The Nevada Restaurant Association presented the Culinary Excellence Awards on October 15, 2015. The annual event honors the best and brightest in the industry, who were selected based on merit in such areas as reliability, teamwork, leadership, contributions of knowledge and time to the community and dedication to the restaurant industry.

Candidates were nominated by a group of noted industry professionals in six award categories, and the winners were voted on by the Association’s Board of Directors.

“The nominees and winners exemplify the Nevada Restaurant Association’s mission to promote, protect and educate our state’s growing restaurant industry,” said Katherine Jacobi, president and CEO of the Association. “It is an honor to recognize these individuals for everything they do and their culinary and community achievements,” added Sebastien Silvestri, Chairman of the Board.

The winners are as follows:

NvRA Champion of the Year:
Gino Ferraro

Gino Ferraro is the owner of Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar, which specializes in homemade pasta made from scratch for an authentic Italian dining experience. His restaurant is known for not only the incredible Italian cuisine, but also for making his guests feel like family to the restaurant. Ferraro’s has won a plethora of awards including: Open Table’s “Diner’s Choice 2015” Award, Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence,” the Prestigious Wine Enthusiast Award and others.

Bartender of the Year: Ju Young Kang

Ju Young Kang is a lead mixologist for Delmonico’s and as a part of her position trains all bar staff, as well as curating Delmonico’s renowned bar program with one of the largest whisky selections in the U.S. that includes more than 700 varieties from eight different countries.

In the past two years she has won GQ and Bombay’s Sapphire’s “Most Imaginative Bartender” 2014; and Woodford Reserve’s “Manhattan Experience” 2014; United States Bartenders’ Guild and Nightclub and Bar’s “Shake It Up” 2015; and Bacardi Legacy 2014.

Pastry Chef of the Year: Jin Caldwell

Jin Caldwell is the founder and owner of JinJu Chocolates, which serves as a wholesale business to Las Vegas Hotels/Resorts. Jin also has a boutique retail shop in the Container Park on Fremont Street. In addition to her career endeavors, she has also made television appearances on Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels and Sugar Rush as a guest chef. Among her many awards and recognitions, she was recognized as one of the “Top 10 Chocolatiers” in North America at the Salon Du Chocolat NYC by Dessert Professional Magazine, and had the “Best Entremet cake in the World” in the World Ice Cream Competition, which spanned 11 countries.

Restaurant Allied of the Year:
Michael Severino

Michael Severino is the general manager and in charge of event marketing for Southern Wine & Spirits. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, he has been a part of the inception of Maxim hotel and has worked with Caesar’s Tahoe, The Riviera Hotel and worked for over 10 years with the Summa Corporation. Michael is also involved with several charity organizations, including “Keep Memory Alive,” which is a charity that donates 100% profit to the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health specializing in individuals with Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s Disease and Parkinson’s.

Culinarian of the Year: José Andrés

Named as one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People” and awarded “Outstanding Chef” by the James Beard Foundation, José Andrés is an internationally-recognized culinary innovator, author, educator, television personality, humanitarian and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup. A pioneer of Spanish tapas in the United States, he is also known for his groundbreaking avant-garde cuisine and his award-winning group of 21 restaurants, located throughout the country in Washington, DC, Miami, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and, coming this fall, Mexico City. Andrés recently debuted his PBS documentary, Undiscovered Haiti, giving an unprecedented glimpse into the island’s dynamic culture, people, and stunning landscape. In 2012, he formed World Central Kitchen, a non-profit that provides smart solutions to hunger and poverty by using the power of food to empower communities and strengthen economies. This year, in recognition of his philanthropic work to help change the world, Andrés was awarded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Chairman’s Medallion, awarded by Hillary Clinton.

Restaurateur of the Year: David Robins

David Robins is currently a managing partner, Operations & Corporate Chef of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. He joined the company in 1992 to open Spago, and after a very successful three years, Chef Wolfgang offered him a top-level partnership with the corporation that also expanded his role to include restaurant development and operations. He has since opened 5 additional Wolfgang Puck restaurants in the valley and does philanthropic work for Alzheimer’s Foundation for the Cleveland Clinic at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, March of Dimes, Nevada Cancer Institute and Meals on Wheels.

In addition, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation recognized Raja Majid of Origin India as Restaurant Neighbor of the Year and the Brown-Forman Retailer of the Year Award from the National American Beverages Licensees was presented to Roger Sachs from Steiner’s Pub.

A portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit the Association’s Education Foundation, which provides scholarships for high school students interested in starting a career in the restaurant and foodservice industry.