Honorees and Featured Chefs

The Rosenberg Family: (left to right) Jack, Ellen, Max, Mike, and Joe

The Rosenberg Family: (left to right) Jack, Ellen, Max, Mike, and Joe

GrowingGreat is thrilled to honor philanthropists Ellen and Mike Rosenberg with our Green Fork Award. They have been generous contributors to GrowingGreat since our founding in 1999.

Ellen and Mike Rosenberg

Ellen Rosenberg assumed the role of CEO of the Rosenberg household in 1988. Currently she is raising three sons: Jack (20), Joe (18) and Max (15) in addition to managing Mike (see below), pets, sports teams, performances, religious school and travel. Since leaving the professional world, Ellen is actively involved in public education and is serving her second term on the Manhattan Beach Unified School District board of trustees. Prior to this role she served from 2003-2009 in the roles of President, Vice President of Fundraising, and PTA President representative to the board for the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation, a non-profit organization raising private funds for the local public schools. While a professional, Ellen worked for 15 years in the banking industry as a commercial lender at Wells Fargo and as an IBM marketing representative supporting financial institutions. While at IBM, Ellen pursued and completed a graduate degree in marketing. She joined Mattel Toys in 1996 product managing and marketing the Barbie brand until she retired in 1999 to pursue other interests resulting in Max Rosenberg circa 2000.

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In addition to providing devoted support and affection to the CEO and other members of the Rosenberg household (see above), Mike Rosenberg is the Senior Managing Director and prior Chief Executive Officer of Intrepid Investment Bankers LLC, a firm specializing in advising on Merger and Acquisition transactions and arranging private capital for middle market companies. He was Co-Head of the Middle Market Group of Investment Banking and Capital Markets for Wells Fargo Securities, LLC. Previously he served as the Chief Executive Officer of Barrington Associates. He has spent more than 30 years in investment banking and corporate finance, assisting corporate clients in achieving their financial and strategic objectives.

We are very grateful to Ellen and Mike for their support, not only to our organization, but to our entire community.

Josiah Citrin
Josiah Citrin
Chef/Owner Mélisse

A culinary expert and veteran of the gourmet dining industry, Josiah Citrin is a Two-Star Michelin Chef and owner of highly-acclaimed Mélisse restaurant in Santa Monica, California, and co-owner of Lemon Moon Café in nearby West Los Angeles.

A Los Angeles native, Citrin discovered his passion for food from his family at an early age. His mother was a caterer and both grandmothers cooked and enjoyed good food. Their knowledge, combined with his passion for cooking and business, led to his desire to pursue a culinary career. Citrin educated himself by moving to Paris after graduating from Santa Monica High School. In the City of Light, he worked for three years at fine Parisian restaurants Vivarois and La Poste, allowing himself to explore his French heritage while gaining understanding of and respect for the rules of traditional French cooking.

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This invaluable experience taught him both the art and discipline of cooking and fine dining and formed the definitive basis of his training. He returned to the United States in 1990 with determination and vision and began applying his skills by working at Los Angeles’ finest restaurants- notably Wolfgang Puck’s celebrated Chinois on Main and then at Granita. After two years, Josiah moved on to join Patina and Pinot Bistro and cooked alongside famed chef and restaurateur Joachim Splichal.

At Patina, Josiah met his future wife Diane, who was making their desserts and later became the pastry chef for Chinois on Main. A marriage in culinary heaven was made. Citrin subsequently became Chef at Capri restaurant in Venice and Jackson’s in West Hollywood.

With a heightened interest in French gastronomy and a spirit for entrepreneurship, Citrin launched his first restaurant, JiRaffe in 1996. Located in Santa Monica, JiRaffe specialized in California French Bistro food and was pioneered together with childhood friend and fellow chef Raphael Lunetta. With Diane serving as business manager, JiRaffe quickly developed a loyal following. Citrin’s lifelong dream of opening his own fine dining establishment led to the sale of his interest in JiRaffe to Lunetta. In 1999, with the encouragement, support and assistance of Diane, Mélisse opened its doors to critical acclaim in Santa Monica and has been impressing the culinary world ever since.

Named after the “lemon balm” herb indigenous to the Mediterranean, Mélisse has become a favorite for southern California locals as well as world travelers searching for an exemplary dining experience and an ideal place to celebrate a special occasion. Citrin is present daily in Mélisse’s kitchen and mentors the careers of younger chefs who are hand-selected and trained. He frequents the weekly Farmers’ Market in Santa Monica, where he inspects and procures the produce himself. Having established a long-standing rapport with the various farmers from Los Angeles’ outlying regions, he hosts a bi-annual dinner at his restaurant in their honor. He also participates in many cooking and charitable events each year, including the Wolfgang Puck Cancer Society Event, Planned Parenthood, Special Olympics, Cystic Fibrosis and Cure Autism Now.

In 2004 Citrin partnered with Lunetta again to open Lemon Moon, a casual and New York-style eatery that caters to a loyal crowd with an eclectic palate. Since opening its doors, it has remained a local favorite.

Citrin’s recent honors include: Two Stars by Michelin Guide Los Angeles (2008, 2009), #1 for Top Food in Los Angeles and #1 American-French Restaurant for Food in Los Angeles by Zagat Guide (2013), Five Stars by Forbes Travel Guide (2013), Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence (2001-2008), Top 40 Restaurants by Gayot.com since 2006, “Top Ten New Chefs” by Food and Wine magazine (1997) and “Rising Star Chef” by Restaurant Hospitality magazine (1997). He was named among Best Chefs of the Year by Los Angeles magazine in (2012).

In addition, he has been featured on various television food shows and his restaurant and recipes have been written up in numerous national food publications. Citrin has traveled extensively as a Guest Chef for Crystal Cruises. He has been Guest Chef at: the Four Seasons Singapore; the Rheingau Food & Wine Festival in Germany; the Naples, Florida Wine & Food Festival; Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos. Citrin was also invited to participate in the “Masters of Food and Wine at the Highlands Inn” in 2001 and 2005, an event that attracts the best chefs from around the world.

Having derived incredible satisfaction from his various business ventures over the past decade and raising two beautiful children with Diane, Citrin looks forward to the next step in his business: bringing his refined skills and artistry to a broader international dining audience. His first cookbook, In Pursuit of Excellence was released in autumn 2011. It was awarded the gold medal and named best cookbook by the Independent Book Publishers Association and was one of three finalists for a Benjamin Franklin Award. In Pursuit of Excellence is available at the Mélisse website, on Amazon and at selected retailers.

Dustin Lewandowski
Dustin Lewandowski
Executive Chef of Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM Grand and Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina

We are proud to announce that for the second year in a row, Chef Dustin Lewandowski will be one of our featured chefs. He is the Executive Chef of Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM Grand and Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina.

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Chef Dustin Lewandowski’s love and passion for food began at an early age, while enjoying the recipes and cooking of his two grandmothers. Family functions were centered on food as they feasted on freshly grown produce from family gardens and local farm stands in his hometown of Grand Island, Nebraska. It wasn’t until high school, however, that Lewandowski first realized becoming a chef could be a lifelong career. During his senior year in high school, he got his first restaurant job at Nathan Detroit’s Bar and Grill where he learned the basics of working on a kitchen team. After high school, Lewandowski headed west to California to pursue his culinary career and began working at the famed Border Grill in Santa Monica. He held a variety of positions including head line cook and off-site catering chef. His skills didn’t go unnoticed and in 1999, he was tapped to join the opening team of Border Grill in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay. Later that year, Lewandowski became a part of the opening team at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio at The Venetian as lead line cook. After a brief departure in 2001 to open a local Las Vegas restaurant, he returned to the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group in 2004 to open the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM Grand, where until most recently, he served as executive chef. Now, he’s excited to be a part of Wolfgang’s latest project on The Strip at Crystals, the retail and dining district at MGM MIRAGE’s iconic CityCenter. As executive chef, Lewandowski oversees the culinary operations for Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina, a new rustic Italian concept from the master chef. Each day, Lewandowski works to ensure the restaurant stays true to the Wolfgang Puck philosophy of using only the highest quality, fresh ingredients to produce innovative menus that continually raise the culinary bar.

Chef Diana Stavaridis
Diana Stavaridis
Chef Diana Stavaridis has been working in restaurants around the world for most of her life. In February, she moved to the South Bay and gave GrowingGreat a call. She has been awarded Rising Star Chef of Los Angeles by StarChefs and appeared on several television shows such as Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” KTLA’s morning show, Channel 5 News and as a guest judge on “The Next Food Network Star.”

Chef Diana, together with restaurateur Richard Drapkin and a talented group of owners out of New York, will open Manhattan House in Manhattan Beach, CA in Spring 2015. It will be a local community eatery where she will serve her rustic, yet refined, seasonal cuisine.

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In addition, the restaurant will have craft beers, artisan cocktails and fantastically sourced wines to pair with her menu. She partners with GrowingGreat gardens to assist in food education and showcase on her menu herbs and vegetables grown by the children.

Chef Diana began her culinary career early on, in her grandparents’ kitchen at age six, cleaning lobsters and harvesting tomatoes in the backyard. Throughout high school and college she spent time in various kitchens including a deli, pizzeria, bakery, and Cuban restaurant. She even drove an ice cream truck. She graduated with a BA in Advertising and Marketing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and, after a brief stint working in the financial sector in Boston, Diana came back to her true passion in the culinary arts. The Chef then moved to Los Angeles and began formal training at L.A. Trade Tech Culinary School. While in school, Diana catered weddings and worked in the kitchens with popular Los Angeles chefs such as Joe Miller and Neal Fraser. Diana worked on the line at Grace Restaurant under celebrated Los Angeles Chef Neal Fraser. In 2006, Fraser opened BLD Restaurant on Beverly Blvd. and Diana was promoted to sous-chef at the new eatery. She became an integral part of BLD Restaurant and by 2008 was running the kitchen as Chef de Cuisine. Her passions included smoking various proteins: trout, brisket, pork chops and tofu. She also catered to the vegetarians/vegans and created the “Vegan Benedict” with house-smoked tofu bacon, and the “Vegan Chickpea Burger” with Jalapeno Cashew Cheese.

After four years of successfully running the high-volume, seasonally-driven kitchen of BLD, Diana planned a culinary expedition in France. During her time in Paris, she staged under Michelin Star Chef Giles Epie at Citrus Etoile and renowned Chef Gregory Marchand of Frenchie’s. While traveling the French countryside, Chef Diana visited farms, milked cows, crafted French cheeses, and pressed walnuts into the finest oils. After completing her final stage preparing fresh baguettes and pastries at an Artisanal Boulangerie, she felt accomplished.

Diana returned to America and settled into the Bay Area. She consulted local farms on sustainability and farm-to-table cooking in the community and spent a great deal of time creating and cooking with one of her favorite seasonally market-driven chefs, Chef Jose Ugalde of Café Gibraltar.

She was then recruited by Back on the Beach Café in Santa Monica and returned to consult on redesigning breakfast, lunch and dinner menus and to implement house-prepared, seasonal, local cuisine.

The most recent of her culinary adventures abroad took place in England at the River Cottage HQ where she staged with Celebrity Chef and food sustainability pioneer Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Working directly on the farm, Diana was thoroughly inspired by its 100 acres of livestock, produce, fruit, and fish and amazed at the passion and dedication the chefs had towards full utilization all the products. Stay tuned for more exciting ideas and dishes that will come from Chef Diana and the Manhattan House team, opening this Spring 2015.