next book, Rule Breaking Baking - Baking without Recipes. She continues to teach, host culinary retreats, and recently launched Gather, an online limited release bakery.
Chief Community Officer
Allison Thomas Rodriguez is a business woman who builds relationships one conversation at a time. She's spent 25 years creating synergies and exceling at enterprise and corporate book and technology sales. In her publishing years she worked with companies like Ten Speed Press, Chronicle Books and Taschen and her thirst for food-oriented work was satiated through the gorgeous books with which she engaged.
Allison was born in Washington DC, and grew up in the countryside of Missouri and Virginia. In the countryside, she spent her time with her family growing food and bringing it to the table in creative ways. Her mother brought the flavors of the world to the table from her time living around the globe. A fun weekend dinner might have been spending hours on a special Szechuan meal that was researched and would use fermented products they made. On her families small farm they would nurture baby calves, grow pigs, have every kind of chicken, goat and always horses. It was a childhood spent outdoors and immersed in the seasons of farm life; it's joys and sorrows, picking rocks from the garden, propagating blackberries and spending hours on horseback wandering through the vast fields and woods.
Now as a mother of four, the work of food has become the gathering point of conversation and family work. From wildcrafting, fermenting, growing food and hosting friends, the central desire is always to nurture and find laughter and joy. Her small farm in Virginia, Big Maple Hill, is a space created for the local community to join, retreat, relax and engage in the beautiful Virginia countryside. Families come from all over to stay in the farmhouse and treehouse and commune with the Southwestern Mountains.