Les Dames builds support for women in food service
By Gabrielle Myers
The best chefs I worked with never took sole credit for the elaborate meals they served. They emphasized team effort. Every decent kitchen needs a brigade, with many hands making each meal distinct.
The best writers I’ve learned from call on communities of writers for inspiration. They apprentice less experienced writers and encourage them to find their voices. Creativity needs a community.
Les Dames d’Escoffier Sacramento is building a community between our region’s food and beverage leaders and young female professionals in the hospitality industry.
I learned of Les Dames while working on a story about Davis Farm to School. Les Dames co-hosts the Village Feast, an event that funds the Farm to School program. Revenue from the fest also supports scholarships through Les Dames.
Rachael Levine, president of Les Dames d’Escoffier Sacramento and a chef from Yolo County, says the group aims to “uplift underserved women in the food and beverage industry.” The organization supports women with educational opportunities, including small business development, urban farming, viticulture, oenology, wine service and the culinary arts.
Les Dames creates social change not just through uplifting individuals, but through grants that help women as they advance in a traditionally male-dominated field.
Les Dames d’Escoffier started in New York City in 1976. The goal, Levine says, was “to address gender bias in the industry as a whole and increase the presence of professional women. Working on a networking approach, the organization aims to support young, talented women through scholarship and philanthropy.”
The Sacramento chapter was founded in 2015, an offshoot of San Francisco’s group. To be a Les Dames member, women need five years of experience in food service, beverage and hospitality. The organization also welcomes women from agriculture and food journalism.
The essential work of Les Dames requires members to maintain active roles in philanthropy and community service.
Grant opportunities form a big part of Les Dames’ work. The local chapter has connections with the Center for Land-Based Learning and provides scholarships to women involved in the California Farm Academy.
The Alchemist Community Development Corporation is Les Dames’ new partner. Three women in the Alchemist program received a $3,000 grant to help develop their own culinary micro-businesses.
Les Dames supports women in the Saint John’s Program for Real Change, a residential and job training program for women and their children transforming their lives after crises. Les Dames underwrites a tiny house on the Saint John’s campus as the residents transition from the culinary program into more permanent housing.
Goals for Les Dames include a mentorship program for women and a lecture series that focuses on heart-healthy cooking, personal brand enhancement and how women can finance small businesses.
This year is the 20th anniversary of Village Feast. The event runs two simultaneous events, one in Davis and one in Sacramento. Both feature the same menu. The big day is Oct. 20 at noon, with feasts at Great Bear Vineyard in Davis and Mulvaney’s B&L Event Center.
The Village Feast menu highlights a grand lunch based on the region’s bounty and sourced with local produce, eggs, meats and olive oil. “In this valley we grow everything for the rest of the world,” Levine says.
The Feast menu tells the story best: An aperitif of local olives, roasted nuts and rosé wine. Mixed local heirloom tomatoes with olive oil, sea salt, cracked pepper and basil. Upper Crust Baking Company sarmentine baguettes and estate extra virgin olive oil. Grilled sweet peppers, summer squash, carrots and eggplant. Boiled fingerling potatoes, organic hard-cooked eggs, cannellini beans marinated with fresh herbs, olive oil and sea salt. And Superior Farms grilled leg of lamb with herbs and aioli, with a pear and honey galette for dessert.
Gabrielle Myers can be reached at email@example.com. Her latest book of poetry, “Too Many Seeds,” can be ordered from fishinglinepress.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.