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 wanted to learn more about it. It was different from the other culinary organizations because the others are mostly dedicated consumers, whereas this was something that afforded more interaction with people that were interested in what I was interested in. It was also at a time when the culinary world was awakening, more or less. Arts of the table were really coming more into the forefront. Food was more than just sustenance; it was something that needed to be appreciated. It brings families together. It brings people and ideas together.
Did you see a need for the organization?
I was already a member of International Association of Culinary Professionals and American Institute of Wine and Food, but they weren't local. Les Dames gave me the opportunity to do something on a local level and I think that's really what appealed to me more than anything.
What has been your favorite part about the chapter?
I like our events, because they incorporate education and philanthropy. Giving back in the form of the scholarships to deserving women -- I really like to see that. And working with the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I really like all facets of it and I think that's why I have served it and--as I used to say, “I do everything but windows, but I do windows too.”
I also like that it’s local, but you’re able to get outside your box. I was the International Treasurer for two years and had the opportunity to do a little travelling.
What inspires you about the future of LDEI Atlanta?
Afternoon in the Country. The event started as multiple small dinner parties with some very influential cookbook authors, chefs and restaurateurs. When we realized how much work we did for such little money, one of our members had this great idea that we should do an afternoon in the country, which incorporated all the chefs that we could get to come down to Serenbe.
We now have our selection of who we want to come to participate in Afternoon in the Country, which means that I think we've done our job in educating the Atlanta public and the Atlanta food community in what we are, what we do and what our mission is.
Do you have a favorite memory of the organization?
I'm a food stylist and I worked for Tony Bourdain several times when he came to Atlanta. One particular time we were having an event where we were thanking the chefs who participated in Afternoon in the Country, and so Tony Bourdain – at my insistence – attended as our special guest. So the chefs were telling him that he really needed to go to the place where they have the stripper. Clermont Lounge. So he came to me and he said, "Can you take me to the Clermont Lounge after this event?" And I said, "I don't really want to go to Clermont Lounge. I'd be glad to drop you off, but I'm not going to go to Clermont Lounge." [laughing] He came to me a little bit later. He said, "I'm going to go to the Clermont Lounge with some of the chefs so you don't have to babysit me anymore." So the next morning, I picked him up to take him to the airport and he showed me his crushed beer cans because the stripper there crushes beer cans with her boobs, so he had his autographed.
Do you frequently or have your previously worked with other Dames?
I started my culinary career as a student of Diane Wilkinson, who was also a founding member of the Atlanta chapter. I became her sous chef and that led to culinary excursions to New York and Europe. She's in the high-end travel business now. I do still cook with her. Actually she's a very good friend, she went to my high school reunion with me last week in Savannah, Georgia!
I’ve done work for Susan Puckett, Rebecca Lang, Judith Fertig. I’ve also worked with a number of women who belong to other chapters who I’ve met along the way.
How has your career evolved in connection with the organization?
It has brought me business in some ways, absolutely. After I was a member, I did food styling for Julia Child at an event for the American Institute of Wine and Food.
What do you wish more people knew about our organization?
When most people in Atlanta think of Les Dames, they associate it with Afternoon in the Country. That’s a good thing – we’re doing something good there, we’re fundraising for a specific cause. But I wish they knew more about the good that we do for women who are interested in the culinary world. In addition to scholarships, we give sizable contributions and grants to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Georgia Grown and many others.
What does being a Dames mean to you?
It gives me great pride to say I'm a member of Les Dames, whether I'm a founding member or not. Les Dames is one of the only culinary organizations that has local chapters, so I can be more involved with the people in my geographical area. It opened up a whole new world--and I'm going back to when it was formed--of getting to know people whose interests were similar to mine. It’s been a learning experience and has given me an opportunity to step outside my box and learn new skills. Women have certainly made a lot of strides in the last 20 years, especially in the culinary world. I'm very thankful for that.