Judges

Chef Michael Christiansen

Chef Michael Christiansen – Director of Culinary – Pinnacle Foods

Michael Christiansen

Director of Culinary

Michael Christiansen joined the Pinnacle Foods team in 2012 and currently serves as Senior Research Chef. In this position, Chef Mike works across all of the brands in the Birds Eye Frozen Division, including Birds Eye, Birds Eye Voila!, Mrs. Paul’s, Lender’s, and Celeste, among others

Chef Mike strives to combine the strengths of both culinary and food science to provide healthy, great tasting products for consumers. At Pinnacle Foods, he focuses on research & development as well as innovation, and has been instrumental in the launch of numerous new products – most recently Birds Eye’s Recipe Ready platform. Throughout his tenure at Pinnacle Foods, Mike has also provided insight on formula creation, flavor profiling, culinary trends, and more.

Prior to joining Pinnacle Foods, Mike worked with some of the top chefs on the West Cost, including Bradley Ogden and Michael Mina. After many years in the restaurant business, Mike began working with Unilever as a Research Chef for the company’s Global Dressings department. During his time at Unilever, Christiansen helped to launch products under the Country Crock Chilled, Bertolli, and PF Chang’s frozen brands, while assisting in growing these household names to a nearly $300 million business in three years.

When not working at Pinnacle Foods, Mike teaches cooking classes at Cornell University’s Food Science program. Mike holds a degree from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and is a member of the Research Chefs of America organization.


Darius Peacock – Executive Chef at Drexel University & a former contestant and winner of Food Network’s Chopped!


Bart Oates – NY Giants

Bart Oates 1

Bart Oates


Mike Murphy – NY Giants

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Mike Murphy NY Giants


Scott Brunner – NY Giants

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Scott Brunner


Shelli Sonstein – Q104.3

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Shelli Sonstein has been An NYC radio fixture for most of her life, starting with  a long run at WPLJ with co-host Jim Kerr. They  also worked together on country radio station WYNY before re-teaming the last 12-plus years at  Q104.3, the most listened-to rock station in the United States.

Shell also worked for Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” for close to 20 years and is the author of “The Thoroughly Tasteful Dirty Joke Book”.

She lives down the shore, where her nirvana is ocean swimming and shark river kayaking.  Her 3 kids all live in L.A., much to shelli’s chagrin.


 Steve Gunther – Senior Vice president Research and Development

Pinnacle Foods Inc.

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Steve’s career in Food Industry Product Development spans 35 years where he has lead the development of many new food products.  He currently leads the R&D efforts for Pinnacle Foods maker of such brands as Duncan Hines, Birds Eye, Wishbone, Vlasic, Mrs Butterworth’s, Log Cabin, Hungry Man, Mrs Pauls, Lenders, ARMOUR and many other fine brands.  Prior to Pinnacle, Steve lead the Global and North American Biscuit Product Development team for Nabisco-Kraft working around the world on brands such as Oreo, Chips Ahoy! and Ritz to name a few.  Earlier in his career he worked for Pepsi, Kebbler Company and Mrs. Paul’s.  He has a passion for food.  His undergraduate degree is in Food Science from Delaware Valley University and his Master’s in Business from Lehigh University.   He lives with his wife in Great Meadows, New Jersey on a small goat farm that his wife manages.  He has two daughters and one granddaughter and is an ordained Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Metuchen.


Jennifer Vespole – Director of Food Service, QuickChek Corporation

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Jennifer Vespole is Director of Foodservice for QuickChek Corporation. Devoted to providing convenient shopping blended with an expansive range of products and services, Quick Chek is a market leader in food service with an exceptional coffee and fresh food program. Operating 143 retail locations in New Jersey, Southern New York and Long Island, Quick Chek’s retail locations include 11 pharmacy stores and 53 locations with fuel.

Jennifer has 28 years experience in the convenience store industry, specifically focused in foodservice and dispensed beverages. She graduated with a BS in Business/Marketing from Juniata College and has completed several courses in the Masters of Food Science program from St. Joe’s University. Jennifer has participated in various food industry panels speaking on topics from fresh cut produce in foodservice to home meal replacement and foodservice in the convenience store industry. She has had her menu recognized by CSP in the Blue Ribbon awards and has been a member of the Foodservice at Retail Advisory Council since 2008. Jennifer was recognized in 2011 by FARE as a Leader in Retail Foodservice.