Click on a name below to learn more about each member of our talented team.
Haidar Karoum - Executive Chef
Haidar Karoum is the Executive Chef of Proof, the 120-seat wine-centric restaurant, featuring modern American cuisine. A Washington, DC native, Chef Karoum traveled extensively throughout Europe with his family, becoming familiar with different foods and cultures at a young age. He was captivated by the culinary world, finding inspiration not only in noteworthy gastronomy havens, such as Harrod’s food hall, but also at home. His Lebanese father, an excellent cook, instilled in him a love for Mediterranean flavors which, in turn, has influenced Chef Karoum’s menu at Proof.
Chef Karoum attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), completing an extended externship at Michel Richard Citronelle before graduating in 1995 with his associate’s degree in culinary arts. After serving as a line cook at Gerard’s Place, Chef Karoum returned to the CIA pursue his bachelor’s degree in culinary management.
In 1998, Chef Karoum joined Restaurant Nora as Sous Chef for restaurateur Nora Poullion. Poullion’s dedication to local and organic produce greatly influenced Chef Karoum’s cooking. He developed strong personal relationships with farmer suppliers, most notably Path Valley Growers, a collective of Amish farmers located in South Central Pennsylvania dedicated to sustainable agriculture, and Tuscarora Organic Growers, a cooperative that manages 30 acres of organic grounds in Pennsylvania for fruits and vegetables.
After a two-year stint at Restaurant Nora, including a promotion to Chef de Cuisine, Chef Karoum was asked to head the kitchen at sister restaurant, Asia Nora. As Executive Chef, Chef Karoum immersed himself in Eastern flavor profiles, learning to meld Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and Japanese influences into his seasonal, organic menu. He also developed significant seafood supplier relationships, working with Jim Chambers of Prime Seafood, with whom Chef Karoum bonded over their shared interest in fishing, and Nancy Hill of Morningstar Seafood, who supplied Chef Karoum with day boat scallops and fresh Peekytoe crab meat that she purchased directly off the docks in Stonington, Maine.
In January 2007, Chef Karoum left Asia Nora to become Executive Chef of Proof, bringing with him the passion for locally grown and organically raised produce that he has developed throughout his career. Chef Karoum’s menu at Proof features clean, balanced cuisine that draws upon fresh, seasonal ingredients and Mediterranean and Asian influences to compliment the restaurant’s 1,000+ bottle wine list.
Michael James - General Manager and Maitre D’
Born in Summerville, NJ, Michael James has been in the restaurant business since he was 15. His interest in fine food and wine took shape in his early 20s when Michael worked as a server at the upscale Barone’s Restaurant in Chambersburg, and later at Chianti’s in Trenton. During this time, owner Frank Chiantese took Michael under his wing, teaching him about the restaurant business and the importance of customer service.
In 1996, Michael moved to Washington, D.C. and began a close relationship with Fabrizio and Ingrid Aielli. Michael served as a waiter at their first restaurant, Goldoni, where his exceptional work led the Aiellis to select him as the opening bar manager of their next restaurant, Osteria Goldoni in 1999. Michael spent that summer touring southern Italy, immersing himself in the food, wine and culture in preparation for his new post.
During his two-year stint at Osteria, Michael was promoted to maitre d’ and continued to hone his base of wine knowledge. In 2001, The Aielli asked Michael to help open Teatro Goldoni and serve as its general manager. Over the next five years, Michael became known throughout DC for his outstanding customer service and restaurant management.
In 2007, Michael joined the team at Proof as general manager and maitre d’. At his new venture, Michael is responsible for all front-of-the-house activities, and continues the tradition of fine service for which he has become known.
Joe Quinn - Wine Director
Joe Quinn was a part of the opening waitstaff at Proof; in the summer of 2010 he became a sommelier at Proof and at sister restaurant Estadio under Wine Director Sebastian Zutant.
Joe’s interest in wine came about almost by accident. During his senior year of college, he took what was intended to be a temporary job in a specialty food, beer and wine shop. Not long after, he became the shop’s beer buyer. The owner insisted that Joe familiarize himself with the shop’s wine selection. His interest was not strong until a glass of the spectacular 1998 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape was presented to him. Like any great wine, this one told the story of a place and a time, and it was utterly captivating to Joe. He had to learn more. He took over wine buying for the shop.
In 2003, Joe left the states for a six month stay in Spain, but didn’t return for two years. While teaching English to pay the bills, he steeped himself in the food and wine culture of the country, learning how the cuisine and the wine of a place evolve in tandem and influence one another. He left Spain with a powerful appreciation for its diverse wine landscape and a strong belief that wine and food belong together on the table as partners.
Upon returning to Washington, Joe spent two years developing a high-end wine retailer’s Web business and online content. Tasting and writing about dozens of wines a week, he honed his ability to communicate, translating wine’s elusive qualities into useful vocabulary. When Proof began looking for staff in anticipation of its 2007 opening, Joe jumped at a new challenge. The restaurant environment offered an opportunity to work with wine and food together, helping guests to find that perfect wine for the dish in front of them.
The varied influences and vivid flavors of Chef Haidar Karoum’s menus at Proof and Estadio present an exciting world of opportunities for wine pairing; there is always a chance for a surprise combination. Joe loves the challenge of guiding guests to a new experience. And with the restaurants' massive array of wine offerings, there’s always a new discovery to be made.
Adam Bernbach - Bar Manager
Adam Bernbach’s love of mixing began at the age of 7 when he made his first egg cream. Not long after, his career in hospitality began in the resorts and restaurants of his native Cape Cod.
After moving to Washington DC when he was 16, Adam began apprenticing at a micro coffee-roastery near his high school. It was as an apprentice and later, as a roaster, that he first appreciated the importance of tasting. Moving from estate -grown coffees to illicit sips of single-malt scotch, he fell in love with well-crafted spirits, laying the foundation for an interest in mixology that would follow later.
After stints bartending at a pool hall, a jazz club, and an art-house movie theater, Adam became the Bar Manager at Cafe Saint-Ex. At Saint-Ex, Adam built an extensive whisky list and also took the opportunity to share in his employers’ interest by beginning his education in wine and beer.
In 2006, Adam became the opening Bar Manager at PS7s Restaurant. There, Adam was able to experiment with unusual ingredients and preparations in crafting an ever-changing cocktail list.
In 2007, Adam returned to the Saint-Ex family as General Manager of their sister establishment, Bar Pilar. At Pilar, Adam immersed himself in his craft working outside the box in pursuit of new and unusual formulations. As part of this process Adam created the Tuesday Cocktail Sessions, for which he gained a reputation for creative artistry."
Coming to Proof, Adam, again, has the fortune of working with respected colleagues who are already close friends. He will work closely with Executive Chef Haidar Karoum to craft drinks that mesh well with the cuisine and compliment Haidar’s strong tradition of seasonality.
Sarah Luckenbill - Events Director
Sarah Luckenbill was born and raised in Robesonia, Pennsylvania. Growing up, her favorite foods included chicken fingers, well-done burgers, and packaged ramen
Sarah attended Penn State University and in 2010 earned her Bachelors Degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management. During her time at Penn State, she participated in competition cheerleading and was a gymnastics instructor. Dance, cheerleading, and gymnastics have always been among her favorite activities.
In July 2010, Sarah moved from Pennsylvania to Northern Virginia and joined the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, first as a manager at Rustico in Alexandria, and a few months later as part of the opening team at the second Rustico in Arlington. Working with Rustico's outstanding team, she grew as a manager. She particularly credits Chef Steve Manino for helping to expand her palate beyond packaged ramen and well done beef, and beer director Greg Angert for indoctrinating her into the world of craft beer.
In June 2012, Sarah left Rustico and joined Thompson Hospitality as the bar manager at American Tap Room in Arlington, where she used her knowledge of craft beer to broaden and enhance their beer selection.
In April 2013, Sarah joined Proof as the events director, where her responsibilities include all group dining and special events. If you have a large party or a special occasion, Sarah will personally assist you to maximize your dining experience at Proof.
She can be reached at 202.737.7663, or at
Mark Kuller - Proprietor
Mark Kuller, a native of New York City, first developed his love for food from his parents. His mom, Milly, taught him the joys of comfort food – like brisket and meatloaf . Meanwhile, his dad, Sol, would take him to great lower Manhattan foodie havens like Katz’s delicatessen, Vincent’s Clam Bar, and Russ and Daughters. Sol also would smuggle Italian charcuterie into Milly’s kosher kitchen and dish it out to Mark and his brothers on the sly. Pretty soon, Mark was on the street corner hocking his yarmulke for ham. Let’s face it, when you’re kosher, pork products are like crack.
Until his mid-20s, Mark’s interest in wine was limited to Manischewitz and an occasional sangria. After graduating from UCLA Law School, Mark experimented with California cabernet and chardonnay, largely as a means of getting his girlfriend drunk. After taking a job at the Treasury Department, he became friends with Bill McKee, who would become his mentor in tax law and in wine. One evening, Mark discovered a treasure trove of old Bordeaux in a DC liquor store. Upon learning of this cache from Mark, Bill promptly bought all of it. Bill opened a bottle of 1966 Latour to reward Mark and a passion was born. That passion grew, along with Mark’s cellar, as he started smuggling bottles into his home in much the same way Sol would smuggle prosciutto into Millie’s kitchen.
As a lawyer with a diverse international client base, Mark had the opportunity to visit the world’s great cities, where he made it his business to seek out the finest restaurants and wine shops. Before long, the fantasy of opening a wine-centric restaurant in Washington, DC took hold. After years of distractions and detours, that fantasy became a reality with the opening of Proof. Calling on a “dream team” of local restaurant professionals, Mark is committed to making Proof a world class dining and wine destination. His next goal is to make sure that none of the 7,000 bottles that reside in his private cellar are left for his two beautiful children, Max and Candace.