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Dallas’ Les Dames d’Escoffier


Last year’s Raiser Grazer was all about fun—and funding scholarships.

Photography by Lisa Stewart

Women in the culinary arts could argue that we owe a debt of gratitude to Julia Child. She not only inspired us to cook; she fostered relationships that will benefit many of us for years to come. Witness the founding of the Dallas chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, the society of accomplished women in the food, fine beverage and hospitality world: In 1978, Dallas gourmet cooking teacher Dolores Snyder studied on the French Riviera at a culinary program designed by Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking co-author, Simone Beck. While there, Dolores attended a champagne reception at the Escoffier Museum in Villeneuve-Loubet (the birthplace of trailblazing chef and writer Auguste Escoffier) that honored Carol Brock, founder of the New York chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier. Befriending Carol motivated Dolores to establish a Dallas chapter, which began with 10 founding members in 1984. See? Only two degrees of separation from Julia, who was chosen as the first recipient of LDEI’s prestigious Grande Dame award in 1977.

That tiny Dallas chapter, whose first goal was to raise $5,000 for a scholarship endowment, now boasts a membership of 100 women— including chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, culinary-school owners and teachers, professors, culinary historians, food editors and authors, hoteliers, bakers, vintners, wine merchants, media-relations specialists, dietitians, and food producers and merchants—aiming to raise $50,000 this year in scholarship money to support women in culinary school or food-science studies.

Under wise leadership, the Dallas LDEI chapter grew slowly. In 1986, a handful of the 18 chapter members represented Dallas at the first international meeting, held in New York. In addition to New York and Dallas, only Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C., had chapters, whereas nearly 40 chapters exist today, from Ann Arbor to San Diego, Boston to Hawaii, and London to Mexico.

Renie Steves, one of the Dallas chapter’s first members and a past national president, now has close friends around the world from the friendships she’s built in LDEI. Still, her heart belongs to her home group: “The amount of energy and synergy at our local meeting has only increased by the year. New blood brings new creativity for our fundraisers.”

Raising money remains top of mind throughout the year for all Dallas members, as it does Dames across the globe. Dallas takes LDEI’s education and philanthropy mission seriously, currently sponsoring 10 women enrolled at schools like the University of Houston, Texas Tech, the University of North Texas, El Centro and others.


Some of Dallas’ Les Dames

And thanks to a newer relationship with Foodways Texas, the Dallas LDEI chapter supports through an endowment two doctoral candidates in American Studies at the University of Texas in Austin. Kerry Knerr—who’s also a teaching assistant at the university and a research assistant for Foodways Texas—is studying the history of cocktails, based on her belief that “this particular kind of consumption allows for a unique window into the relationship between gender, class and the construction of public and private space.” At UT’s American Studies department, Elissa Underwood Marek is researching Texas women who have been incarcerated. “With the support and generosity of Les Dames D’Escoffi er in Dallas, I am able to interview women in Texas about their experiences with food during and aft er imprisonment. I am thankful for the chance to share such powerful stories,” Elissa says.

That’s only possible because of a significant bash the Dallas chapter throws each spring. To showcase our wealth of local, female-powered food and drink, the fundraiser (formerly called the Raiser Grazer) goes by the clever name, A Dame Good Party, and that’s just what it is. Some 500 attendees are expected to gather on March 5 at the Love Field-area venue called Sixty Five Hundred, where the 2017 theme is Women Wine Stars. ADGP takes at least half the year to plan, with members volunteering hundreds of hours to pull it off . But it’s worth all the hard work, says chapter president Courtney Luscher, co-owner of The Grape in Dallas: “Knowing that the monies we raise have a direct effect on young women’s opportunity for success in the hospitality industry means everything. Women leadership roles have grown significantly, and Les Dames has contributed directly both on the local and national level.’’ Were Julia still around, she’d have a dame good time in Dallas, we’re sure.

ADGP happens 6-9 p.m. March 5 at 6500 Cedar Springs Road in Dallas; tickets are $85 advance or $100 at the door (buy now at prekindle.com/ADGP2017).

Read more about the Dallas LDEI chapter at ldedallas.org.

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