T HE WOMEN ’S I SSU E
What do you like about the organization? Keebe It gives me a chance to meet a lot of other women that are kind of up-and-coming as well as established in the food world. Nancie We all help one another, donating food to something or
publicizing one another’s events. It’s very generous. I think the food community tends [to attract] people who are generous, who want to feed, people who want to help, want to get people together.
Les Dames d’Escoffier They founded the North Carolina chapter of the women’s culinary group in 2016, but these women have been making an impact on the food scene for decades How did the chapter get started? Nancie There’s a Les Dames chapter in Charleston that was established 10 or 12 years ago. … So I joined and was a long-distance member. [South Carolina author] Nathalie Dupree for years kept trying to get somebody to take the reins [for a North Carolina chapter]. I think you have to organize 10 or 15 people to get started. By that point, it was easy because there’s so many of us: the front of the house, the back of the house, chefs, food writers, caterers. So I moved over to this chapter. Our first fundraiser was at The Root Cellar. Spring was the chair of that program. It was just a magical, fun evening. None of us knew exactly how to do it, but we did it. We have members in Chapel Hill, Cary, Raleigh, Asheville and Charlotte. Moreton It’s exploding. As membership chair, I can tell you that
people are now emailing me and saying, “How can I join this?” Sharon You need to be nominated and have a letter of recommendation.
Keebe My impression is that part of Les Dames also was to support
and create a network for women in the kitchen because ... it was all a club that women were not really welcome in. And it was only recently that women have been taking over kitchens and owning them. Moreton When I started working in a kitchen in 1974, women were in
the kitchen, but they didn’t really want to be. It seemed like, particularly in Chapel Hill, women were working in local restaurant kitchens, a lot of them, to work their way through graduate school to get out of the kitchen. It was the men discovering that the cooking could be really fulfilling and artistic. They were getting out of graduate school or dropping out of college, like Bill Smith, to get into kitchens or they were working in the kitchen to support themselves, and then they fell in love with it. Spring, I’m sure you have a completely different perspective. Spring The kitchen was where my mother worked, and she enjoyed
it. That’s one of the places they could get jobs back then. She loved it, and I love being in the kitchen, but I like being a part of organizations, [to meet] other folks in the industry and see what they’re doing. Sharon I think the mission has changed depending on the marketplace
that you’re in. The original founder was Carol Brock in New York. [She] wanted to form an organization [that] could help people with scholarships to culinary schools. She noticed in New York restaurants there was a very disproportionate number [of women]. We’re sort of the flip-flop here – we’ve got Ashley Christensen and Andrea Reusing and people who own their own restaurants. But that’s a lot of years later from the ’70s. I think [the mission of Les Dames] is a combination of helping people get ahead who are interested in the field and then supporting them through their journey. And then later working collaboratively.
The first chapter was in New York City, around 1974 or so. There was a men’s group, Les Amis d’Escoffier, and Les Dames thought, “Why don’t we have our own group?” We’re the only statewide chapter – everybody else is a city, and it’s scattered all over the world. There’s 40-something chapters and around 2,400 members. A Paris chapter opened this year.
Nancie You mean last week? (everyone laughs)
Nancie The group used to skew older as far as when you would come in. It
Spring I had this recipe failure. I was making these oatmeal cookies. I
was people who had reached their 40s or 50s who were established. So they were the head of a family business or winery, that sort of thing.
made this huge batch and forgot to put the eggs in it. So what I did was I turned them into a bar cookie. I left the oatmeal, and I put peanut butter and chocolate chips and then topped it with more oatmeal cookie batter. It was really popular. I call them peanut butter things because I got asked, “Spring, you have more of those peanut butter things?”
Moreton But I think the younger generation of Les Dames is seeing
their involvement in the food business [more] as a career than a job. They see that this is a viable career, and it’s an honorable career and it can be so creative. It’s not just really hard work that you get in and then you’ve earned a certain amount of money and then you get out. 64
Anyone ever have a recipe that didn’t turn out?
Keebe A lot of things happen from mistakes. It’s, “what do you do?”
Motherhood of invention. – as told to Jessica Stringer
THE WOMEN’S ISSUE