If you are a foodie you know of the late, culinary legend Julia Child. But what you might not know is her connection with women in both Austin and San Antonio. Child is perhaps one of the best-known members of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI). The not-for profit, philanthropic, advocacy and education organization is comprised of nearly 2,500 women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality spanning 45 U.S. and international chapters.
Established in 1976, LDEI pays homage to the French culinary artist Auguste Escoffier, known as the “king of chefs and the chef of kings” whose distinguished culinary career bridged 53 years into the early 20th century. Through his art and the practice of cooking, he made French cuisine internationally famous while revolutionizing and modernizing menus. A trio of his cookbooks are still revered as vital culinary references. Known as the most innovative chef in history, his philosophy and accomplishments remain inspirational to today’s culinary professionals.
Former president and current board member of LDEI San Antonio, Don Strange Catering of Texas, Inc. Vice President Sales and Culinary Vision, Di-Anna Arias shares the groups diversity and many industry facets, “Our chapter members include food historians, authors, book publishers, manufacturers, scientists, stylists and photographers, restauranteurs, chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, dietitians, clinical nutritionists, a pediatrician with a special interest in culinary medicine, ranchers, farmers and hospitality executives. Educators include a certified wine educator, diabetes educator, cooking instructors, Culinary Institute of America instructors and culinary professors. Our chapter is made up of strong, smart, energetic and giving women that embrace each other’s talents and work toward our LDEISA goals together.”
Those efforts encompass many areas, says Arias, “We work tirelessly to promote women in the various food industries through networking and providing opportunities for education and career advancement. This amazing and talented group of women has worked very hard and continues to advance the significance of the entire food Industry.”
LDEI Austin was founded in 2003 with a membership of women who strive to be leaders in their respective fields. The chapter comprises various professionals including a brewer of handcrafted ale, food and farm activist, beverage consultant, bar owner, seafood wholesaler, whole animal butcher, modern cotton candy purveyor, founder of an emergency food initiative, global cheese buyer, culinary studio owner, hospitality consultant, pastry instructor, bakers, caterers, executive chefs, recipe developers, marketers and public relations professionals.
Both chapters have philanthropic programs in support of education for women in the culinary, beverage, agricultural and hospitality industries. Austin Dames annual food festival event raises money for scholarships. Other fundraisers have included cooking competitions, auctions and a Dames Kitchen Sale at the Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller, and an En Garde food fight. Their “You Grill Girl!” Fundraiser at Franklin BBQ showcased women chefs and grilling masters raising more than $50,000 for the scholarship program.
The San Antonio Dames scholarship financial program is designed to assist San Antonio area women who are pursuing an education in the food/culinary arts, wine, hospitality and agriculture industries. This year, the organization earmarked $25,000 for the scholarships. They also offer other support says Arias, “The purpose of the Aspirations Grant Program is to award a grant(s) each year to empower and further business enhancement or culinary innovation to a non LDEISA member or former member woman resident in the San Antonio, Texas Hill Country or South Texas community. We also provide grants to local gardening associations to help with costs associated with community garden projects. Our chapter has been honored to step up to those in need within our community. For example, we are honored to provide over 80 families their Thanksgiving and Christmas meals who otherwise would be in need.”
The year marks the celebration of a chapter milestone as Arias says, “It’s important to continue to build upon our 25-year LDEISA legacy of philanthropic efforts in our community, to continue to build our chapter as a trusted source of all things food, wine and hospitality and to learn from my fellow amazing Dames that continue to inspire me.”
Fittingly, the San Antonio chapter will host the Les Dames d’Escoffier International Conference in 2021. “We are preparing to share the FLAVORS of San Antonio with the rest of the world of Dames. Dame Nancy Fitch and Dame Blanca Aldaco are chairing the conference and are enthusiastically working with our chapter members on workshops, fun outings, educational components and an overall good time in San Antonio,” says Arias.
Les Dames d’Escoffier International | ldei.org
San Antonio Chapter | ldeisanantonio.org
Austin Chapter | ldeiaustin.org