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Meet the Staff Mondays

Michael Ortega

Sous Chef


Michael Ortega was born in the Philippines and moved to Texas when he was three years old. He’s currently been working for CYJ-Texas for one year. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in 2012 with a degree in culinary arts, Michael went on to work at The Hyatt and The Driskill in downtown Austin. Michael lives in South Austin and hopes one day to own a restaurant or bed and breakfast somewhere in Northern California or Washington. He prefers dogs to cats, and when he’s not working, he enjoys camping, hiking and pretty much anything outdoors.

Favorite food: Tacos

He’s never without: Coffee and music

Favorite motto: Hakuna Matata

If you really knew him, you’d know: I love brunch

Meet the Staff Mondays

Johnathen Abram

Executive Chef

Johnathen Abram

Johnathen Abram is currently running our kitchen at Camp Young Judaea-Texas. He’s been working here for a little over a year after joining the team in January 2015. Although he loves cooking for the many groups that come to CYJ for retreats throughout the year, his favorite time of year is during summer camp, seeing and cooking for all of the excited campers. Johnathen received his degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin in 2014 and is currently living in Lockhart with his wife and children. He’s previously worked as a Sous Chef at The Cottonseed Cafe and Deli in Martindale, Texas and served in the military.

Favorite food: Pizza. All pizza.

He’s never without: Something clever to say.

Favorite motto: Every pizza is a personal pizza if you believe in yourself.

If you really knew him, you’d know: I have a tremendous and irrational fear of birds.

Meet the Staff Mondays

Ximena De la Fuente 

Director of Sales and Customer Success


Ximena hails from Texas. She has a BA in Advertising and just received her MBA from UT last May. She’s previously worked in marketing, TV, resource development, interactive media, graphic design and grant writing for nonprofit organizations and small businesses. She’s had a myriad of jobs, which also include being a kayak and paddle board tour guide, ESL teacher, kindergarten art teacher, French tutor, graphic designer, copywriter and many others. Other than that, Ximena has a passion for social issues and has done volunteer work in countries like Croatia, Haiti, Mexico and Guatemala.

Favorite food: My favorite foods are mint chocolate ice cream and Thai food but definitely not together.

She’s never without: I’m never without sugar and I always have some kind of candy on me at all times.

Favorite motto: Enjoy the little things.

If you really knew her, you’d know: I still enjoy cartoons, I eat peanut butter out of the jar and I’m allergic to cats, cantaloupe and mushrooms.

Meet the Staff Mondays

Chelsea Seifert

Event Coordinator

staff pic chelsea

Chelsea Seifert is the newest member of the Camp Young Judaea-Texas full-time staff and couldn’t be more excited to help keep camp running smoothly in Wimberley. As an event coordinator, it is Chelsea’s job to ensure that groups coming to CYJ for retreats and conferences have everything they need for the duration of their stay, making their experience as happy as possible.

A Texas native, she was born in Burleson, TX and just recently moved to Austin this past summer. Chelsea graduated from Texas State University in May 2015 with a double major in journalism and sociology. She hopes one day to continue her education at the University of Missouri and receive her graduate degree in journalism, which will help her achieve her goal of becoming an international reporter.

Chelsea is really excited to meet everyone who stays at CYJ for retreats and is ready for a fun-filled summer during camp.

Favorite Food: Chips and salsa

She is never without: Chapstick! I literally can’t go anywhere without making sure I have lip balm handy.

Favorite Motto: Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it’s all who ever do. – Margaret Mead

If you really know her, you know:  I love doing anything and everything outside, and that’s where I prefer to spend most of my time. You also might know how much I love chocolate, themed socks and dancing.

Proud to announce – The ELC

Starting June 2016 our Retreat Center guests will get to enjoy are truly one of a kind building in our Hill Country area. Early August we started construction on The Experimental Learning Center – The ELC. Construction should be done around May 2016.

Meeting spaces:

  • 2780 SF main meeting space equipped with a coffee/drink station, AV equipment and a stage
  • 1110 SF lounge/meeting room with a after hours vending machines and a canteen
  • 2 700 SF breakout rooms

Key architectural aspect are:

  • Hill Country inspired design
  • Energy efficient materials
  • Reversed V roof with Water harvesting systems
  • Main meeting space retractable wall to an outside seating area
  • Learning opportunities for guests will be available via displays and see through walls

Spicy Kale Salad

We have been doing this recipe for the last couple of year for some of our groups. It’s amazing how much our guest now recognize kale and we don’t get as “what kind of weird lettuce is this” comments anymore. This is a simple and ridiculously tasty recipe. Warning: it’s quite spicy as written. Please adjust the spices to your own liking.


  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1/2 cup oil (hemp oil, flax oil, or another healthy oil option)
  • 2 tbsp miso (any flavour you like)
  • 2 tbsp Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or tamari)
  • 3 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
  • 2 tsp fresh (or minced) ginger


1) Wash the kale thoroughly. Remove the thick stems. Chop very finely.
2) Put all of the other ingredients in a blender and blend.
3) Pour over the kale and toss. You can also sprinkle hemp seeds on top

Hill Country Gardening

Here at Camp Young Judaea Retreat Center, we are committed to using the freshest ingredients available and there is no better way than having our very own garden on site. Throughout the year students and campers travel to the beautiful Texas Hill Country to practice home gardening while learning about the benefits of growing your own food. We grow a variety of herbs that can cope with our Austin/Hill Country dry climate, including rosemary, mint, and basil alongside many different fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers, zucchini, okra, tomatoes and watermelon. Growing your own produce in your backyard is fun for the whole family!

Interested in growing your own fresh produce? Check out this link to learn how to plant your first vegetable garden!