Tim Freeman’s 25-year culinary career included stops in Moscow, the Philippines and Portugal, before Nairobi, Kenya. From there, the 39-year-old plotted a return to the United States, first at Northern Hotel in Billings, Montana, before moving south to Borealis for the Hyatt Regency Aurora-Denver Conference Center’s opening in early 2016.

“My son, he was born in Nairobi,” says Freeman. “I had been out of the U.S. for 10 years—I had not set foot on U.S. soil. It was time to come home.”

He enjoyed his time at Northern Hotel but jumped at the opportunity to run the kitchen at the new Hyatt Regency Aurora. “I’d been wanting to work in Colorado for a long time. I really love the place, I love the mountains,” Freeman says. “It’s just a hop, skip and a jump and you’re in the middle of nowhere.”

Freeman likens it to his time in Kenya, where his previous employer bought him a vacation in the wildlife-rich Maasai Mara National Preserve. “I had never been more at home in my life.”

There’s a connecting thread between Denver, Nairobi and Billings. “I like to live in places where you can be in the wilderness in an hour or less,” Freeman notes. “It gives me some serenity. All day long, I’m in a noisy environment with boiling water and knives and people screaming.”

Not that he doesn’t love it. “You get instant gratification,” he says. “I like to teach and be part of a team.”

And in a modern kitchen, that team should be as diverse as possible. “You need to cater to many different tastes and cultures and backgrounds,” says Freeman, and the kitchen staff should reflect that. “We need to have a very diverse and dynamic environment.”

His staff represents about 10 nationalities at any given time. “It brings an authenticity and integrity to the food,” he says. “If we want to do Peruvian food, we can do it. If we want to do Filipino food, we can do it. If we want to do Russian food, we can do it. It allows us to spread our wings.”

Besides his impressive credentials on four different continents, Freeman has another claim to fame: He beat Bobby Flay on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.” Not many competitors have one-upped the namesake host. Freeman strategically challenged Flay to make pad Thai for the final round. “I knew it was something he couldn’t do,” laughs Freeman. “It was my biggest strength and his biggest weakness.” 

Tony Michaels is no stranger to navigating choppy waters. The CEO and executive director of The Parade Company, which puts on traditions like America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Ford Fireworks, took the helm of the Detroit nonprofit during tough times, at the height of the financial crisis. “2008, 2009, are you kidding me?” says Michaels.

 

Originally from Ontario, Heather Odendaal got her start in event planning early, serving as her high school’s head of social events. She ended up on the West Coast, courtesy of her studies at the University of British Columbia, and launched her career in Whistler, working for the resort in marketing and events. Today, she’s CEO of Bluebird Strategy, a boutique event planning firm, and CEO and founder of WNORTH, a global community of women who have their sights set on the C-suite.

 

You may not have seen her name among Chicago’s James Beard award nominees or caught in the buzz of another trendy eatery opening, but the ripples of Rita Dever’s culinary creations have made an impact far and wide. After cooking around the world, the Pacific Northwest native put down roots as Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ (LEYE) associate partner and corporate chef where she collaborates in the company’s test kitchen to innovate new dishes for all LEYE restaurants.