Meet our Judges

Aaron Zendner – Aaron is currently the Executive Chef for Sodexo at Sierra Nevada College and owner/confectioner of Mr. Z’s Micro Confectionery. Mr. Z’s was honored at the first “Platinum Chocolatier Award” at 2011 Chocolate, Wine & Roses Festival. Between the years 2005 and 2010 Mr. Z’s has received 8 awards including a People’s Choice Award in every year entered. Aaron is happy to continue on as a supporting member of the talented Chefs providing chocolate creations at the festival as well as a judge in future events.

Donna Amato – Donna first learned how to cook from her own mother and then from her Italian grandmother who immigrated to Rochester, NY from Melfi, Italy, bringing with her incredible family recipes handed down from generation to generation. Donna’s old-world Italian home-style cooking was enhanced by sharing the kitchen with her mother-in-law from Sicily.

Taking after her mother and auntie who were both early Hollywood starlets, Donna has worked in the entertainment industry since she was a child modeling for Vogue magazine. Donna’s well-known local reputation in both Reno and Los Angeles led her to follow her dream of turning her love of cooking into a career. Donna’s dream first came to fruition when she entered the Nevada State Fair in 2010 and took home many awards including Best of Show for her Strawberry Jam. Because of this honor, she opened Amato’s Family Kitchen and her products can now be found in Napa-Sonoma Grocery Co., Bella Italia, Hungry Mother Organics, The Bistro Napa Restaurant in The Atlantis Hotel and Casino and several restaurants in Los Angeles.

Since 2010, Donna has had the honor of being the Production Coordinator at KNPB CHANNEL 5 in Reno.

Samantha Amato –Samantha is a Nevada born immigration attorney who also helps cook for the family business Amato’s Family Kitchen. Samantha grew up cooking with her grandmothers who handed down generations of recipes from Sicily and England.

In 2010, Samantha interned at the internationally renowned Baker & McKenzie Law Firm in Rome, Italy, where she reunited with her extended family in Southern Italy and Sicily. While there Samantha learned to cook simple, seasonal and traditional Italian cuisine, as well as meals from various other countries from her international roommates. Samantha returned from Europe to open her law firm in 2011 and began practicing immigration law. She speaks English and Italian and is currently learning Spanish.

Samantha treasures being able to spend time in the kitchen helping her mother’s dream come true through Amato’s Family Kitchen.

Michelle Chan – Michelle graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 2007 with a certificate in Baking and Pastry Arts. Since then, she has worked at the Slanted Door in the San Francisco Ferry Building and gained experience in production and plating skills through this fast-paced restaurant. To broaden her experience, she accepted a job offer from the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe in beautiful Incline Village. She worked alongside other pastry chefs to operate all outlets throughout the hotel including four on-site restaurants, catering, banquets, special events, Regency Club, room service, etc. Working at the Hyatt gave her the opportunity to learn about mass production, menu-planning and time management.

After two years of being away from San Francisco, Michelle decided to move back to her hometown. She realized that there was a demand for customizable dessert catering with personable service, so she launched Dolci Bar in September 2010. Her experience yields professionalism, her easy-going personality fabricates smiles & ease and her not-too-sweet, yet visually-stunning desserts leave her clients astounded.

Most recently Michelle acted as a mentor for a 10 year-old contestant on the new reality T.V. show Master Chef Junior.

Robyn Hugar – Robyn went to culinary school in Honolulu Hawaii and worked as a pastry chef in a fine dining restaurant. Received an advanced pastry training degree and worked at a gourmet bakery in Chicago. Competed and placed in culinary competitions in the chocolate and pulled sugar showpiece categories.