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Les Dames d’Escoffier was founded by then-Sunday food editor of the New York Daily News Carol Brock in 1976.

How Les Dames d’Escoffier is leading a new group of women through their careers in the culinary world

This decades-old group is continuing to work towards equality

Food has always been perceived as a man’s world. When people think of a restaurant kitchen, they imagine a rough male chef yelling at his workers, throwing things in the vein of the world Anthony Bourdain described in his book, Kitchen Confidential.

The industry became even more gender-based in 1936 when a group of men in the culinary world the organization Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of New York, Inc., named for a man who mentored many of the founders, chef Auguste Escoffier.

But food has not always been a man’s world, despite popular culture’s — and the industry’s — views. Women have been involved in the culinary scene since the beginning, and longer if you consider that they were once the gatherers in the Stone Ages.

A group of women banded together in response to this men’s-only group to create Les Dames des Amis d’Escoffier in Boston in 1959. This would be the inspiration behind the group Les Dames d’Escoffier, founded by then-Sunday food editor of the New York Daily News Carol Brock  in 1976. It originally consisted of 50 women in foodservice.

“Around 1985, there had been a notion that women are not equal,” said Kersten Rettig, third vice president of Les Dames d’Escoffier and former president of the Dallas chapter. “In many industries, including the culinary industry, women were relegated to two positions. No equality in the kitchen at that time.”

The group wasn’t meant as a female rival to Les Amis d’Escoffier Society; it was meant as a collaborative group that could support, mentor, and provide a community for women in the food world.

One of the most famous female chefs in America, Julia Child, was an early member of Les Dames d’Escoffier.

“[Brock’s] original thesis was to provide a supportive environment for women who are currently in the industry and then to also provide pathways for the future for women to get elevated education so that they could earn more so that they could advance in their positions and try to gain some traction to equality in the kitchen,” Rettig said.

In addition to the career advancement the group provides to its members, it also helps the community around those women. When the Maui wildfires hit last year, the group organized a fundraiser to send money to those impacted.

“The Dames activated there and internationally; we supported them and were like, ‘what do you need?’” said Rettig. “It’s very much a sisterhood; we really support each other.”

Part of that includes hosting seminars and webinars for members and non-members on how to break through barriers in the industry, from figuring out the difference between an LLC and sole proprietorship, to how to understand legal briefings, and how to secure private equity or a loan.

The next step for this over-40-year-old organization is pursuing food justice.

“We see opportunities and we see space,” said Rettig. “We follow where that goes and, in some cases, we’re not following — our members are leading.”

That includes helping with food deserts, food apartheid, and lack of access to healthy clean food.

TAGS: Chefs
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