The honorary chairs
Brian Connors is managing partner of Connors Davis Hospitality and a clinical professor at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. He works directly with industry and academia creating innovative solutions for operational training, concept development and educational resources. He is currently working with an international Mazcal producer to develop an Oaxaca, Mexico inspired restaurant in Miami, Florida. He also serves as alumni admissions ambassador at Cornell University for the School of Hotel Administration and a board member of the Cornell Hotel Society. Previously, he was the wine consultant for Celebrity Cruises. In this role, he assisted in the development of their award winning beverage programs and traveled the globe training the fleet of nine ships and one of the largest teams of Sommeliers in the world. Throughout his career, he has developed nationally recognized, award winning wine and beverage programs, and has appeared on the Travel Channel’s ‘Trip of a Lifetime’ as well as national television and print media features.
Brian earned his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University, has trained for his Sommelier certification at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and is certified by the Court of Master Sommelier. He is also a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators, International Bordeaux Wine Educator through The Bordeaux Wine Trade Council and a Certified Hospitality Educator according to standards achieved through the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Brian has a Master’s degree from Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, and a Bachelor of Science from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.
- Kyle Fleischfresser
Kyle Fleischfresser has been involved in the craft cocktail & spirits movement since 2008. He started his career as one of the founding bartenders involved in the opening of The Lobby Bar & Cafe, where he fine-tuned his cocktail and spirit education. He helped design and open The Bar at Ludivine, which quickly became one of the most popular craft cocktail bars in Oklahoma City. He prides himself on his in-depth knowledge of cocktail history, and over the years Kyle has tested thousands of recipes from his extensive collection of cocktail books. Kyle’s next move was to The Coach House where as the restaurant manager he used his expertise in building the fine wine and spirits lists.
Currently, you can find him at the Hutch on Avondale where he is one of the owner/operators. The Hutch is known for being a modern neighborhood tavern with an extensive seasonal cocktail menu and a diverse wine list.
- Drew Hendricks, MS
For nearly two decades, Drew Hendricks has been at the forefront of wine and spirits sales and education. His open nature and passionate drive for excellence is without equal. Time and again, throughout his career, he has demonstrated that he is one of the world’s best at his craft. Hendricks is currently Director of Business Development- Fine Wine at Republic National Distributing Company in Texas and is one of fewer than 250 individuals in the world to hold the title of Master Sommelier. Service and education is what led him to partner with fellow Master Sommelier James Tidwell, in the creation of TEXSOM in 2005.
Prior to finding his path in the wine business, Hendricks served in the United States Army and put himself through culinary school at the end of his tour. Both experiences helped form his passion for wine and food, and helped form a foundational belief in the need for discipline and excellence in wine education and service.
- Steven McDonald
Steven McDonald, MS has been the wine director for Pappas Bros Steakhouse Houston Galleria since September of 2013 where he oversees a wine list of 4,000 selections and a 5 person sommelier team. He moved to Houston from New York City to work with Pappas Bros as a sommelier in 2011. Pappas Bros Steakhouse has won the Wine Spectator Grand Award every year since 2010.
Steven passed the Master Sommelier exam in 2018 to become one of only 255 people in the world to have passed this famously difficult exam. He has won the Periwinkle Iron Sommelier competition in 2014 and won the Service Person of the Year for Houston My Table in 2015. In addition, he has taught for various wine groups around Texas and New York and is a regular guest speaker at Oklahoma State University’s Wine Forum.
While working in New York he helped open the Michelin starred Ai Fiori with chef Michael White and was a wine buyer for the highly technological CLO wine bar in the Time Warner Center. He also spent time as an intern for another grand award list, Tribeca Grill.
Locally, Steven helped establish the Houston Sommelier Association in 2012. He is married to his lovely wife, Adria, who owns a baking company and has two beautiful young daughters, Gianna and Angelina.
- Sally Mohr
Sally Mohr earned the title of Master Sommelier in 1995 and was the second woman in the United States to achieve that distinction.
For 25 years she was co-owner of The Boulder Wine Merchant, a first-of-it’s-kind specialty retail wine shop in Boulder, Colorado.
Sally became fascinated with sake which led her to achieving the title of Advanced Sake Professional through the Sake Education Council. And recently earned the distinction of WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 3 Sake Educator.
She continues to put her palate to the test by judging both wine and sake in various regional and international competitions.
- Scott Ota
In 2005, Scott Ota began his career in restaurants to help pay for college. It is now 2019 and he has never left ‘the business.’ From fine-dining, to hotels, to wine bars, sharing his love for wine has been a mission for many years. As of 2016, he is now the general manager & beverage director for High Street Wine Co. in San Antonio, TX.
Scott’s accolades include the following: Somms Under Fire champion 2013, TexSom champion 2013, Rudd Scholar at his CMS advanced exam 2014, named one of Wine & Spirits Magazine’s ‘Best New Sommeliers’ 2014, and named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s ‘Tastemakers to Revolutionize the Business’ 2018.
Scott continues to work towards the MS diploma, and he aims to make High Street a top wine experience in the country. His mantra: be humble, be hospitable, drink well and have fun!
- Piyush Patel
Piyush Patel is truly a jack of all trades entrepreneur, author, speaker and angel investor.
A former teacher and professor, he sold what began as a small company DigitalTutors to PluralSight for $45 million in 2014. Today, he owns Conclusion Wines which donates all revenues to OKC charities, is an investor in Vinebox, is a best selling author of “Lead your tribe, love your work: An entrepreneur’s guide to creating a culture that matters,” speaker, and is the Chairman of the EO Oklahoma City Accelerator. He is also a proud Oklahoma State University alum.
- Aaron Post
Over the past 11 years, Aaron Post has worked and managed in fine dining, fine wine, craft beer, nightlife, and finally opened his own cocktail bar with the mantra “Playfully Serving Serious Drinks”. Located in the thriving Brady District of Downtown Tulsa, Valkyrie is a destination bar with a playful, neighborhood feel. Focusing on comfort and personality, Valkyrie was one of Tulsa’s first craft cocktail bars and continues to offer a revolving menu of expertly crafted classic and new cocktails made from whole, fresh ingredients. Valkyrie strives to be a world-class cocktail bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously, specializing in classically-inspired cocktails, seasonal ingredients, craft beer, and partying.
Aaron Post and Valkyrie have participated and won a handful of local cocktail competitions. Valkyrie has been written about in The New York Times, Southern Living, Southwest Magazine, Oklahoma Magazine, Edible Tulsa, Tulsa World Gallivant, and many other publications. Valkyrie has actively promoted the success of the downtown school Emerson Elementary, and donated regularly to fundraisers for the United Way.
- James Tidwell, MS
Together with fellow Master Sommelier Drew Hendricks, the two founded TEXSOM in 2005. The conference has become the premiere professional beverage education event in the country, attracting a prominent list of attendees, presenters and sponsors from around the world. Tidwell is also co-owner and producer of the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, formerly the Dallas Morning News and TEXSOM Wine Competition, one of the largest and most recognized wine competitions in the country.
- Randa Warren, MS, CWE, DWS, Css
Master Sommelier, Certified Wine Educator, Diploma of Wine and Spirits (WSET), Certified Specialist of Spirits
Randa Warren has been involved in the wine business for over twenty years. She began home-study WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust in England) wine courses through the International Wine Center in New York in 1998 and completed the final WSET Diploma program in 2001. During this period, Randa also embarked on a rigorous journey with the Court of Master Sommeliers, gaining her Advanced Sommelier title in the year 2000 on her first attempt in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the spring of 2001, Randa gained the distinguished title of Certified Wine Educator through the Society of Wine Educators in the United States. There are less than two hundred people that have gained access to this prestigious title.
This was the beginning of an adventurous career path that would lead Randa to becoming the 16th female Master Sommelier in the world in the Spring of 2007. Currently, there are 249 Master Sommeliers worldwide, of whom 23 are women. Randa is the author of the popular book ’60-Minute Wine Expert: Taste Wine the Master’s Way’.
Randa conducts private seminars and classes for financial institutes, business organizations, country clubs, resorts, museums and private wine collectors around the country. She also conducts monthly wine classes for many local Tulsa residents. Ms. Warren currently assists the Court of Master Sommeliers in teaching their introductory, certified, advanced and master-level exams around the country.
Master Warren is a Commandeur in the Confrerie du Tastevin in Burgundy and a member of this prestigious French organization for over twenty years. She competes in championship barbeque competitions in the midwest under Spicy Spitfire and Company – winning numerous awards.
- Karina Welch
Karina graduated from Oklahoma State University (Go Pokes) in 2011 with a degree in architecture. After spending a bit of time in Germany honing her design skills, she returned to the states and moved into the business of slaying wine, it quickly became a natural fit. She earned the title of Certified Sommelier in 2017 and drops wine knowledge on the streets of Oklahoma City like the gangster she is.
As a former Sushi chef, she appreciates the art and the flavor matrix of cuisine and wine pairings. Over the past several years Karina has curated countless wine dinners by the sides of Oklahoma City’s rockstar Chefs and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Her sheer love for wine and the people she spends time drinking with gave her the inspiration to create, The Crush Lab. We hope you enjoy her as much as we do!