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Les Dames Forms Chapter in Cleveland

Wednesday, March 10, 2004 at 9:50 AM

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This week about 30 women from Cleveland's culinary world - chefs, restaurant owners, food writers, wine experts and culinary educators - gathered to put the finishing touches on their latest creation, the Cleveland chapter of Les Dames D'Escoffier. Les Dames, as it's called by those in the know, is an international organization that supports the success of women in the food and hospitality industry. ideastream's Shula Neuman attended the meeting and filed this report on what the women foodies hope to achieve.

On a recent Monday night in Ohio City, it’s elbow-to-elbow at the Flying Fig. On the one night of the week when most restaurants are closed, women from all parts of the food industry are gathered for the third meeting of the nascent Les Dames D’Escoffier chapter. There are appetizers on the bar and three varieties of wine for tasting. The meeting starts out more like a reunion.

Crickett Carson and her partner Lilly Lief run a public relations firm that specializes in restaurant marketing. They decided that the female food-industry population in Cleveland merits a chapter of Les Dames.

Crickett Carson: It puts us with the big cities - New York, Chicago, Boston - I don’t think there’s any in Miami, but Atlanta, California, San Francisco all have chapters. Seattle… so we are thrilled.

It’s not a networking group exactly, Carson says. It’s a way for women in the food industry to support each other, maybe raise money for scholarships, learn from each other. The Cleveland chapter of Les Dames has yet to define its mission, but one theme does emerge at this meeting. Food writer Laura Taxel.

Laura Taxel: That we devote our efforts to promoting all the wonderful things the really good things that are happening with food here. Because that’s what the public needs to know. There is so much to be told, to be excited about, to be championed and I think that would be for a group like this, a very worthy mission.

Marianne Frantz: I think that’s perfect. In the last meeting for those of you weren’t here we talked about that Cleveland has really cool stuff going on. Cleveland’s problem is Cleveland doesn’t tell Cleveland it’s got really good stuff going on, doesn’t tell other people.

Marianne Frantz, president of the Cleveland Wine School, also adds that all it takes is for one person to do one little thing extra and it could make a world of difference. Pastry Chef Heather Haviland, owner of Sweet Mosaic in Tremont, says creating a Les Dames D’Escoffier chapter in Cleveland bodes well.

Heather Haviland: The industry isn’t what it could be, yet. But this is a huge, this is big… we don’t support each other enough and I’m really glad to see that it’s starting to happen and it’s a community that isn’t based on competition, it’s a community based on wanting to bring people here and say we have it here.

People may not be coming in droves, at least not yet. But Cleveland’s culinary attraction is showing up on more radar screens. Tracy English of Private Reserve, a Cleveland area wine distributor, says she works with vintners from around the world who, once they’ve been here, get a hankering to come back.

Tracy English: A lot from California, but from France, Spain from everywhere and they are shocked. They always think that “OK, well gotta stop in Cleveland.” It’s not a primary market, it’s what’s considered a secondary market, until they get here. They get here and they are stunned. They’re stunned and then all of a sudden they’re saying, “Well, I’ll come back and do a wine dinner at this restaurant… when can I come back? Let’s get out our schedule. Let’s look.”

The rest of the world may figure it out, but convincing Clevelanders that the food scene in this region is hot may take more work. These gourmets say forming this newest chapter of Les Dames D’Escoffier is a good first step. In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.

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Les Dames D'Escoffier

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