Our Leadership

The Austin Food & Wine Alliance Board is an all-volunteer group of individuals that truly embodies the heart and soul of the Central Texas food community. Widely representing the diversity of the local culinary scene, AFWA Board members help move the organization forward to continuously innovate and expand culinary grant and education programs and one-of-a-kind events.

From budding chefs, tenacious food entrepreneurs, aspiring farmers, and Central Texas high school students seeking a culinary career, the AFWA board strives to create and sustain a support system for the next generation of Texas culinary artisans.  


Executive Committee

President Sandra Spalding Twin Liquors

Sandra Spalding has worked with wine & spirits in restaurant and retail for over 25 years. She honed her hospitality skills while working for the Memphis Restaurant Group in Orange County.  After moving to Austin, she gravitated to Twin Liquors, recognizing a kindred spirit and shared vision in the family company. She quickly moved through the ranks as Regional Sales Manager overseeing 50+ stores to her current role as Director of Marketing. Throughout her journey, Sandra has kept a focus on fine wine, food and cocktails, both in business and in life.

Vice President Cathy Cochran-Lewis Whole Foods & Whole Kids Foundation

Cathy Cochran-Lewis has actively worked in the American culinary scene for more than 20 years. She co-founded the non-profit Austin Food & Wine Alliance in 2012 and served as the organization’s first president. She currently chairs the Alliance’s culinary grant program. Starting out as a daily newspaper journalist, she followed her passion into the culinary world to develop and open cooking schools across the country. She has served on numerous culinary boards and international award panels, including the James Beard Foundation. She co-founded the Austin Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a worldwide organization of culinary professional women. With 14 years in global marketing and PR with Whole Foods Market, Cathy now serves as Communications & Operations Director for Whole Kids Foundation.

Treasurer Jeff Christner ABC Bank

Jeff is a lifelong Texan. He began his banking career in 1987 with Frost Bank in Galveston and currently holds the position of Senior Vice President at ABC Bank in Austin, where he has been since 2001. His primary function is commercial lending focusing on small businesses, including non-profits, as well as real estate lending. He is a graduate of the National Commercial Lending school at Oklahoma University as well as the Texas Tech School of Banking. Jeff has volunteered for many organizations throughout his career including the Galveston Historical Foundation, The Rotary Club of South Austin, Meals on Wheels, and the former Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival. He has served on the Alliance board since its inception in 2012.

Secretary Rachel Malish Whole Foods Market

Rachel Malish is the Sr. Global Public Relations Manager at Whole Foods Market, where she executes proactive national PR strategies. Before moving to Global PR, she held various roles in community relations and marketing operations. Prior to joining Whole Foods Market, Malish served as Development Director for the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference, where she secured corporate, media, and individual sponsors for the nonprofit’s annual festival and their year-round youth and community programming. Malish serves as Chair of the Alliance’s Annual Culinary Arts Career Conference. She has served as an Advisory Board Member for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance, Food Committee co-chair for Art City Austin, and Restaurant Chair for Austin Film Festival’s Annual Film & Food Gala.

Past President Gina Burchenal

With nearly two decades of professional experience in restaurant and catering management, Gina has worked in almost every facet of the profession while starting her own business, Gina’s Kitchen, a supper club, cooking consulting and catering company. Gina then joined the El Chile Group family as Director of Catering and Special Events. Since 2005, Gina has graced the boards and served in executive capacity for Le Dames d’Escoffier International and the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival. She was a founding Executive Board Member of the Austin Food and Wine Alliance. A resident of Austin since ‘70’s, Gina’s love lies in the Austin food scene.



Michael Coleman Republic National Distributing Company Michael Coleman has been in the food & beverage industry for over a decade, and has worked in all aspects of the business from Front of House Management to Sous Chef. He is a Certified Specialist of Wine and works as an On Premise Sales Representative for Republic National Distributing Company. In his free time he enjoys running Town Lake and is an avid member of Sukha Yoga. He loves his time on the lake and his dog Bella.

Shaady Ghadessy Snap Kitchen

Shaady Ghadessy is the Brand Marketing Director at Snap Kitchen.  A native Austinite, Shaady began her marketing career in the nonprofit arena working at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and later for the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Shaady then transitioned to hospitality and joined the team at W Austin, where she oversaw marketing and earned the 2012 Carl E. McKee Award for Outstanding Hospitality Person of the Year. She also received the 2015 Austin Under 40 Award for Culinary Arts and Hospitality. Ready to expand her role, Shaady joined the global brand management team at Le Meridien Hotels in NYC and lead implementation global programming efforts for the Paris-born brand. Shaady currently leads brand marketing efforts for the 35+ Snap Kitchen locations. 

Courtney Knittel Giant Noise

Courtney Knittel joined the Giant Noise team in February 2011. While at Giant Noise, Knittel has orchestrated launches for several nationally-recognized Austin restaurants, including Olamaie, Emmer & Rye, and Launderette. She has spearheaded PR strategies for Circuit of The Americas and the launch of Domain NORTHSIDE, Austin’s premier shopping and entertainment development. Knittel serves on the Alliance board and handles their PR. Prior to her move to Austin, she was a senior publicist at a top boutique PR firm in Beverly Hills. With more than eight years of experience in media relations, entertainment media, celebrity relations, special events and agency relations, Knittel has developed and maintained strong relationships with magazine editors at national and international publications and television shows.

Tom Sunstrom Outlaw Realty As a Co-Owner of Outlaw Realty, Tom has been exploring and introducing his clients to the Austin food scene since 2003.Originally from the Boston area, he began his career as a professional actor in Los Angeles and has been featured in multiple episodes of HGTV’s popular show “House Hunters.” Tom’s passion for food started while spending his college summers flipping omelettes for tourists on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.  A foodie in all regards, he spends his free time growing vegetables, hunting, fishing, making incredible BBQ and exploring the Austin food scene.  Tom is a consummate learner and loves meeting the local farmers, food artisans, chefs and food writers.  He is the founder of the Austin Men’s Cooking Club, a local group of business professionals trade their suits and ties for aprons and knives monthly.

Molly Tassos Hanger, Inc.

Molly Tassos joined the former Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival in 2010 and organized the volunteer committee.  In 2012 she became the Volunteer Chair for the Alliance, and then was elected to the board in 2013. She loves being involved with the organization and looks forward to our future endeavors.  Professionally she works for Hanger, Inc. as a Human Resources Specialist. She has been married to her wonderful husband for eight years and they have two beautiful daughters together.

André Natera Fairmont Austin

An acclaimed and recognized chef out of Dallas TX, Natera joined Fairmont Austin in the summer of 2017 as the first member of the hotel’s culinary leadership team, tasked with building a core group of talented and skilled chef professionals to develop Fairmont Austin’s entire culinary program. Priding himself on honoring the simplistic beauty of his dishes, Natera brought a personal food philosophy devoted to “seasonal ingredients and modern techniques.” Natera brings a variety of accolades to Fairmont Austin, including a two-time “Best in DFW Chef” designation by Dallas Morning News, being a Culinary Counsel Member ment’or BKB, as well as a nomination by D Magazine for “Best Chef in Dallas.” Additionally, in 2011 Natera was inducted into the Epicurean World Master Chef’s Society (EWMCS).

Jessica Sanders drink.well. & Paper Boat Hospitality

Jessica Sanders is a bar/restaurant owner, hospitality consultant and professional bartender based in Austin, Texas. She is the owner and operator of drink.well., an award-winning gastropub in Austin’s vibrant North Loop district. In addition to her ownership of drink.well., Jessica was a Managing Partner of Backbeat, a lauded high-volume cocktail bar in Austin, which was open from 2016-2018. She was previously the President of the Austin chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild and has lectured at numerous industry events. A Certified Sommelier, Jessica was featured in Wine Enthusiast’s ’40 Under 40’ list in 2016. Her professional endeavors have recently expanded to include cocktail catering for off-site events, spirits education and bar/beverage menu consulting through her company, Paper Boat Hospitality. When she is not behind the bar, Jessica is an active volunteer with the Central Texas Food Bank, avid SoulCycler, voracious reader, karaoke enthusiast, aspiring gourmand and curious traveler.


Tara Treffry Whole Foods Market

Tara Treffry is the Director of Culinary for the Southwest Region of Whole Foods Market and oversees innovation and development, the LOCAL program and all culinary partnerships for Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. In her position, Tara helps connect chefs, local producers and trends to the shelves and venues of the stores. She has a lengthy background in restaurant concept development, marketing, communications and program management. Prior to her work at Whole Foods Market, Tara worked for several hospitality groups on the East Coast including Newport Harbor Corporation where she served in a Marketing and Private Dining role. When not at work, Tara enjoys traveling, cooking and spending time with her husband and their dog Mr. Carlos Bojangles. 

Stacey Dannenbrink Twin Liquors

Stacey Dannenbrink brings more than 15 years of senior financial leadership to the Austin Food and Wine Alliance Foundation. She has a contagious enthusiasm and passion to advance the understanding and appreciation of food and wine through fun and educational experiences in support of Austin Food and Wine Alliance’s grant programs to serve the growing community’s culinary expansion. Currently, Stacey holds the position of Controller for Twin Liquors, an Austin based chain of 94+ alcohol beverage retail stores and wholesale operations. Prior to Twin Liquors, Stacey was at Zebra Imaging, where she was a Controller and core partner in the executive leadership team. During her tenure at Zebra Imaging, she touched all forms of the business equation, including strategy, business development, management of the financial and contractual relationships with multiple commercial and government agencies. Stacey holds a bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting from Henderson State University. When not at work, Stacey enjoys traveling, cooking and spending time with her husband and their dog, Marley. 


Paul Barnes Austin Convention Center

Paul Barnes is the Assistant Director at the Austin Convention Center where he oversees sales, marketing/public information, event and exhibitor services, and building operations for both the Austin Convention Center and the Palmer Events Center.

Linda Bebee Texas Beef Council

Linda Bebee is the VP of Domestic Marketing at the Texas Beef Council, where she has worked since 1991 to develop strategic direction and oversee marketing, including consumer promotions, advertising, retail, food service, nutrition and communications. Linda began her career in the food marketing arena through the former Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival working with chefs, food editors and wine experts. Linda received a degree in marketing from the University of Texas at Austin and has utilized her marketing experience throughout her 25-year career, beginning at the IBM Corporation.  Currently serving as a board member for the Alliance and Children at Heart Ministries, Linda continues to play a significant role in the food industry and enjoys giving back to her community.

Committee Chairs

Jon Gerber Southern Glazer’s Jon Gerber is the Director of Wine and Spirits for the On-Premise Division of Southern Glazers Wine and Spirits in Austin, TX.  He began his career in the beverage business in 1996 in Houston after several years in the hospitality industry. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Houston’s Conrad Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his daughter and playing a little golf.

Shannon Dickson Republic National Distributing Company

Shannon is proud to call herself a 6th generation Texan who has worked in the food & wine industry spanning more than 17 years. Her passion for food and hospitality led her to work at notable fine dining restaurants in Downtown Austin where she learned all facets of restaurant hospitality with a focus on wine and spirits. Channeling her talents to selling, she joined Republic National Distributing Company as Sales Representative for On-Premise Wine and quickly rose through the ranks to her current role as District Manager. She holds a WSET Level II from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and Introductory Court of Master Sommeliers. She attributes her taste for fine dining and hospitality to her early upbringing where her family loved to cook and entertain guests. Shannon loves to travel and spend time outdoors with her two pups.


Executive Director Mariam Parker As Executive Director of the Austin Food & Wine Alliance (AFWA), Mariam Parker is deeply invested in the growth and success of Central Texas’ food businesses. As the non-profit’s first executive director, she has worked with and cultivated relationships with the state’s top chefs, wine- and spirit experts, farmers, artisan producers and other culinary professionals. By orchestrating some of Austin’s most popular and successful food and wine events, Mariam has helped to lead the AFWA to realize its mission in providing more than $100,000 in grants given back to Austin’s culinary community to support innovation and community giveback since 2011. Her background includes work as a social media strategist, product marketing, business development and event planner. When she isn’t at work, you can find her at one of the restaurants around Austin or planning her next culinary experience or journey.

Event Manager Ali Galkin Coming shortly!

Office Administrator Jordyn Dargitz Coming shortly!

Creative Director Anastacia Uriegas Anastacia Uriegas is the Creative Director at the Austin Food & Wine Alliance. Anastacia Uriegas was born and raised in San Antonio, first as a curious only child, then a goth teenager, and eventually a fine art photographer having her first solo show at 20 years old followed by countless gallery showings. The daughter of a badass marketing veteran, Anastacia followed suit by interning at the seventh largest Hispanic advertising agency in the US and later served as Creative Director for her mother’s boutique agency for more than a decade. After moving to Austin, she found herself immersed in Austin’s vibrant food and drink community, initially as a publicist and later as a freelance writer for various national outlets including Thrillist, Time Out, and Eater. She lives in East Austin with her very patient husband, a couple of kitties, and two beloved dog-children who bear striking resemblances to Ewoks.