Les Dames d’Escoffier Lifts Up Female Foodies in Austin
Nonprofit organization comprised of women in the local food, beverage, and hospitality fields creates quite an impact in the community
Women supporting women — we are here for it! Austin’s brightest stars in our culinary constellation lift each other up through the Les Dames d’Escoffier local chapter. President Anna Tauzin describes it as “honoring women leaders who are doing the work now and forging a path for those women and women-presenting individuals who will follow in their footsteps.”
Austin Dames United
Austin boasts a formidable who’s who list of women leaders working in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries. Les Dames d’Escoffier Austin, AKA the Austin Dames, is a nonprofit organization captained by these talented women and women-identifying individuals, to support up-and-comers in their industries. The Austin Dames are all volunteers who engage in education, philanthropy, and community outreach.
The list of members is more than 150-strong, all women positioned in leading roles in their fields. The roster may leave anyone who’s into the Austin food, beverage, and hospitality scene a bit starstruck, and rightfully so. These women are impressive, savvy, and incredibly busy doing what they do. Austin women are fortunate to have such a group of kindhearted powerhouses actively giving back.
The Austin Dames, founded in 2003, remain dedicated to their stated mission: “To inspire, advance, and support women in food, beverage, and hospitality to achieve excellence in leadership and philanthropy” and their vision: “Les Dames Austin envision a world where all people appreciate and value the work and contribution of women in our industry, where women support women, and where communities create meaningful impact through serving our community.”
Women Supporting Women
They fulfill these lofty goals through mentorship, networking, fundraising, and by actually getting out into the community. They volunteer, bring food to food kitchens, and speak at events for women in their industries and for industry-wide events. Current Austin Dames President, Anna Tauzin, emphasizes that their organization strives to increase outreach and membership among diverse populations, in order to create a welcoming community of belonging, and one that reflects the many hands that serve the industries represented by the group.
Recently, explains Tauzin, Les Dames has worked to increase diversity and reach out to be more inclusive to the wider community and BIPOC women in these fields. Part of that involved opening up their first Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB), spending time seeking out diverse voices, and listening to see where they could make impactful changes. One way they have done this is by ditching the old rule that members could only join the group through being nominated by a current member. Tauzin happily reports that since taking these steps, diversity in the group has improved.
Austin Dames in Action
What does participation in the Austin Dames look like? On any given day, you may find these dynamic members collecting food and delivering it for Austin’s unhoused community, speaking on or emceeing an industry panel, attending industry conferences, fundraising for the Les Dames Austin grants and scholarships, cooking for or delivering food for a member in need, and of course, keeping busy at the helm of their own businesses.
The group’s boundaries are loosely defined as “Austin,” although its member roster includes leaders from outlying areas as well, from Kyle to Georgetown and the Texas Hill Country. Being an all-volunteer organization, without a single paid employee, means that these women see the value in not only lifting up the women working in their industries but also in promoting those faces representing the future of the food, beverage, and hospitality industries to help build a stronger, more welcoming Austin.
One of their primary fundraising events, You Grill, Girl!, takes place at Franklin Barbecue each spring. Soon after the event, the group holds their annual spring event awarding their scholarships and grants to worthy women to pursue their own continuing education to help them progress in their fields. In 2023, the Austin Dames gave out more than $50k in award money, double what they had raised in recent years.
The Austin Dames have given away more than $288,000 in scholarships and continuing education stipends since their start in 2003. They are looking to possibly expand their awards into business grants in the future. The recipients of these awards are all members of the outside community—members are not eligible.
The group also hosts a monthly education session, and regular happy hours and coffee chats, to provide the opportunity to network and get together. They also scour the papers and social media for news of their members, so the organization can help to promote their members in the news, because, Tauzin admits, not all women feel comfortable shining a spotlight on themselves.
Another area where the Austin Dames support their members is in providing mental health resources for each other. Because burnout among women, particularly in service industries and leading their companies, is very real. Whether that mental health support looks like chatting with a mentor or other member of the group when they need to or accessing the resources gathered for this purpose, it is another area where the group supports its members.
A Rich History
The Austin Dames is the central Texas chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI). LDEI was officially founded in New York City in 1973 by Carol Brock, then Sunday food editor at the New York Daily News. The original inspiration for Les Dames d’Escoffier was Chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1945), as revered for his philosophy and philanthropy as for his expertise and artistry in the kitchen. Several of Escoffier’s former pupils, as well as others in the culinary, beverage, or hospitality industries launched an all-male group Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of New York, Inc. in 1936.
That model became the foundation for Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization boasting many luminary members, including Julia Child, over the decades of its existence. Les Dames d’Escoffier Austin hit the ground running in 2003, recruiting more than 150 members from diverse areas of the culinary, beverage, and hospitality scenes, from chefs and bakers to food writers and winemakers, cooking instructors, farmers, and caterers. Their presence is a bright light in Austin.