Cooking School Vacations and Cooking Classes: Who We Are
The leading provider of cooking vacations since 1994

About Us

Richard Davis – President, Co-Owner

Richard started at The International Kitchen as our Group and Incentive Travel Specialist, and took on the role of President and co-owner in October of 2015. He brings many years of experience to the position, in sales for Alitalia Airlines, with a large Midwest tour operator specializing in Italy and Europe, and working for The International Kitchen. He discovered his love for Europe and travel with his first French class in high school. This blossomed into a love of French and Italian history, about which he is very knowledgeable, along with an associate degree in the liberal arts. Over the years, Richard has also developed an interest in cooking, and particularly baking which he claims to be extremely therapeutic! He has an easy and open manner, a quick sense of humor and is always on hand to give any assistance. We are delighted to have him at the helm!

"After 28 years in the airline and travel industry I had the opportunity to come to The International Kitchen, and I was thrilled to make the move. I am proud to work at The International Kitchen. I have a product I am proud to sell supported by stellar customer service unrivaled – in my opinion – in the travel industry. I’m one of those lucky people who enjoy coming to work every day!"

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Peg Kern – Vice President, Co-Owner

Margaret (Peg) Kern is a native of Ohio who received her BA in Italian from Columbia University and her MA and Ph.D. in Italian Literature from the University of Chicago, where she taught language, literature, and theory courses prior to joining The International Kitchen in 2004. She took some time off in recent years to raise her two sons, but rejoined The International Kitchen and in 2015 took on the office of Vice President and co-owner of the company. She enjoys an obvious love for Italy, especially Rome, where she lived for over three years. Another of her favorite Italian regions is Sardinia, where she has passed many summers exploring the local food, culture, and beaches. She is passionate about travel and cooking, and her other hobbies include home improvement, reading, and writing. She is also an active volunteer at her children's schools and serves on the Board of Trustees for the Urban Prairie Waldorf School. Although her knowledge of Italian culture makes her especially suited to helping plan your culinary trip to Italy, she is also proficient in French and has traveled extensively in France, especially Provence. She is an expert in our culinary vacations and would be happy to help you plan your trip!

"When I decided to leave academia and enter what my friends and I called 'the real world,' I knew my ideal job would be something combining my love for Italy, food, and travel. I didn't know culinary travel existed back then, and it was a wonderful surprise when I discovered a job posting by The International Kitchen. I was so excited I called my husband at work and told him I HAD to have that job."

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Adrian Hall –  Director of Business Development

A St. Louis native and Washington University in St. Louis alum, Adrian moved to Chicago in 2005 to pursue graduate studies in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. After completing his MA, he began a stint as a Writing Instructor to University of Chicago freshman and as a Mentor to graduate students in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities. A 2007 trip to Thailand, however, inspired Adrian to leave academia for the wide world of travel. He has since had the good fortune to travel extensively in Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America. In fact, Adrian liked South America so much on his first visit there in 2009 that he decided to move there the following year. From late 2010 to 2012, he lived and worked in Buenos Aires, using the cosmopolitan Argentine capital as a base to discover more of South America.

Back home in Chicago, Adrian enjoys exploring the city's diverse neighborhoods, its many vintage shops, and of course its incredible food scene. He has a particular fondness for Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian, and Japanese food, along with a newfound interest in Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine -- especially Mediterranean seafood, with its emphasis on simple ingredients and fresh, seasonal catches.

Adrian has a genuine love of travel and appreciation for the unique experiences that only immersion in foreign countries and cultures can provide. He also has plenty of first-hand knowledge of what makes for a truly memorable trip. He would be happy to speak with you about your travel plans and help ensure that your culinary vacation with The International Kitchen exceeds your wildest imagination.

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Darlene Pereda –  Marketing and Communications

Darlene has a master’s degree in International Public Service with a concentration in nonprofit management from DePaul University. Building on her undergraduate work, her graduate degree has helped her acquire a deeper understanding of international development and global humanitarian affairs, as well as taught her essential competencies and skills for managing international projects.

Beyond her professional interests, she is also very passionate about animal welfare and animal rights both in the US and abroad. She is also an avid traveler who, so far, has visited Turkey, Greece, Italy, Croatia, France, Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Colombia, Peru, the UK, Netherlands and Czech Republic. She believes travel helps broaden the mind and make us more empathetic, understanding world citizens.

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Karen Herbst – Founder

Karen Herbst was for many years a research editor for Playboy Magazine, followed by a stint as a producer and director for five talk shows at CBS radio. She then left the full-time work force to raise her family of three sons. Upon her return in 1983, she chose to enter the travel industry, where she specialized in small group travel to Italy and France. In 1994 she decided to combine her travel experience with her lifelong passion for food and wine to create the The International Kitchen. She has personally handpicked the chefs, locations and excursions and works to ensure that every International Kitchen experience is unique, professional, and richly rewarding. Karen is recognized as one of the innovators of culinary travel, and, as an authority, is an advisor and frequent speaker to industry and professional groups. (She was a featured speaker at the Annual Symposium of the International Culinary Tourism Association, held in Helsingborg, Sweden in September 2006 and most recently a member of an illustrious panel on gastronomy and travel at the International Luxury Travel Mart, in Cannes, France, December 2012.)

She is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Italian Travel Promotional Council, a non-profit organization working in conjunction with the Italian Government Tourist Office, as well as a member of the Slow Food Organization and the James Beard Foundation. In 2004 Karen was the honored recipient of the La Medaille d'Argent du Tourisme, the French Silver Medal of Tourism awarded by the French government. In 2008 The International Kitchen was given the coveted award of "Best Special Interest Product" by the French Government Tourist Office.

Karen has been traveling internationally for over 30 years and has been to Argentina, Belgium, Cambodia, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy (over 150 times) Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, Portugal, San Marino, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom,  Uruguay, and Vietnam.

Karen is also a member of the Chaine des Rotisseurs, an international gastronomic association dedicated to both professionals and non professionals worldwide who appreciate cuisine, wine and dining.

In October 2015 Karen decided to retire and Richard Davis and Peg Kern, two long-time employees, took over as owners. She retains an active role in the company, and still travels to explore new destinations!

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Liz SanFilippo Hall – Web & Travel Coordinator

A native to the Chicago area, Liz SanFilippo Hall earned a BA in English/Writing at Augustana College and a Masters in Humanities/Creative Writing at The University of Chicago, where she immersed herself into the study of France and the French Revolution. Through vacations, college excursions, and writing research trips, she’s traveled through England, Spain, France, Italy, and Germany, exploring the history and culture that Western Europe has to offer. In addition to her passion for travel, history, writing, and food, Liz enjoys running, swimming, and art, both the kind she creates and studies. She and her husband Tyler recently welcomed the newest addition to their family, a daughter.

"I started at The International Kitchen excited to combine two of my loves: food and travel. I stuck around — and love coming to work — because of how much fun it is to work on and create cooking vacations and experiences that lead to so many great memories for our clients. It's always a pleasure to have someone contact us after their trip, whether by email, phone, or social media, to say what a wonderful time they had, and how they can't wait to go back!"

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Jeanette Benedetti Boylan – Special Projects Coordinator

Tuscan born and bred, Jeanette Benedetti Boylan brings to The International Kitchen a love of good food and her culinary skills acquired at her Nonna's side. In fact, she was featured by the Chicago Sun Times for her famous Italian home cooking; if you were lucky, you were one of those honored with a dinner invitation! As Sales Manager for Alitalia Airlines, Jeanette traveled the world gaining an extensive appreciation for a wide variety of cuisines. She was also able to indulge her love of opera, working in the Artistic Administration Department of the Lyric Opera for a number of years. Jeanette was the recipient of a coveted award from the province of Lucca, acknowledging her as an Italian born American who has achieved notable success in her chosen field of business, and she was one of the founding members of the Chicago chapter of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, an association honoring authentic Italian restaurants, and is also a member of the Chicago Sister Cities International Program for Milan. Jeanette's charm, warm smile and big heart are rivaled only by her love and appreciation of good food! Click here to see Jeanette's recent food review in the "At Play" section of the Chicago Tribune (September 27, 2007)!

Sharon Kurth – Financial Manager

Sharon brings extensive financial expertise that she has gathered through over 30 years of her accounting career. She is delighted to be a part of The International Kitchen, as it reflects her love of travel, art, multi-cultural interests, and did we mention the wonderful food? Sharon's upbeat spirit and contagious laughter is greatly appreciated by the rest of the office. Currently her favorite cities are Florence and Sant' Agata sui Due Golfi, where she toured with The International Kitchen staff. But what does Sharon love more than art, travel and food? Her beautiful granddaughter, with whom she spends as much time as possible! And if being a grandmother didn't keep her busy enough, Sharon is also the Oak Park/Near West Suburbs Chapter Coordinator for Project Linus, a non-profit organization that provides blankets and afghans to comfort children in need.

Charles Blair – Technical Consultant and Product Development

Charles Blair is a native of the United Kingdom who has lived in the United States for many years. He holds advanced degrees from the University of Chicago, where he is employed as Director of the Digital Library Development Center. In addition to his technical expertise, Charles has traveled extensively in Europe, making him a valuable asset in our product development. His appreciation of Italian culture and tradition is enhanced by his study and practice of Italian and Spanish Renaissance swordsmanship.

Neil Burger – Photographer/Videographer

After having studied Digital Photography and the Fine Arts, Neil whisked off on a career as a videographer for the National Geographic channel in Washington D.C., opening doors he never dreamed of, taking him around the world shooting video and photography. It was there he realized that still-photography was his true passion. Later, when offered a position as a Professor of Studio Photography at Bradley University, he gladly accepted. A year later, Neil felt as if there was still more for him to achieve. He moved back to sweet home Chicago, and for the past seven years Neil has spearheaded Stronghold Photography. Stronghold primarily caters to the needs of designers, advertisers and marketing specialists, providing a wide range of photography and imaging needs. Neil concentrates mainly in the realm of food photography. His passions has graced him with the opportunity to travel the world shooting eclectic food for a variety clients. In addition to Neil’s almost unhealthy passion for creating images and traveling the globe, he also enjoys playing disc golf, reading, mountain biking, and anything chocolate.

Leonardo Balli

An avid traveller, Leonardo Balli has explored countries across the globe but always returns happily to his hometown of Florence, Italy. Leonardo has been involved in different aspects of the travel industry since attending a special Italian High School for Tourism. He lived in London for a number of his formative years and has worked in all aspects of hotel and resort management – from porter, part of a summer animation team, to Director. For an Italian tour operator he has led small and large groups abroad and even managed summer operations on the island of Crete. He has been owner and director of this own tour company since 1995 and is proud to be a close collaborator with The International Kitchen since its inception. Leonardo works to ensure top quality, control, service and of course cuisine (!) for all International Kitchen programming in Tuscany. When not traveling Leonardo enjoys spending time with his daughter Olympia, going to the movies and listening to music from his wonderful terrace overlooking the Tuscan hills. His favorite city (other than Florence)? London. A destination he still has yet to visit ? Chile.

Eleonora Bugetti

Ele was born and raised in the countryside outside of Florence, where she still lives with her family. Her passion for local traditions and interest in tracing her ancestors' biographies are part of her everyday life: she is currently working on a special degree on the History of Tuscany at Florence University. As well, she works for the Essence of Italy office (The International Kitchen's local representative and office in Florence), where she takes an active part in creating our cooking packages. Ele is also an accomplished singer and songwriter! She hopes to have the opportunity to help people understand that Tuscany is something more than a tourist destination: each town has an own story to tell through its art, its food, its inhabitants. Through her work she hopes to provide you with the essential instruments to be a good listener to these stories: you don't need anything more!!