BY ANN M. EVANS
Almost every city worthy of the title "culinary destination" has a chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier (LDEI), an organization of professional women leaders in the food, beverage and hospitality industry. Why not Sacramento, the farm-to-fork capital of the nation? Elaine Corn, reporter at large for Capital Public Radio, former food editor for the Sacramento Bee and a long time member of LDEI San Francisco, decided it was time. Sacramento had become a culinary force.
"Surrounded by land that feeds the world," Elaine says, "we'd always had a connection to the earth in Sacramento. For too long we'd taken for granted agricultural proximity to just about any fresh ingredient or wine grape you could name. The women chefs who teach at American River College's culinary and hospitality program in Sacramento are as accomplished as any in San Francisco. That's when I realized Sacramento could sustain its own chapter. We were overflowing with talent and skill. All I had to do was get through some bureaucracy and a chapter could be ours."
At home of Lina Fat, glasses are raised to toast the new chapter. Clockwise from top left: President Shannin Stein, Joni Stuart, Dani Luzzatti, Lina Fat, Andrea Lepore, Debbie Arrington, Amina Harris, Elaine Corn, Ann Evans, Kathi Riley Smith, Roxanne O'Brien, Patricia Murakami. Not in photograph: Teresa Urkofsky, Shankari Easwaran, Carolyn Kumpe, Elise Bauer, Suzanne Ashworth, Amber Stott, Sue Robinson.
And so she did, in three weeks time. The Sacramento Chapter of Les Dames D'Escoffier was officially approved on September 10, 2015. Les Dames d'Escoffier, with 36 chapters and 2,100 Dames, is an invitation-only membership organization founded in 1986. It's the only organization of its kind: a worldwide philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the multifaceted fields of contemporary gastronomy, hospitality and sustainable food and agriculture. The 21 founding members of Sacramento's chapter include high-achieving chefs, experts in child nutrition, wine and beekeeping, bloggers, caterers, restaurateurs and food policy advocates.
The founding members are: President Shannin Stein, First Vice President Kathi Riley Smith, Second VP Elise Bauer, Secretary Debbie Arrington, Treasurer Joni Stuart, members Suzanne Ashworth, Elaine Corn, Shankari Easwaran, Ann M. Evans, Lina Fat, Lane Giguiere, Amina Harris, Carolyn Kumpe, Andrea Lepore, Dani Luzzatti, Pat Murakami, Roxanne O'Brien, Brenda Ruiz, Sue Huffman Robison, Amber Stott, Teresa Urkofsky. Membership will expand annually.
Shannin Stein, general manager of Sacramento's newest restaurant, Empress Tavern, is president of the Sacramento Chapter. Her vision for the Sacramento Chapter, which plans to add new members annually, is for the organization to act as mentor, educator and leader for young women entering the food, beverage and hospitality industry.
"I am extremely fortunate that I work in a restaurant with an allfemale executive management team—a rarity in our industry," Stein says. "The collaboration, camaraderie and support I feel from my team is a unique experience unlike anything I've ever encountered in my career. It's my hope that through LDEI and our outreach, we'll be able to help create more opportunities like this for other women in our industry."
Corn says that Stein has a clear vision: In two years, she wants to see the women in LDEI Sacramento running the Farm-to-Fork dinner on the Tower Bridge.
In addition to mentoring and philanthropy, LDEI has a program called Green Tables, launched in 2005, which promotes linkages between urban and rural farms and gardens to school, restaurant and kitchen tables, an ideal program for the farm to fork capital of the nation. "Compared to chapters in other cities, Sacramento is bound to the earth in ways that make others envy us," says Elaine. "We understand our role now. It's not just the cooking; it's the ingredients, too. Women are just as big a part of that as men."
And now the women of the Sacramento region in the culinary arts have an organization through which to make their voices heard.