Chef's Table - There ain't nothing like Les Dames

Gena Berry is president of the no-men-allowed, 66-members strong Atlanta chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2006.

What does the very French Les Dames d'Escoffier mean?

"The Women of Escoffier." The group is named for Auguste Escoffier, the legendary French chef who revolutionized and modernized menus, the art and practice of cooking, and the organization of the professional kitchen. His cookbooks, including Le Guide Culinaire (1903) and Ma Cuisine (1934), are still regarded as indispensable references. On the social front, he organized programs to help feed the hungry and financially assist retired chefs.

When and where was it founded?

New York City in November 1976. We now have chapters in 24 U.S. cities, Canada and Australia.

Who are famous members, either nationally or locally?

The late Julia Child was truly the grande dame. In Atlanta, we've got Nathalie Dupree, cooking show host and cookbook author; Carolyn O'Neil, TV personality and author of "The Dish"; and Susan Nicholson, syndicated food columnist in over 70 newspapers.

Who is membership open to?

I'd say about one-third of our members "cook" for a living, whether it's at a restaurant, or testing and developing recipes or food styling. Other members represent a variety of related pursuits such as food/beverage writing, sommelier, hotelier or public relations, to name a few. Membership is by invitation, but most Les Dames events and fundraisers are open to all. If you haven't been to one, you're missing a treat.

What are some of your activities?

Most involve some combination of fabulous food, wine and merrymaking. Our signature event and largest fundraiser of the year took place in October at Serenbe. It's a wonderful old-fashioned "Day in the Country," with top chefs preparing wonderful tastes of their specialties served up with local microbrew beers and a variety of wines. A great event. We had a record-breaking crowd and raised over $30,000 for scholarships, grants and charitable giving.


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