A.J. Faung, Head Chef
Head Chef A.J. Faung hails from a variety of American cities, such as Baltimore, Chicago and Tampa/Clearwater. A.J. has dual citizenship in the United States and Australia, a mix of Chinese and Eastern European ancestry, and a crazy passion for food.
A.J. started his career in the service industry as most people do: bussing tables and doing dishes. Working with food has always been his first love. He says, “There is nothing better than preparing food that brings joy to people.”
A.J. attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Fl., graduating Magna Cum Laude. After graduation, he started working for Martin Yan from “Yan Can Cook” a P.B.S. television series. A.J. worked on recipe testing and research for a companion cookbook to the series. His hard work was rewarded when he was asked to work on the television series back kitchen preparing dishes to show during different parts of the cooking process. A.J. then went to work in one of the Yan Can Restaurants, working his way up to Executive Chef. During his time there, the restaurant was awarded a Top 20 Asian restaurant in the U.S.
Chef Yan has been a long-time mentor for A.J. . He says, “I have been fortunate to learn the fundamentals of Wok cookery [ from Yan ] and how to balance sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy Asian ingredients.”
A.J. has also worked at one the oldest restaurants in San Francisco’s Fishermans Wharf, Aliotos, where he was privileged to learn the family recipe for Ciopinno (a hearty Italian seafood stew). Faung has lived in Panama City, Panama as a Corporate Chef for a local restaurant group… and now his journey brings him to the City of Oaks.
Amanda Manares, Event Manager
Amanda Manares joins the Zinda team with extensive private events and restaurant experience. After 2+ years as the private events director with the Hibernian Company, Amanda created and produced two major events for Triangle Fashion Week, then started her own planning/consulting company. Amanda's experience in brand development, event conceptualization and design, development of strategic marketing and promotional plans, and logistical management makes her an invaluable addition to the team. She enjoys coordinating events ranging from large corporate presentations, dinner for awards ceremonies, fundraisers, art exhibits, fashion shows, celebrity concerts, and television/radio promotional events.
Amanda also has a passion for fashion and currently resides as the Executive Editor for Carolina STYLE Magazine. When she isn't busy planning private event experiences, she is out socializing or at home being an amazing wife and mother. When talking about her journey, Amanda says, " I have met the most amazing people personally and professionally along the way, and I'm in the true prime of my life."
Kyle Benzick, Manager
Kyle is a Raleigh native, well, Cary really. He moved to Charlotte, North Carolina several years ago and gained most of his experience from managing several establishments there. After moving back to Raleigh and working for the Hibernian Group, Kyle became the Beverage Director for Eschelon Hospitality. Once he got a taste of Zinda, he knew that he had to be a part of this project. Now Kyle wears two hats in the company; still Beverage Director and now Manager of Zinda too. In his off time you’ll likely find him on a golf course.
Dutch Morrel, Manager
Dutch is originally from Plymouth, Michigan where he grew up with two brothers and two sisters. Since moving to Raleigh, North Carolina just a short 3 years ago he has finally found his home with Eschelon Hospitality. Dutch’s favorite thing about Zinda is the staff; “they are very structured,” he says. When he is not working you can probably catch him kicking a ball and reminiscing about the days he played soccer for Sienna Heights University