In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, we sat down with Sharon Franke, President of the Les Dames d’Escoffier New York chapter, to discuss the importance of women in the restaurant industry. As a customer of Mimeo, Les Dames d’Escoffier employs a mission to provide education, advocacy and philanthropy in food, fine beverage and hospitality.
Tell us about how Les Dames d’Escoffier got started.
In 1973, Carol Brock, at the time a writer for the food pages of the New York Daily News, realized there was no professional organization of women in the culinary world. After 3 years of work, she received a charter from the esteemed all-male organization Les Amis d’Escoffier, which was established in homage to the legendary chef Auguste Escoffier and Les Dames d’Escoffier was founded. Today, Les Dames d’Escoffier New York (LDNY) is the largest chapter of an international organization under the umbrella of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI).
What does it mean to be a woman in the food and hospitality industry?
While things are changing, women still represent a small percentage of chef/owners of restaurants. They are still often relegated to the dessert or cold food stations. Women continue to fight to receive the recognition, fair treatment, and equal compensation that men receive.
How does your organization provide opportunities for the advancement of women in the restaurant industry?
Each year we award between $25,000 and $50,000 a year in scholarships to women studying in the culinary, nutrition, wine, and hospitality fields. Since 1977 we have given more than 2 million dollars in scholarships to over 1,000 women. In addition, we provide mentoring to our scholarship recipients, provide networking opportunities, and educational support to our members.
What type of education do you offer for career advancement?
For the last nine years, Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI) and the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and Culinary Arts have partnered to offer the prestigious LDEI 2020 Legacy Awards, curated culinary experiences designed specifically to enhance the careers of women in food, fine beverage, and hospitality. Women with a minimum of four years of culinary industry experience are eligible to apply.
What is the biggest challenge LDNY faces today?
Our biggest challenge is increasing our recognition in order to raise funds for our scholarship program.
Being a worldwide organization, how does your network help others capture the culture of certain foods and beverages?
LDEI, the international organization conducts an annual food trends report. All members from all chapters are asked to contribute to the report and it is distributed to the entire membership. Annual trips are offered to London and to Mexico to highlight the foods in those parts of the world. Our LDNY chapter endeavors to host at least one program a year devoted to foods from a particular area outside of the United States.
What would you say is your biggest goal of 2020?
We’re always looking to expand our scholarship program. In order to do that, we need to raise our recognition so that we can receive more sponsorship dollars. Many of our events are designed to introduce the public to our organization and its philanthropy and our members are encouraged to spread the word through their individual networks.
What is the most important thing LDNY wants to change about the restaurant industry?
We want to see women treated with respect, acknowledged for their contributions, and given equal pay.