Les Dames d’Escoffier’s namesake, Auguste Escoffier (1846 –1935), is known as The Chef of Kings and The King of Chefs. He was the most innovative chef in history, one whose philosophy, accomplishments and philanthropic deeds serve as both model and inspiration to culinary professionals today.
In 1936, a group of epicures, many of them former pupils of Auguste Escoffier, gathered at the Waldorf Astoria to form the all-male organization of dedicated gastronomes, Les Amis d'Escoffier Society of New York, Inc. The membership was comprised of male chefs de cuisine, hotel executives, restaurateurs and business executives.
In the early 1970s, Carol Brock, Sunday food editor at the New York Daily News set about to create the first organization for professional culinary women. She was inspired by the Boston Les Dames des Amis d’Escoffier, a dining and philanthropic society formed in 1959 in response to the all-male Les Amis d’Escoffier. Carol pulled together a task force consisting of five other influential women food professionals: Mary Lyons, marketing and communications director, Foods and Wines from France; Elayne Kleeman, creator of the first U.S. wine auction at Heublein; Helene Bennett, executive director, Wine and Food Society; Beverly Barbour, an international education, marketing and public relations professional, and Ella Elvin, food editor of the New York Daily News.
In 1973, Brock received a charter from the New York chapter of Les Amis d’Escoffier Society to form the women’s chapter of New York. During the next three years, the task force contacted other like-minded, professional women, working quietly but steadily behind the scenes, to overcome the enormous gender barriers in their industry. They decided that Les Dames d'Escoffier, New York (LDNY) would be a membership-by-invitation, philanthropic, all-professional organization with a goal of inducting 100 leading women members in the culinary field to serve as role models and mentors. When five chapters had been formed, Les Dames d'Escoffier International would automatically be established.
On November 8, 1976, a landmark investiture and gala for LDNY was held at the French Consulate. Dames welcomed 50 food and wine professionals as new members, including such culinary luminaries as Marcella Hazan, Paula Wolfert and Barbara Kafka. Halston designed the serviettes and Tiffany designed the silver napkin rings/bracelets as well as the original Les Dames d’Escoffier logo (the present wheat-and-grape logo, commissioned by the Washington, DC chapter in 1982, was adopted by LDEI in 1991) and photographs of the group were taken on the grand staircase. It was a memorable beginning.
In 1985, after five chapters had been established, (New York in 1976, Washington, D.C. in 1981, Chicago in 1982, Dallas and Philadelphia in 1984), their presidents met in New York to form Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI). Boston’s Les Dames des Amis d’Escoffier joined LDEI in 1991 and became its Boston chapter. As of March 2017, LDEI is comprised of 38 chapters in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and Mexico and boasts over 2,200 members.