By: Helen Mitternight
Photo by: Ferris Kaplan
Fifteen years ago, former Apple employee Danielle Wecksler made the leap from high tech to Lowcountry. Along the way, she attended the Culinary Institute of Florence, and, once in Charleston, opened the late, lamented Charleston Cooks! for Dick Elliott of the Maverick Southern Kitchens group. While the culinary school and store were open, she was fortunate to meet celebrity chef Nathalie Dupree, who told her, “You have to be a Dame!” “You don’t say no to Nathalie,” Wecksler explained.
Les Dames d’Escoffier is a philanthropic organization with a mission to promote and mentor women in the food, beverage and hospitality industries. The group provides community outreach and culinary scholarships as well as mentoring. In addition, the Charleston chapter adopts a charity each year and donates money and time; this year, the recipient is Fresh Future Farms, featured in the August 2019 issue of Skirt.
Wecksler was definitely game to be a Dame, but she also understood she would have to wait patiently until she qualified—the group only accepts applications from women with at least five years of experience. Today, she is not only a member of the Charleston chapter but also second vice president of the international board. The organization has 2,400 members in 43 chapters around the world.
“ It’s a group of women who support each other… It’s the real deal, supporting you through the good, the bad and the ugly of the job. I’ve made some of my best friends through Les Dames.”
“It’s a group of women who support each other,” said Wecksler. “It’s the real deal, supporting you through the good, the bad and the ugly of the job. I’ve made some of my best friends through Les Dames.”
Notable Charleston Dames include Nathalie Dupree; Carrie Morey of Callie’s Charleston Biscuits; gelato ambassador and owner of Red Orchids Bistro Kelly Chu; former Magnolia’s Executive Chef Kelly Franz; Jen Kulick, owner of Tattooed Moose and Voodoo; and Angela DuPree of One80 Place; as well as caterers Tanya Gurrieri (Salthouse Catering) and Emma Lesesne-Booth (Duvall Catering)
Wecksler added that the role of women in culinary careers is changing, but that “lots of women have had the experience of being the only woman in a kitchen. It’s been a male arena, to say the least, and women are looking to other women for support.”
The Charleston chapter has provided almost $65,000 in scholarships to date to women seeking careers in food, beverage or hospitality. That money comes from dues as well as from the chapter’s annual fundraising efforts.
This year, the chapter is hosting “Nothing Like Les Dames Week” from October 16-20 with a series of dinners, tastings and demonstrations at different locations. Events range from a tea at Nathalie Dupree’s home to dinners at Dames’ private homes to an ice cream event, a cocktail event with the Cocktail Bandits and a small plates event at 159 Rutledge. There’s also a chocolate and beer pairing at Frothy Beard Brewery to look forward to.
“These events really showcase our Dames’ skills and give everyone a chance to taste some excellent food and drink,” Wecksler commented.
Tickets are available at dames.brownpapertickets.com