Ann Ziata


In culinary school, I learned how to prepare food to help people feel their best. I especially love cooking with First Descents because they bring my favorite ingredients to the table: community, adventure, and fun. It’s also the few times a year I get to escape NYC and live out my outdoorsy alter-ego dreams. Good food, enjoyed with great company, surrounded by mountains, trees, and fresh air, what could be better?  

Briana Bruinooge


As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Briana has always enjoyed food as fuel and nourishment, especially for outdoor activities. She first learned about FD from medical volunteers while taking an avalanche training course on Mount Washington.

Bouncing from NH to MT she finished her undergrad in Nutrition at the University of New Hampshire and completed her Dietetic internship from Montana State University. Her first FD program was whitewater kayaking in 2018 where she continued to practice cooking delicious and nutritious food. She soon experienced the magic of FD and how it is so much more than just good food and good fun, but also a community that supports one another.

She currently works in NH as a nutrition counselor specializing in sports nutrition. Her favorite activities are skiing and rock climbing. 

You can learn more about what she does here: 




Bridget O’Boyle


Bridget, aka Birdsh*t, loves cooking, laughter and bringing people together around food – all the things that make cooking with First Descents her dream job. She has been cooking since she was a little one on a hobby farm in Minnesota and hones her craft by a lot of practice, learning from other chefs, and a whole lot of trial and error.

Birdsh*t is part of the cancer community, she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at 33 and thankfully found First Descents a few years later and was a participant in a white water kayaking trip in Hood River Oregon. She joined the FD Chef team in 2016 and has happily been out cooking it on programs all over the USA.

When not cooking for FD, Birdsh*t works in Marketing, cooks for friends and neighbors, hangs out with her husband Jim “Benchy”, 2 hungry college kids, and travels as much as humanly possible.

Clara Darling


Originally from Auburn, AL, Clara moved to Denver, CO to persue a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Nutrition. She began her journey with First Descents through an internship collaboration with Johnson & Wales University. This unique opportunity to share her passion for cooking and nutrition in beautiful outdoor settings with an incredible culture of people has influenced the trajectory of her career.

Since 2013 Clara has contributed to over 30 week long programs and helped to shape the nutrition program for First Descents. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Nutrition Science, as well as a dietetic internship, through Samford University in Birmingham, AL.

Diana Cornell


“Dirty” Diana is 100% sure that all her past roads have led her to First Descents. Lots of theatre, working with incredibly talented and generous people. Diagnosed with MS at 25. Graduated from the Natural Gourmet Institute. Owner of a pie company called This Pie Is Nuts where she spent 10 years making pies for people all over NYC (what a ride that was!)

She is now officially a nature girl thanks to her time at FD and says hi to all the trees she encounters.

Dirty can’t get enough of her family, her dog and eating as much delicious food as she can get into her stomach. What a privilege it is to share meals with everyone on these adventures!

Gabrielle Kennedy

"Disco Panther"

Gabrielle (FD name Disco Panther) has been working with First Descents since 2014. Her culinary career was sparked by a zeal for nutrition and healthy eating when she began reading about the topic over a decade ago. A co-founder of Malcolm Fontier Accessories (now Pakt Bags), she decided to leave her job in the fashion industry in 2012 and enroll at the Natural Gourmet Institute — the world’s only accredited health-supportive culinary school. She started out as a personal chef and freelance caterer in New York City, catering large and small parties, teaching culinary education and building programs and menus. She has volunteered for the Food Bank of New York and the James Beard House, where she worked with some of the world’s most famous chefs, assisting on elaborate meals in the New York City kitchen.
More recently she has shifted her focus to cooking for the greater good, where she has been a culinary influencer and educator for First DescentsCape Wellness Collaborative and The Mercy Ships. Her culinary journey has led her to kitchens all over the world, from cooking for 500 people aboard a hospital ship to cooking for cancer and other life-altering illnesses.
Gabrielle is passionate about using seasonal, locally sourced, organic ingredients. Her love for plant based cuisine propels her mission: to make vegetables the star of the show without sacrificing flavor or elegance. She considers herself a vegetable-forward chef, having traveled the world to learn about rustic food preparation in different cultures.
Currently, she is a freelance chef and educator, focusing her skills and passion on working with non-profit organizations to strengthen human rights initiatives. Gabrille has a breadth of skills in her apron, but her diverse interests (chef education, non-profit kitchens, emergency relief cheffing, urban farming work, recipe testing/developing, travel cheffing) all have a commonality — humanitarianism, purpose and helping communities.

Greg Spiegel

"Uncle Buck"

Hailing from the great state of Delaware, FD provides me with the chance to cook loving food for amazing people!

My passion and respect for all things culinary is amplified by our common nutrition mission, love of the outdoors and shared camaraderie.

If it not in the kitchen, come join me outside to kick a ball, read a book, or brush my pretend hair.

Jonah Chasin


Always ready for my next adventure, I (Jonah “BigMo” Chasin) moved to NYC from Boston to attend the Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) in 2001.  Since then I have worked in restaurants, for caterers, and as a private Chef.  For the past 12 years, I have been the Executive Chef at a private school for low income kids in Harlem.  It is the first vegan school in NYC.

After learning about First Descents from many colleagues, I knew I had to get on board. Cooking healthy foods in gorgeous settings for beautiful humans combined with a little outdoor adventure is my recipe for happiness.

In my spare time I love traveling, snacks, cats, and laughs. I can’t wait to see you on the river!

Jose Contreras


Born and raised in NY the youngest of a big family where food, and community have always been a big part of life. Growing up our home was the hub of not only my immediate family but the community around us as well where all were always welcome. With little to no choice I’ve been a sous chef since I was a child by way of my mother, a passionate home cook and my oldest brother who’s been a chef and restaurant owner for the last 30 years. Honestly, I never thought I would end up in the kitchen career wise. That is until knowing how to prepare and cook delicious meals for my health coaching clients became of utmost importance. Having worked front of the house, running cafes and restaurants, a degree in Foods & Nutrition and a health coaching certificate in hand, I found that culinary school was the last missing piece to my education. Part of the last graduating class of The Natural Gourmet Institute where a lot of our FD chefs graduated from as well. I was inspired to attend the school for its focus on health supportive cooking and ideals. I knew I had found a home while attending.

After graduating the chef training program I spent some time working in professional kitchens in NYC until I realized I wanted more out of my culinary career. My love of meeting new people and traveling was snuffed out working long hours in the back of the house, so I started private cheffing with the belief that there was even further possibility for better alignment with myself and my career. Finally It all came together here at First Descents where I have been able to travel, meet, cook and eat delicious and intentionally prepared meals with all of you.

Julia Deppe


Julia (aka Nomad) believes in the deliciousness and powers of eating real, whole foods: simple, balanced dishes and flavors, all with a nutritional punch. She has been cooking with First Descents since 2015.

Upon being prescribed a restricted diet, Julia hesitantly embraced the change, and began experimenting in her Brooklyn apartment.  She soon realized it wasn’t impossible to eat well within the given restraints. Inspired to help others redefine their relationships with food, Julia focused on creating nourishing, feel-good meals for individuals with varying health hurdles.

A departure from the photo world, and subsequent training and certification from The Natural Gourmet Institute in 2012, led Julia to a variety of NYC’s health-focused, plant-based kitchens. Not long after, Julia was tasked with the creation of the opening menu and kitchen management of Philadelphia’s first organic, plant-based, gluten-free, dairy-free eatery.

Love of travel and a desire for new experiences moved Julia to California, where she first discovered the beauty that is FD. She has continued to expand her cooking repertoire while working as a Health-Supportive Private Chef, and is super grateful for the opportunity to share her passion with all of the friendly faces of FD.

Leah Ferreira


Leah Ferreira aka “¡Torta!” is a wild child of Mother Earth, a rolling stone, and a wahine warrior. Their culinary background is rooted to familia cooking lessons, and Kapi’olani’s Culinary Arts program in Oahu, HI. They believe that food is medicine; and cooking from the heart with intention and love makes the best recipe for delicious soul food! First Descent is the apex of all their passions: healthy, nourishing food, outdoor adventures, community building, and lots of free flowing aloha!

When “¡Torta!” is not Out Living It with First Descent they are living their best life through exploring nature, roaming the open forest roads, cycling, surfing, climbing, stretching, or spending time with choosen ohana and their sweet furry buddy, Atlas!

Mia Lewis


Mia Lewis serves as the Chef Manager for First Descents – a role she is truly grateful for. After raising her five children and being in the hair industry for 20 years, Mia became extremely curious about the food she was consuming and how it was impacting her body. This personal journey led her to the Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) to fulfill her goal of sharing the healing properties of food with others.

Mia found First Descents shortly after she graduated from NGI in 2013 as a health supportive chef, and has been serving the organization ever since. She instantly saw how, just like outdoor adventure, food can help participants heal, inspire them to make lifestyle changes, and provide a new opportunity for “challenge by choice” by eating different/healthier food options that may be new to them.

After working nearly 40 programs with First Descents, Mia assumed an even more rewarding role in 2018 as Chef Manager. She has since grown the chef team from six people to more than 25 – all trained in supportive cooking. While she still gets out on programs, building this team has been one of her most rewarding experiences.

Mia’s journey to discover ways to nurture and heal the body didn’t stop with delicious food. During the pandemic, Mia was craving community and other ways to help people feel better in their bodies. This led her to pursue her 200-hour yoga teacher training certification and she is now not only teaching yoga in her local community, but is sprinkling it into FD programs as well.

The most joyful part of Mia’s job is knowing that she has been able to provide participants with the gift of nourishment. There is nothing quite like the feeling when she runs into a participant years down the line who are still eating plant-based or is feeling so much better because of diet changes they were inspired to make.

Rachel Hogan


After a life altering illness left Rachel wheelchair bound for two years in her early 20s, she decided to live “out living it” long before she knew what that was. Having always had a passion for sharing love and community through food, Rachel embarked on a journey to a nutritionally based culinary school in Denver, Colorado in 2013. The Universe knew exactly what it was doing… Having called her own health challenges her darkest hour and her biggest blessing, the entire mission of First Descents immediately resonated in Rachel‘s heart.

2013 was her first program and she has never looked back- working as a lead chef for First Descents on locations across the country. Aside from being a certified natural foods chef and licensed massage therapist specializing in clinical movement, Rachel is an avid outdoors woman. She raises and trains upland game hunting dogs and can be found cooking and guiding hunts in rural South Dakota in the fall. Her passion truly lies in giving back to “special population“ young adults that are so dear to her heart.

For Rachel, or “Wizard” as she is known among the First Descents community, food is love. Food is that “holiday at grandmas”, loved up from the inside emotion. Food is indulgence and healing. Her mission is to share love, indulgence, and deliciousness in a way that facilitates healing to body and soul.

Sue Baldassano

"Bumble Bee"

Long time cook, culinary arts instructor and artist hailing from Brooklyn, NY. Inspired by my time with FD and so happy to be back this Summer 2023!

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