Meet the 2018 Headliners

Ethan Brown - Beyond Meat - 2018 RCA Conference Keynote Speaker


Ethan Brown, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Beyond Meat

Ethan's discussion will introduce and explore the concept of building a piece of meat from plants. Meat is an assembly of amino acids, lipids, trace minerals and water. All of these are available to us outside of the animal, and the architecture or animal muscle, or meat, is well understood. The session will cover Beyond Meat's efforts to use science to assemble meat directly from plants, and discuss the consumer, market, and broader ramifications of doing so.

Meet Ethan Brown

Sponsored by Kerry


Ethan Brown is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Beyond Meat, a company dedicated to building meat directly from plants. Ethan gained an appreciation for agriculture and the natural world from his father, a professor, conservationist, and hobby farmer. This interest shaped the direction of his career, where he sought to make a contribution to climate change through the clean energy sector. His early work centered on electricity restructuring in support of an open grid, where his analysis at the gubernatorial level directly informed federal and state policies on grid management. Subsequently, Ethan joined the world’s leading Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell developer Ballard Power Systems, rising to report directly to the Company’s Chief Executive Officer.

Though passionate about clean energy, Ethan returned often to the role of livestock in our economy and became convinced that a change in the origin of the protein—from animals to plants--that we place at the center of our plates could simultaneously address human health, climate, natural resource, and animal welfare challenges in a unique and powerful way. In 2009, Ethan founded Beyond Meat. Today, the Company sells products in more than 11,000 stores throughout the United States, including the Beyond Burger, the first plant-based meat to be sold in the meat aisle at major grocery chains (Whole Foods Market & Safeway). Beyond Meat is routinely recognized for its innovation, including most recently by Fast Company in its Most Innovative Companies list for 2017.

Ethan holds an MBA from Columbia University and an MPP from the University of Maryland. He is a member of the 2017 Class of Henry Crown Fellows within the Aspen Global Leadership Network at the Aspen Institute.

Gerry Ludwig - Gordon Food Service - 2018 RCA Conference Keynote Speaker


Gerry Ludwig, CEC, Corporate Consulting Chef, Gordon Food Service

Each year, Gordon Food Service Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig and his Culinary R&D team conduct live visits to over 100 carefully targeted restaurants in the major trend-driving cities of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Now in its 16th year, this annual research gives them a practical, real-world, street-level view of the evolution of foods and flavors in commercial foodservice.

In this fast-paced and highly visual session, Gerry will highlight the best and brightest new concepts from his most recent research, including full service casual and fast-casual venues, the latest in unique handheld foods, and chefs who are driving the next wave in creative culinary mash-ups. Along the way, Gerry will identify the dishes, ingredients and flavors that present the greatest growth and menu differentiation opportunities for restaurant menus across the foodservice segments.

Meet Gerry Ludwig

Chef Gerry Ludwig is a nationally recognized food writer, speaker and trend tracker, and leads the Culinary R&D department for Gordon Food Service, based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Using a proprietary street-level research method as his exclusive data source, Gerry and his team create trends-based menu solutions that are executed at the operator level by the company’s team of Culinary Specialists. He is a columnist and editorial board member for the foodservice trend magazine Flavor & The Menu, conducts seminars and workshops at numerous industry events in both the United States and abroad, and executes restaurant research tours in major cities throughout the United States.

Sharon Lykins - Dennys - 2018 RCA Conference Keynote Speaker


Sharon Lykins, Sr. Director, Product Innovation, Denny’s

Sharon believes the food industry plays an important role in the economic and physical well-being (not destruction) of not only the US, but the global population. She will share her thoughts on our responsibility to understand, respect and master the fundamentals of the research and development process.

Meet Sharon Lykins

Sponsored by SugarCreek


Sharon Lykins is an integral member of Denny’s product development team. Her colleagues see her as tireless in her search for the best products and solutions to ensure high-quality, flavorful food that meets their guests’ needs. They say her passion is contagious, quickly spreading to her team members and others. Lykins shares credit with her team for their successes.

A food science graduate from the University of Kentucky, Lykins continued her culinary education with courses at both Johnson & Wales and the Culinary Institute of America. Over the last 20-plus years, she has gained experience in disciplines affecting the food product development process. She has worked on both the food service and processing sides of the food industry, with accomplishments in product development, quality assurance, purchasing and international product management. Her passion and dedication resulted in her being named to the Griffin Report’s 2014 listing of Women of Influence in the Food Industry. “I have worked to gain experience in every aspect of the business that touches product development,” says Lykins. “Accomplishing this gives me a unique perspective on how the puzzle pieces fit together to yield results and how to teach/lead my teams effectively. When you are with one company for many years, there is risk of being type cast in one role.” Lykins explains. “I have changed companies to further my growth and I have approached senior leadership with business plans regarding how I would lead. Both options were successful.”

“Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have managers willing to give me assignments that stretched my abilities,” she says. “In my current role, I try to give those in my group similar opportunities to shine. I encourage the members of my team to voice their concerns and offer solutions to hurdles they see.”

Lykins’ message to those in her group, as well as other women starting their careers, is to speak up, focus on results and make sure you have a champion within your company to sing your praises. And remember to champion others as well.

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Matthew Headshot

Chef Matthew Raiford, James Beard Award Nominee and Chefarmer, Gilliard Farms

Description to come.

Meet Matthew Raiford

Sponsored by Symrise


CheFarmer Matthew Raiford is currently the Executive Chef of Little St. Simons Island a private resort located off the coast of Georgia accessed only by boat. He is also a farmer who has returned home to Brunswick, Georgia to become a sixth generation farmer on his families’ land that they have owned since 1874. He has a Bachelor’s of Professional Studies degree in Culinary Arts from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. CheFarmer also holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz and The Center for Agroecolgy and Sustanable Food Systems (CASFS). He will be returning to UC Santa Cruz this year to help with the annual FARM 2 FORK Scholarsahip Fundraiser.

CheFarmer Raiford is trained in classic French cuisine and has an affinity for Mediterranean flavors, yet is capable of preparing dishes from around the world. With over 15 years of formal experience in the Food and Hospitality Industry, he has worked and traveled extensively and taught culinary arts in community and technical colleges in Georgia, Maryland and Texas. He is a strong manager and teacher, and joyfully shares his knowledge about the delights of food and wine.

CheFarmer Raiford is a Chef Rôtisseur of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs USA, a Food and Wine Society and a co-owner of Gilliard Farms, LLC. His last position he served as the Executive Chef of Haute Catering in Washington, D.C. at the House of Representatives. He was responsible for a total of five properties National Defense University, National Archives, Pentagon Conference Center and Library, and the Canadian Embassy where he developed recipes, menus and the execution of wonderful, delectable dining experiences with a staff of 75 people. He enjoys collecting menus, planting roses, traveling, dining and teaching. His passion lies in creating a memorable dining experience by preparing local, organic and flavorful foods. CheFarmer Raiford lives in Brunswick, Georgia.