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 immediately thought, this is a group I want to be a part of. I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't think that. Actually, it was Nathalie Dupree who mentioned it to me. At the time I had absolutely no idea of what it would turn out to be. What it has become is truly phenomenal.
Did you see a need for the organization?
There is a little story behind that. I had a group that was doing the same kind of thing – The Atlanta Culinary Women. It was a group of women involved in the culinary arts, hospitality, and public relations. There were probably 24 women in the group and we got together every couple of months for two or three years. When Les Dames came along it was one of those things where it was getting complex to try to get into touch with everybody, get things established and put programs together. So, when LDEI came along I started going to the meetings and I said, ‘Shoot, this is the answer! We need to roll Atlanta Culinary Women into the Les Dames group.’ So that is what we did. Within a couple of years, all the Atlanta Culinary Women had joined Les Dames.
What has been your favorite part about the chapter?
I love the fact that we are mentoring and giving young women educational opportunities through our scholarship program that they would not have had. We are in a position to change lives. We’re giving people a lot of different networking opportunities. We all share our opinions, ideas, and resources very freely and I think that’s truly remarkable for any group of professionals that are in the same business. You don't see any stinginess as far as helping each other out or feeling like you’re in competition with one another.
What inspires you about the future of LDEI Atlanta?
I see it getting better and better. Now that we’ve moved Afternoon in the Country event to Foxhall Resort and Sporting Club, I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger. Someone said to our President, Gayle Skelton, they thought this event could end up being as big as the Aspen Food and Wine Classic. That really got my attention! We are on our way – Atlanta is the destination city for culinary activities. It's a fabulous mecca for anyone who is interested in culinary art.
Do you have a favorite memory of the organization?
It’s not one favorite memory, but every year when I drive up to Afternoon in the Country and see the tents and the masses supporting the event, I look around and think ‘I cannot believe what we started out with turned out to be this.’ You have to understand, when we started out we were borrowing six-foot tables from a church.
Do you frequently or have your previously worked with other Dames?
Well, I hired Stacey Ziegler’s group, Bold American. I met Carolyn O’Neil through CNN. Many years ago, I took one of Nathalie Dupree’s cooking classes – and we actually made a trip to South America to film a portion of her show for her PBS series.
We have some people that who have pretty a big degree of celebrity, yet we find them to be the nicest kind of people. You look at Carolyn, Nathalie, Shirley Corriher, Angie Mosier, Annie Quatrano. Some of the nicest women in the world and they are so generous and helpful, just totally approachable and lovely, lovely people.
How has your career evolved in connection with the organization?
The talent in this group is absolutely mind-boggling and so many of them I would have never met if I wasn't a Dame. Also, this group has been so great as far as emotional support during crazy times.
What do you wish more people knew about our organization?
We do so much for young women getting into the culinary art – that is the main thing. It's incredible to stop and think about all we do to empower other people and particularly young women that work as farmers. We do an awful lot to mentor and support young women. Essentially women empowering women. We have also done a lot for the organic farmers, and we go out of our way to help try to promote our members.
What does being a Dames mean to you?
How do you capture a star in the sky? This is like an all-encompassing thing for so many of us. I’m not saying family, faith and friends aren’t important, but this is like icing on the cake. This is an added dimension that goes straight to the heart of what we believe in. For anyone that is having a hard time with different facets of humanity and the way people treat one another – try hanging around this group for a while. It will definitely change your mind.
Carol Brock, who started Les Dames d’Escoffier in New York City, recently said, "Everything every one of us does impacts all of us." That really sums the Dames up. The ripple effect in this organization is like a Tsunami.