Les Dames advancing Alabama’s food community

Les Dames advancing Alabama’s food community
The Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International has enjoyed great growth and success supporting the culinary arts and hospitality industry in the metro area. (contributed)

When women help other women succeed, good things happen. Tasty things do, too.

This year, $10,000 in scholarships and awards from a group of women leaders in the Birmingham food community will help four college students pursue their food-science studies, three high schools better serve their culinary-arts students, Jones Valley Teaching Farm connect with more kids, and entrepreneur Nancey Legg grow her business and make more kombucha.

The Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI), a philanthropic organization of women leaders in food, beverage and hospitality, gave its $3,000 2018 New Entrepreneur Award to Legg, who owns better kombucha, located in Innovation Depot. Jones Valley Teaching Farm received the $2,000 Non-Profit Organization Award.  The Birmingham chapter gave four $1,000 college scholarships this year; recipients were Rebecca Klang from Jefferson State Community College; Hope Etheridge and Sydney Smith, both of whom are majoring in dietetics at Samford University; and Ally Cound, an Auburn University nutrition major. Three high school teachers — Lauren Bolding, Albertville High School; Melissa Allphin, Moody High School; and Diann Pilgrim, Wenonah High School, Birmingham City Schools — shared a $1,000 teachers’ grant.

The Birmingham LDEI chapter, founded in 2013 with 55 members — one of the largest initial memberships in the worldwide organization’s history — includes some of the most influential women in the city’s food scene. They are dedicated to helping other women succeed in this community.

Becky Satterfield, owner of Satterfield’s Restaurant and the highly anticipated new restaurant El ZunZun, is the chapter’s president.

“Philanthropy is a main part of the Les Dames mission, which also includes education, mentoring, advocacy and preserving and honoring our region’s unique table-related traditions,” she says. “We are thrilled to be able to award these scholarships and grants to help the next generation of women leaders in our industries.”

The Birmingham chapter has worked with the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama and with Greater Birmingham Ministries. Members judge food contests for nonprofits, they mentor local culinary students (some still in high school) and they sponsor entertaining educational programs that are open to the public.

Les Dames d’Escoffier International Birmingham from steve inskeep on Vimeo.

Dames will conduct chef demos at the Market at Pepper Place throughout September. The lineup includes culinary educator Sherron Goldstein and Rebel Negley (Color Code Cookies), author and dietician Pat Terry with fellow dietician and chef Jessica Ivey (both from Samford University), Kathy Mezrano (Kathy G & Company) and Mary Grace Viado Howard (corporate executive chef with Village Tavern).

Rosemary Dallam, a nutritionist and former culinary arts educator, co-chaired the scholarship committee with Anne Cain, books editor at Food & Wine. They served alongside Martha Johnston, who was the vice president of food marketing and director of business development for Southern Living/Southern Progress Corp.; Laura Zapalowski, owner of Homewood Gourmet; and Satterfield.

Dallam says, “We had great applications from eight very hardworking women. These are creative, innovative women trying to promote and develop their products, which range from sauces to popcorn to peanut brittle. One woman has a catering business, and our winner makes tea.”

Choosing the recipient of the New Entrepreneur Award was difficult, she says. “This is the largest award we’ve given. With the money raised through Southern Soiree (the group’s annual fall fundraising dinner), we hope to increase not only this award but also the scholarships.”

Southern Soiree is, in fact, the main vehicle for Les Dames philanthropy.  It’s an al fresco, sunset dinner with wine and cocktails in the gardens of Jones Valley Teaching Farm. This year the event will be Oct. 7 from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and scholarship and grant recipients will be recognized there. Click here to buy tickets.

Mezrano is chairing the fundraiser, and Idie Hastings, of Hot & Hot Fish Club and OvenBird, and Johnston are heading up sponsorships for the event. Pardis Stitt of Highlands Bar & Grill, Chez Fonfon, Bottega and Bottega Café is focusing on the food.

Last year’s inaugural event was a fried-chicken-and-grower-Champagne affair.  This year, the Dames will cook the foods themselves, and these dishes will be based on recipes by Auguste Escoffier, for whom the group is named. Escoffier (1846-1935) was one of the most innovative chefs in history. His philosophy and accomplishments still serve as inspiration in kitchens throughout the world.

Expect Southern foods with French flair or French foods with a Southern accent. Either way, Southern Soiree promises to be delicious, and the money raised there will have a lasting impact.


Susan Swagler has written about food and restaurants for more than three decades, much of that time as a trusted restaurant critic. She shares food, books, travel and more at www.savor.blog. Swagler is a founding member of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International. (http://ldeibirmingham.org)

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