What did you think when you were approached 20 years ago to be a founding member of the Atlanta Les Dames d’Escoffier (LDEI) chapter?
I have been a longtime friend of Nathalie Dupree’s, and I remember her saying “I really think we ought to do a chapter here.” I was already very involved with the International Association of Culinary Professional, so I initially thought “Do we really need another organization?” The focus was a little different, of course, and there was also this element of wanting to do community service and that sort of thing. I had heard of LDEI, but before Nathalie approached me I was just way too busy to think about it. Most of us in the culinary world work long hours!
Did you see a need for the organization?
Well, I did after we started gathering and talking about it, and I learned that the focus was a little different. With LDEI, the focus was more about professionals who gather together in a community. We often selected a project to help other women in the culinary industry. This was my concept and why I was interested – to help other women really begin roads in the culinary field. I felt like I had something to offer to encourage other women to be a part of the culinary world. And I think at the time, twenty years ago, that was a much harder thing to do. Much harder than it is now.
What has been your favorite part about the chapter?
I loved getting to know the women. We had a lot of younger women who were interested in joining and they were very enthusiastic about doing some of the fundraising that we did. Meeting new people, feeling like I could be helpful to them – that was fun. I was kind of winding out of the culinary profession at that point, but I felt like I still had something to offer and that was particularly nice for me.
Can you speak to the impact you’ve seen of the organization?
When I first got involved in the food world in Atlanta, it was 1976. So it was very rare that there were any women chefs. The only women that I knew who were in the culinary world were primarily cooking teachers and nutritionists. The one exception was Nathalie, who was a television personality. A lot of people gathered around her because she was well-known, she's very social and she’s very good at connecting people. Restaurants and culinary schools were not a welcoming place for women.
One of the things that changed, and I saw this change in my own company, was hiring women to be in as many top positions as possible. And it wasn't because I was consciously trying to do that, I was just open to the fact that you know, women had a lot to offer. Lots of times women would come to me largely because I was a woman running a company and we were doing well. We had a lot of opportunity to bring on some great women staff members. But I think it’s still hard. For people who take primary care of their family, whether it's the male or the female of the family, it's still very difficult to get the kind of support necessary that’s need for the person to be able to stay in their job and also tend to their family -- sick leave, flexible hours.
I think that there were people – like Anne Quatrano – who really kind of set the tone for making her work environment friendly. Not just to women, but to everybody. I think that's one of the ways that she accomplished so much – she had a different view on how you put together a restaurant, how you ran it, how people were involved, how they were trained, and how they were supported and educated.
We have to keep pushing. By recognizing this and talking about it, I think we have another opportunity to push forward.
Do you frequently or have your previously worked with other Dames?
I knew Nathalie because I was doing some catering and so I ended up taking one of her courses at Rich’s Cooking School. Barbara Petit worked for me at Proof in the Pudding. She did a lot of work with the Taste of the NFL, she traveled all over the world for Coca-Cola doing events, and she was a prime mover and shaker in the Georgia Organics movement. Also, Carolyn O’Neil and Anne Quatrano.
What do you wish more people knew about our organization?
Women who are looking for some mentoring can look to LDEI. There are women in every aspect of food in the organization, so if you're thinking about going into a food business I think LDEI would be a great resource for that.
What does being a Dames mean to you?
At the time, I felt very honored and proud to be a member because there weren’t really other ways to be recognized in the food world. There was something that made me really proud about being a woman in the food world and it made me recognize, not only for myself but for others, that it's no small feat to have some success. It took a lot of courage, and certainly a lot of ignorance because if you knew, you might not have done it.
I loved the comradery I felt with the other members, because there's a basic understanding about what we love and what we're passionate about and what we had to face – all to do what we wanted to do.