Perhaps the hospitality world’s most important service organization dedicated to women continues to pay tribute to one of the most famous chefs France ever produced — a man born in the 19th century.
Les Dames d’Escoffier International, an international philanthropic organization, is named for French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935), and the Pacific Northwest is now home to three of its chapters.
Auguste Escoffier began honing his talents at age 13 and went on to an acclaimed culinary career in France. Known as “The King of Chefs,” he devoted 62 years to the industry as an accomplished chef, writer and restaurateur. He’s also been recognized as the creator of a la carte dining.
The year following his death, a group that included some of his former students established Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of New York, Inc.
Four decades later, Carol Brock, food editor at New York Daily News, knew women were an emerging and vital part of the culinary world, so she began her work to ensure they were recognized. Her goal was to improve the image, development and the acceptance of women in the food, wine and hospitality industries.
In 1976, Brock founded the inaugural chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier in New York City. A trailblazer, Brock went on to inspire women through her distinguished seven-decade career before her passing in 2020 at age 96.
Membership has included luminaries such as Alice Waters, a chef, author and founder of acclaimed Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif.; Lidia Bastianich, an Italian-American chef, TV host, author, restaurateur and Eataly USA partner; Diane Clement, celebrated chef, restaurateur, author, TV host, 1956 Olympian and founding member of LDEI chapter in British Columbia; and Marcella Hazan, an Italian cook and writer, whose cookbooks gained her credit for helping to introducing Italian cooking methods to the United States and United Kingdom.
And then there’s Julia Child, the famed chef, TV celebrity and author who died in 2004, but whose Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts has partnered with LDEI for more than a decade.
Hospitality leaders in Seattle created the region’s first chapter in 1989, followed by British Columbia in 1992 and Portland in 2015.
The Rose City chapter also is the youngest in the average age of its 27 members. Nine have achieved success in wine-related careers, including James Beard Award-winning author Katherine Cole and Anne Hubatch, owner/winemaker at Helioterra Wines.
“We have begun doing more philanthropy in the past year since re-engaging our group post COVID,” Hubatch says. “We are raising funds to offer scholarships as well as mentorship.”
They focus on assisting area women interested in gastronomy, fine beverages or hospitality to enter these fields. They also serve as mentors to help those wishing to elevate their positions within those industries. Their site is LDeiPortland.com.
The British Columbia chapter features 51 women leaders. Many may recognize a familiar name among its membership — Christa-Lee McWatters, daughter of the late Harry McWatters, affectionately known as “the Grandfather of British Columbia wine.”
This chapter is among those granting scholarships, with up to 30 scholarships a year of $1,000 to $3,000 awarded to British Columbia residents, to be used in the calendar year the award is granted. Scholarships are based on merit, ability, commitment and passion of the applicant.
Restaurateur/sommelier Van Doren Chan applied her scholarship toward the wine chemistry course at University of California-Davis. Alexia David, a bartender, will use her award toward the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers of British Columbia’s diploma program. Writer/editor Fiona Morrow, server Aline Kiyomi Kodama and writer/podcaster Abby Wiseman have each been awarded a scholarship to gain WSET Level 2 certification. Assistant winemaker Brianna McKeage is pursuing a certificate at UC-Davis. Hospitality manager Jennifer Tocher is studying the Wine Scholar Guild’s French Wine Scholar program, and lab technician Janice Acio is using her scholarship toward a winemaking certificate at UC-Davis. Their site is LesDames.ca.
In Washington state, the Les Dames d’Escoffier Seattle Chapter — co-founded by storied Prosser winemaker Kay Simon — raises funds for scholarships, serves as mentors and supports community outreach programs and sustainable agriculture projects. They have buoyed scholarships for wine and culinary segments of community colleges, and several awardees have been hired in the wine industry or have taken internships.
Camille Vancile was among those. Mentored by chapter co-founder Bev Gruber, Camille earned a Les Dames scholarship to attend the Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle College. Along the way, chapter member Jamie Peha hired Camille to work for Peha Promotions and then the Auction of Washington Wines. She embraced the roles of winery relations and auction manager. Alas, Camille passed away in March of this year of metastatic breast cancer at age 43.
“She loved her position, and the wine industry loved her,” Peha says. “Her people skills were exemplary, and she is greatly missed.”
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates has supported internship opportunities for professionals looking to advance their careers, from operations to winemaking and marketing, and wine is a big part of the Les Dames group locally and nationally, Peha says.
“In Washington state, wine is the No. 1 agricultural commodity and plays a huge role in hospitality, restaurants, catering, consumer-facing business and economic impact to the state,” says Peha, who encourages women to learn more at LesDamesSeattle.com.
There are 45 Les Dames d’Escoffier chapters worldwide, including Mexico, France and the United Kingdom, with a total membership of 2,400 women leaders. The organization offers a mentoring network, the opportunity to partner with the membership, assist with philanthropic efforts and has a relief fund supporting established nonprofit organizations to benefit women who have been impacted by crises. Individuals living and working in related industries for five or more years in the state where a chapter is located may apply for membership.
Involvement in this philanthropic organization is a worthy way to help boost the culinary, craft beverage and hospitality industries throughout local communities in the great Northwest and beyond. The international site is at Ldei.org.