Our Staff and Advisory Council

Toni Elka

Founder and Executive Director

Toni Elka founded Future Chefs in 2008. With 20 years of experience in the youth development field, she is a serial innovator and committed social change agent. She received national recognition for her innovative leadership (Mass. Statewide Peer Leadership Institute) and founded the Circle of Girls program prior to Future Chefs. As the granddaughter of a union organizer and farmer and holding jobs as a cook and caterer, her passion for the culinary arts fueled her sense of excitement about directing a career program that addresses the needs of youth who might find fulfillment in this creative, hands-on field. In 2013 she received a Boston Neighborhood Fellows Award from the Philanthropic Institute and serves on the boards of Boston Day and Evening Academy and The Boston Private Industry Council. In May of 2015, Ms. Elka received an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Newbury College. 



sam putnam

work-based learning leader

Sam grew up in Arlington, where he got his start in the restaurant business as a teenager at Brigham’s. After attending college in Vermont, he worked in popular restaurants in the Bay Area, several restaurants in the Midwest, Dorchester’s Ashmont Grill, Executive Chef of Foundry on Elm, Chef of Jamaica Plain’s Bella Luna, and ended his restaurant career back in Arlington, as Executive Chef of Flora restaurant.

In the 1990s, Sam was the Head Cook at the Farm & Wilderness summer camps, and then became the Culinary Innovator at UTEC in Lowell. Now at Future Chefs, his focus is on developing the next generation of young people who will carry the industry forward.


Mario Hines

Youth Development and outcomes Manager

Mr. Hines graduated from Robert Morris University with a Bachelor of Communications.  Prior to joining Future Chefs, Mr. Hines worked as an educator and group care supervisor specializing in youth development and special education at several organizations including High Rock School, Eliot Community Human Services, Aspire Expanded Learning Program and Autism Services Association. Mr. Hines also has professional experience with several NFL teams and played professional football with the German Football League.


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tawanna fulton

student services Manager 

Ms. Fulton brings 20 years of experience to her role as Student Services Manager, nourished by a deep commitment to serving the needs of youth and families. During her time at Codman Academy and Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, she developed a host of skills including conflict resolution, problem-solving and program development. Ms. Fulton demonstrates success in supporting first-generation college students, youth and families in crisis and high school students building a post-secondary plan, working within her positions to advocate for equity and inclusion. Ms. Fulton received her B.A. degree from Simmons College and is currently pursuing her MBA degree at Fitchburg State University.    


Yasmin Hussain

Curriculum and Student Services Manager

Ms. Hussain graduated from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, with a B.A. in Global Justice. Since her graduation she has worked in nonprofit organizations whose missions focus on social, environmental, and political justice. Yasmin served a year of AmeriCorps in Boston at Cooking Matters, No Kid Hungry in 2014. Yasmin also works with youth and adults coaching them in her role as a Sports Performance trainer and lead at Xplosive Performance Academy in Boston.



stephanie cogen

development Coordinator

Stephanie comes to Future Chefs with a long-standing passion for food and building communities.  Since 2015 she has been the Board President of the Newton Community Farm, leading the organization and its fundraising process and strategy.  She also served as Administrative Director of the Newton Family Singers, and was a founding board member.  She is a former attorney, having spent twenty years representing employees and labor unions in various industries.  Stephanie holds a B.A. from Amherst College, a J.D. from Northeastern School of Law, and a Certificate from the Institute of Nonprofit Management. 




Michelle Callahan


Drawing from a varied background of studio art and business, Ms. Callahan handles communications and brand marketing for Future Chefs. Prior to joining Future Chefs, Ms. Callahan worked in corporate community relations with schools and non-profit organizations, which sparked an interest to move towards the non-profit field. She holds a B.A. in Studio Art from University of New Hampshire and a M.S. in Communications Management from Simmons College as well as a certificate in Community Relations from Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship.


Advisory Council

The Future Chefs Advisory Council includes 13 highly successful industry professionals, restauranteurs and educators. The Council is chaired by Patricia M. Keegan, Ed.D, Executive Coach and Susan Lange, Vice President, Commonwealth Corporation. Erin Griffith, proprietor of Middle House Events, is the Secretary. The Advisory Council was formed in 2010 and benefits from active Governance, Finance, Marketing and Fund Development committees.

Chris Douglass, Proprietor/Chef, Ashmont Grill and Tavolo Ristorante
Gabriel Dym, Esq., Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC
Andy Freedman, Marketing & Fundraising Committee; Merkatus Partners
Erin Griffith, Secretary; Fundraising Committee; MiddleHouse Events
Naome Jeanty, Research and Evaluation Analyst, Commonwealth Corporation
Jake Kalick, Fundraising Committee; Harbour Food Service Equipment, Owner, Made In
Patricia M. Keegan, Ed.D, Co-Chair; Strategy Committee, Executive Coach
Travis Keltner, Fundraising Committee Chair; State Street Corporation
Aquila Kentish, GM Jamaica Mi Hungry; Future Chefs Alumni
Susan Lange, Co-Chair; Strategy Committee; Vice President, Commonwealth Corporation
Thomas F. Muldoon, Finance Committee Chair; Partner, AAFCPAs
Robert Ocko, Finance Committee; Retired Banking Executive
Ellie O’Keefe, Industry Advisor, Corporate Sponsorships
Eric Papachristos, Finance Committee; Co-Owner, Trade, Porto and Saloniki Greek
Julia Shanks,  Proprietor, Julia Shanks Food Consulting
Kay Snowden, Strategy Committee; Finance Director, Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center
Cheryl Straughter, Owner, Soleil


The Future Chefs organization continues to win my support and involvement because they keep the focus on launching Boston area young people into a positive engagement with the world of work. At its 10-year milestone, Future Chefs has weathered the challenges of being a start-up to becoming a solid contributor to youth development in the city of Boston. I could not be more proud or excited about what comes next.


—Pat Keegan, Co-Chair, Executive Coach