Les Dames D’Escoffier Brings the Restaurant Industry’s Top Women to Boston

Staff Writer
We spoke with chef Nicholas Calias about planning the menu
Les Dames D'Escoffier

Les Dames D'Escoffier

The men were in the kitchen and the women were in the dining room. 

An opening reception, 8 paired courses and a room full of successful, powerful and independent women – this is the story of Les Dames D’Escoffier’s 55th annual dinner. Held this past Sunday evening at The Colonnade, Chef Nicholas Calias was in charge of the evening's culinary journey – a journey 3 months in the making.

It might seem like a lot, 3 whole months to prepare for one single meal? Well, according to Chef, it is not as much as you might think. Keep in mind; this is a society of some of the restaurant and hospitality industry’s most important women. Neither was this your average prix fixe meal. The evening began with celebratory Champagne and, upon opening the doors to the banquet room, 8 unique courses were served with exquisite timing. Each dish somehow contrasted its predecessor, while unifying a common thread throughout the evening: the power of food and beauty and its ability to empower others – women in particular.

I was honored to be invited to this dinner. I could barely wait to speak with some of the members and quickly realized just how much success, knowledge and support was circulating the room. Lee Napoli, former president of the organization and owner of Chocolee and Bread and Butter in the North End, gave an incredible speech, attesting to the necessity of women sticking together, standing up for one another and most importantly, always lending a hand. The kitchen, often thought of as a woman’s domain, is in fact much of a men’s club in the industry. This said, I was curious about Chef Nicholas’ stance on a few things related to this dinner – I imagine it can’t be easy to create a dinner for a room full of the industry’s leading women. Here are a few of the questions I asked, and his well-weighted answers:

The Daily Meal: How did you conceptualize the menu for this 55th annual dinner of Les Dames D'Escoffier?
Chef Nicholas Calias: When we design a menu like this, we start with seasonal items and then we research dishes that are classical to Escoffier. Once we have that, we then think about how to modernize the dishes, from there I draw pictures and we do a tasting for each other. The entire process takes anywhere from 2-4 months.  

Did you have a favorite dish? Which one and why?
I had many favorite dishes.  From the rabbit to the rice pudding, but my favorite had to be the charred broccoli salad which is a play on a dish that one of my closest friends makes – it’s a personal dish for me. The rice pudding also is really personal to me, I was taught how to make that from a former mentor from one of the most influential chefs in the US. 

What are your thoughts on women in the restaurant industry? Lee Napoli, former president of the institution, mentioned it is still a 'man's world' and that women had to support one another if they are going to make a difference. 
There are so many great women chefs right here in Boston from Tiffani Faison Walsh at Tiger Mama & Sweet Cheeks to Barbara Lynch, Jodi Adams and so on and so fourth. I have had the pleasure of having a number of female chefs in my kitchen and working for some incredible female chefs. My first chef back in 92 was Chef Annie- one of the best chefs I have ever worked for. I believe it's more about having the passion to be a chef.

You mentioned at the dinner that you had a female mentor for part of your career, who was that and can you tell us why she was so helpful to you?
Chef Annie at Pinebrook Country Club, she was awesome. She taught me the fun in cooking, how to move on a line and just pump out great quality food in the proper amount of time. She taught me about vendors and what to look for in foods. I owe her a lot especially for starting my career. 

Perhaps men run many of the restaurants around town, but women are quickly becoming contenders. The most important thing to remember is that this is not an ‘us vs. them’. As Chef Nicholas says, it’s about the passion, as Lee Napoli says, it’s about the support and the community. We can all help one another out. And we must. This rang true throughout Les Dames D’Escoffier’s 55th annual dinner and will continue to ring true as these courageous leaders continue in their endeavors, supporting one another and anyone else who needs help along the way.