Leslie A. Ito, Moderator  

A native of Pasadena and a Yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese American), and committed foodie, Leslie has been the Executive Director of the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena since September of 2018. She was President and CEO of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) located in Los Angeles, one of the largest ethnic arts and cultural centers of its kind in the United States. During her tenure at JACCC, Leslie developed robust new programs such as Ukuleles for Little TokyoFiesta Matsuri, and most recently initiating a capital campaign to inaugurate the Toshizo Watanabe Culinary Cultural Center. Prior to her tenure at JACCC, Ms. Ito was Program Director for Arts and Health at the California Community Foundation, and Director of Grant Programs at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.  In 2017, Leslie was the recipient of the Durfee Foundation’s Stanton Fellowship where she studied Japanese artisans carrying on centuries old traditions in contemporary ways.

Mary Aghoian 

Mary, the fourth of five children was born in Kessab, Syria in 1936. Her family along with other survivors of the Armenian Genocide was allowed to repatriate to their homeland after the French gained control of Syria. After her father’s service in the French military ended, the family moved to Lebanon in 1948 where her father was offered a position managing a soap and wine making factory. Mary became the family’s main source of income, after her father became ill, foreclosing on her academic aspirations. It was there that she met her husband Abraham, visiting Lebanon in search of lost relatives. Within three weeks, he had proposed and soon afterwards they married and followed relatives to Pasadena. Her warmth and language proficiency led her to a 23-year career at Pasadena Unified School District first as a Bi-lingual Teacher’s Assistant and later, a Community Liaison Specialist. Mary’s childhood recipes and love of food became the inspiration for husband Abraham’s well-loved Middle Eastern Restaurant in Pasadena and her son Jack, a proficient cook who is profiled in The Urban Forager: Culinary Exploring & Cooking on L.A.’s Eastside

Elisa Callow 

Elisa is first and foremost a lover of community. She is the founding executive director of the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, a nationally recognized center for arts education and community development. A self-taught cook, she spent her formative years in Southeast Asia—her first foray into the world’s culinary marketplaces. She completed the Pro Cooking course at the New School of Cooking and is an enthusiastic member of Los Angeles Bread Bakers. Elisa’s appreciation for food and culture is evidenced through her adventurous blog, The Urban Forager. She is author of The Cousins’ Passover: Reflections on Fifteen Years of Celebrations and contributing author of Interplay: Inspiring Wonder, Discovery, and Learning through Interdisciplinary Museum-Community Partnerships. Her first cookbook, The Urban Forager, Culinary Exploring & Cooking on L.A.’s Eastside was published in March of 2019 by Prospect Park Books. 

Leah Ferrazzani 

Semolina Artisanal Pasta founder Leah Ferrazzani has spent a lifetime working in food, managing everything from neighborhood cafes in Lake Tahoe to hot Hollywood restaurants like Pizzeria Mozza. Food was her side hustle while pursuing an undergraduate degree in poetry and a Master’s in journalism, and eventually her professional focus as a writer documenting the winemakers and farmers she most admired. Semolina is her first foray into the kitchen. Started out of her laundry room in 2014, Semolina has focused on dried pastas made using traditional Italian methods—slow, low-temperature drying, extruding through bronze dies—highlighting the taste and texture of American durum Semolina with every choice.  She now works out of her pasta lab/retail space in Northwest Pasadena, making fresh and dried pasta for her community, local restaurants and specialty markets across the country. As a sole proprietor of a small business, she is constantly striving to maintain her commitment to quality, and to community, while creating a profitable and sustainable business.

Amelia Sedano McDonald 

Amelia began her career as a trial lawyer, but after 20 years, she was ready to return to her “roots.” The link to her grandfather’s past as a citrus worker materialized after his death. “My family grew this farm. My grandfather’s family picked citrus from camp to camp without a penny to spare. After World War II, He became a mechanic at Norton Air Force Base and was industrious and successful enough to buy land and build his own home, which he left to me." They helped me through law school and then to build our house on the farm.”  The two-acre farm specializes in hyperlocal food, sustainable organic farming, and community outreach. She and her husband, John, also the farm hosts classes, such as Urban Chicken Keeping, Farm-to-Table Cooking, and The Business of Urban Farming for adults. But her greatest joy is sharing her passion for sustainability and self-sufficiency with children as the local 4-H leader of dairy goat and urban agriculture programs, as well as through the Girl Scouts.

Masako Yatabe Thomsen 

Born and raised in Tokyo, Masako completed a graduate degree in architecture practicing in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Masako has always had passion for cooking and baking. From her earliest memories of sitting on her mother’s kitchen counter while she prepared her family’s meals, Masako has developed her own sense and skills over the years. After moving to Los Angeles in the late 1990s, the city opened her to a wide array of tastes reflective of the diversity of people. Masako began working with Sumi Chang, owner of Europane Bakery in 2009, helping to develop a line of pastries that have defined it. Their friendship, along with a shared love of cooking and baking continues to grow through their recently established cooking school, “At Our Table.”