Some of the city’s leading ladies of food and beverage will take the stage at Service Brewing Co. on Nov. 4 to kick off the annual Savannah Food and Wine Festival with a “Talk and Taste” event. Between sips of craft brews and samples of sweets and savories from Back in the Day Bakery, Big Bon Bodega, Cape Creations Catering, Collins Quarter at Forsyth, Hostess Provisions, Miss Sophie’s Marketplace and Pacci Italian Kitchen and Bar, there will be serious conversation about the women at the center of the city’s emergence as a gastronomic powerhouse.
The discussion also will serve to introduce and fundraise for the newly formed Savannah and Coastal Georgia chapter of the Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI). The nonprofit LDEI is a by-invitation, 2,400-member global network of female leaders in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries. Through education, philanthropy, and relationship-building, LDEI chapters focus on the needs most important to their respective communities.
For Savannah and Coastal Georgia, its charter members seek to connect women with mentors already working in the industry, explains chapter president Jovan Sage, a Brunswick-based herbalist and health coach with a background in food and farming advocacy.
“Women are often the unsung heroes of many of these kitchens … women have been holding it down, yet they don’t receive half the credit,” Sage says. “We want to ensure that we are singing their praises, their songs, of the good food work that women are doing in Savannah and Coastal Georgia.”
The birth of Savannah’s chapter began nearly two years ago, when the grande dame of Southern cooking, Nathalie Dupree, a Charleston resident, got in touch with Martha Nesbit, a local cookbook author and former food editor for Savannah Morning News, and floated the idea of planting an LDEI chapter in the Hostess City. Nesbit used her prodigious connections as a veteran of Savannah’s food scene and reached across the various disciplines of hospitality and restaurant entrepreneurs, bakers, chefs, teachers, sommeliers, caterers, advocates, and writers to gauge interest. More than 20 women showed up in early 2018 to the first couple of organizing meetings at Back in the Day Bakery, enough to seed a new organization and get the paperwork in order.
Now that the chapter is officially sanctioned and has its 501(c)(3) status, it can begin to focus on community-based solutions that help area women in culinary and hospitality industries overcome the multiple barriers to success, such as affordable transportation, health and child care; fair and equitable wages; education, entrepreneurship, and financial assistance. She cites New York City’s experiment with restaurant-focused child care, with shifts that extend past midnight when most kitchens close after dinner service, as just one of the innovations we need to be talking about in this community.
Get Savannah arts and culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and Dine newsletters ‘When you visit culinary schools, the women often outnumber the men,” observes Sage, “So, why don’t you see that representation on the frontlines of restaurants? Come one, now.”
Sage cites how powerful it is to have examples in this community set by Mashama Bailey, executive chef and co-owner of The Grey, Cynthia Creighton-Jones of Cape Creations Catering, and Meredith Sutton of Service Brewing Co.
All dames that will help lead Savannah’s ongoing conversation.