It’s amazing what a group of talented women can achieve. And the women behind the Austin chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier know all about that.
The international philanthropic organization was founded in 1973 by former New York Daily News Sunday food editor Carol Brock as the first American organization for professional culinary women. Over the decades, the invitation-only group has inducted some of the leading innovators in the food and beverage industry, including Lidia Bastianich and Julia Child.
The Austin chapter had a relatively late start with a founding class of 20 women in 2003. Last year, the chapter was of comprised more than 130 members — a number that helped it raise $15,000 in scholarship money for women working in all parts of the hospitality world.
“We’re a strong group of women, and we’re working,” says Quality Seafood Market owner Carol Huntsberger. “I think we’re making an impact now, and it’s great.”
Huntsberger is a former president of the Austin Dames, and she worked hard in her tenure to expand the scope of the group’s giving. Traditionally supporting chefs, grants can now be given to non-Dames for professional development in everything from social media classes, sommelier certification, or trips abroad to study different cuisine.
“We would help women be able to get to that,” Huntsberger said, “Knowing that, especially in your first few years [of a culinary career] you need those things, but you can’t necessarily always afford them.”
The group doesn’t only help women in the industry. LDEI Austin also hosts an annual holiday dinner for the less fortunate, and makes weekly food runs from Wheatsville Co-op to the University United Methodist Church’s zero-waste kitchen. Les Dames also helps Casa Marianella, the emergency shelter for immigrant families, cultivate gardens for its clients.
All of that is possible through the group’s fundraising efforts, which center around an annual fundraiser. This year, it’s a casual party in the lot of Franklin Barbecue on Thursday, September 5, called You Grill, Girl, featuring Laura Sawicki of Launderette, Amanda Turner of Jester King, Abby Love of L’Oven Bread, and food writer Paula Disbrowe, among other local luminaries.
“It’s just a great way to showcase women behind the grill and their talent,” said chapter president Kendall Antonelli.
Another member, Stacy Franklin, came up with the idea for the fundraiser. “That kind of came about because, at my house, my husband, [pitmaster Aaron Franklin], is always the one grilling,” she says. “I don’t ever feel like there’s an opportunity for me to do it.”
Though the evening of demos, silent auctions, and tastings will be lighthearted, it also underscores a need for greater diversity in the culinary world. According to 2018 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, women — especially women of color — are still underrepresented in the food service industry. Though women make up more than half of all employees working in food service, chefs, head bartenders, and other top positions tend to be held by men.
The LDEI scholarship goes a long toward changing the conversation, funding culinary school tuition and other educational opportunities for the next generation of leaders. Applications for the 2019 scholarships and stipends are open through August 29.