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Archive for July, 2015

Pouring On Innovations – Stats and Novo Cucina

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

By Helen K. Kelley

While restaurant owners are always seeking out ways to increase efficiencies and improve the bottom line, they are also continuously working to enhance the customer’s experience and satisfaction. New and evolving technologies are providing restaurant owners and managers with innovative ways to achieve these goals.

Tapping Into Potential

Legacy Restaurant Partners - Jeff Sime

Jeff Sime

One area where technology has helped make the diner’s experience more positive and improved the restaurant’s bottom line is in beverages. There are several self-serving beer and wine dispensers on the market that can help make the diner’s experience more enjoyable, track what beers and wines are popular and how much is consumed, and enhance the waitstaff’s ability to serve customers well.

STATS Food + Drinks in downtown Atlanta serves a lot of beer. Located in the heart of the city’s tourism district – which includes the Georgia Aquarium, the College Football Hall of Fame, the National Center for Civil & Human Rights and more – and a short walk from the Phillips Arena and Georgia Dome, it welcomes lots of tourists and sports fans alike.

The restaurant features five bars, 70 high-definition TVs and nearly 16,000 square feet of restaurant and private event space. It also features table-top beer dispensers built into nearly a dozen of its tables.

Seven years ago, the restaurant was the first in the U.S. to install TapTable units, which feature two kegs and taps through which diners may self-pour their own beers without ever leaving their seat. After a contained hood fire caused the restaurant to close for repairs last fall, the restaurant’s team decided to upgrade their beer systems to the TableTender beer dispensing system (

TableTender is a long-draw glycol-cooled beer system with taps located on the tables. The kegs are remotely located inside a cooler. and the beer lines are run out to the tables, hidden in the floor, through walls or in the ceiling of the establishment. Glycol, a liquid chemical that can maintain relatively low temperatures, is circulated throughout the entire piping network to ensure the beer is ice cold once it is poured into the glass.

TableTender monitors the amount of beer poured to provide accurate and user-friendly reporting. Each table has its own display, featuring the quantity of ounces that have been poured from the tap, and records real-time information. Flow meters and valves, designed specifically for beer, allow the system to control and record the flow. The dispense information is also transmitted to the TableTender software, which allows management to view dispense data and run reports.

The TableTender beer dispensing system has increased both pouring efficiency and guest satisfaction at STATS Food + Drinks, according to Jeff Sime, vice president of operations for Legacy Restaurant Partners, which operates STATS and multiple other restaurants in the Atlanta area.

“We upgraded to the TableTender system so that we could monitor and enhance the beer service at our tap tables at Stats,” he says. “There are two separate taps available at each table – one dispenses a common domestic brand of beer and the other dispenses a craft brand. Guests can choose to sit at a table that has a beer they prefer or would like to try.”

Orders are placed and regulated through a tabletop iPad system that shows guests exactly how much they’re drinking, down to the ounce. With its regulating and reporting features, TableTender ensures that management has the necessary controls on the system to promote responsible drinking.

The benefits for the restaurant are threefold – it keeps waitstaff from having to constantly bring refills, which then allows them to better attend to their guest’s other needs, and every drop is paid for by the customers, including any pour off. Plus, managers are able to track trends in customer preferences, comparing sales of different beers as well as determining which tap tables have the highest sales.

If a particular beer isn’t selling well, management can change out that keg for a different beer. Tabs are run at a main portal and later, the information is taken from that portal and run through the restaurant’s POS system to generate the customers’ bills. Sime says the system’s tracking capability is probably its most important feature.

“TableTender provides an inventory reconciliation function that tracks every ounce of beer that’s being dispensed through the draft lines at each table,” he says. “It eliminates the possibility of human error, such as overpouring a glass or accidentally filling a glass with the wrong beer and having to discard it,” he says. “We know exactly how many ounces have been consumed, and the customer is billed for every ounce that he or she pours from the tap.”

As for the guests, they experience the convenience of immediately pouring a glass of their chosen beer, without having to wait for a server. Plus, they don’t have to leave their table. In turn, this self-serve capability creates a more efficient system for servers.

“The server doesn’t have to take the order, go to the bar, wait for the bartender to fill the order and then return to the table,” Sime says. “Servers are able to spend more quality time with the guests, ensuring that they’re being hosted appropriately, and attend to their other duties more efficiently.”

When asked if there were any challenges in implementing TableTender, Sime says there have been only a few small difficulties, such as the need to change out kegs of beer more frequently for larger parties.

“The efficiencies far outweigh any of the smaller issues we’ve encountered with the technology,” he says. “Making the upgrade to the TableTender technology was a great decision.”

Uncorking Opportunity

riccardo ullio

Riccardo Ullio

Novo Cucina, the new restaurant concept by Atlanta chef Ricardo Ullio, features an innovative way to both serve wine and save on the bottom line.

Using the Enomatic wine system, the restaurant’s wines are held unoxidized and at the perfect temperature, extending freshness and preserving them for up to four weeks after opening. This gives restaurants the freedom to expand their wine list or even offer tasting menus without worrying about wasting a whole bottle of wine when it’s ordered by the glass.

When a diner orders a glass of wine, the system dispenses the liquid directly from the bottle using inert gas preservation, preserving the flavors and characteristics of the wine for more than three weeks as if the bottle had just been opened. Waitstaff can input the exact amount of wine to be poured each time. This allows guests at Novo Cucina to sample its wine offerings before deciding on a glass.

The system helps regulate portion control, allowing the restaurant to virtually eliminate waste due to overpouring or mistakes in selection. And, it also self-cleans the pouring spouts after each pour to ensure maximum hygiene.

“We offer a refreshing list of boutique wines at our wine bar,” Ullio says. “The Enomatic ensures that our guests can sample whatever they desire and then enjoy a perfect glass of wine, every time.”

Ullio and partner Mike di Paolo also implemented a unique card system that allows patrons an easy way to explore the restaurant’s many offerings.

The restaurant features a “greatest hits” of menu items from Ullio’s other intown Atlanta restaurants, Sotto Sotto and Fritti. It also has a unique way for diners to pay for their meals.

“The card, which is the size of a credit card, can be used for your tab from the moment you walk into the restaurant,” Ullio says. “Whether you order something from our wine bar or gelato counter, enjoy cocktails or coffee, or place an order from your table, each transaction is recorded on the card for the duration of your visit. Then, you simply pay on your way out.”

Di Paolo engineered the card system, which has created an unprecedented level of convenience for customers. In addition to keeping track of customers’ tabs, the cards provide an easy way to create separate checks for individual customers or divided parties.

“The card removes the worry of transferring items among customers,” Ullio says. “With individual cards, customers don’t have the hassle of dividing up the check at the end of their meal – and they only pay once.”


TomorrowWorld Announces First Chef Partnership with Kevin Gillespie

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

TomorrowWorld—America’s largest 21+ music festival—announced its first chef partnership in conjunction with Red Beard Restaurants, the group created and owned by one of Atlanta’s hottest chefs, celebrated author and Top Chef finalist, Kevin Gillespie. The partnership will serve up an assortment of exclusive dining experiences headlined under Tomorrow’s Table to festivalgoers this September 25-27 in Chattahoochee Hills, GA.

Tomorrow’s Table will focus on three key elements throughout the weekend:

The music festival’s first sit-down restaurant experience, which will overlook the Main Stage and feature a new, fresh seasonal menu per day themed to one of Gillespie’s marquee restaurant concepts (traditional whole-hog barbecue Terminus City, award-winning restaurant Gunshow, and his newest Southern upscale eatery, Revival);
A similarly-themed takeaway picnic basket service
And an intimate, seated 10-course dinner cooked and served by Gillespie and friends on Saturday night of the festival.

“Music and food together are a natural fit,” said Chef Kevin Gillespie. “They both serve to enliven your spirit and bring people together in communion. Our team could not be more excited about being a part of such a wonderful event.”

“We pride ourselves on bringing together tastes from around the globe to the TomorrowWorld experience,” said Jamie Reilly, project director of TomorrowWorld. “Showcasing local flavor is a huge part of that, so partnering with Chef Kevin Gillespie and Red Beard Restaurants was a natural fit for expanding TomorrowWorld’s food offerings.”

TomorrowWorld places a huge emphasis on the culinary experience, with the festival’s full slate of food offerings to be announced shortly. Cuisine will be inspired from around the globe and feature Southern BBQ, Italian, sushi, Mexican offerings, an Australian bakery, a dedicated health-foods focus (e.g. green juices, smoothies and salads), and even a Belgian corner with Belgian waffles, fries, meatballs and a full-scale Belgian Beer Café. Earlier this year, TomorrowWorld also introduced Breakfast Beats, where guests can enjoy morning cocktails and breakfast in the festival’s popup camping city DreamVille while a different DJ performs each morning.

TomorrowWorld is an annual 3-day music festival (and 5-day camping experience) nestled within 8,000 acres in Chattahoochee Hills (Atlanta), Georgia. Sister to the renowned Tomorrowland festival held in Boom, Belgium, the third incarnation of the international music phenomenon known for mind-blowing décor across 9 stages, massive artist line-ups, and luxury camping experiences, will be held on September 25th, 26th and 27th. As the largest 21-plus music festival in the world, TomorrowWorld welcomed 160,000 visitors from 75 different countries through its doors and contributed $94 million of economic activity to the Atlanta area in 2014. TomorrowWorld invites guests to discover ‘The Key To Happiness’ this coming September.


Cotton Calf Kitchen to Debut in Historic Braselton

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Cotton Calf Kitchen will debut in mid-August inside the historic Braselton Brothers Department Store building in downtown Braselton, Ga. The 120-seat white tablecloth classic American steakhouse, the latest addition to the northeast Georgia city’s exciting downtown development, is the brainchild of restaurant partners Matt Ruppel, Hudson Tang and Cindy Green.

The fine dining space’s fun, tongue-twisty name pays tribute both to the menu’s classic cuisine and the historic turn-of-the-century Braselton cotton gin building across the street. In addition to the more formal steakhouse dining room, Cotton Calf Kitchen will offer a roomy lounge and bar area with its own menu of sharable plates, along with a carefully curated beverage menu spotlighting craft beers, small- batch whiskeys, bourbons, classic cocktails and a wine list.

“In order to create Cotton Calf Kitchen, we’ve enjoyed a series of conversations with third- and fourth-generation Braselton residents, along with the growing number of transplants who have moved here to learn what they most wanted in a new downtown restaurant,” explains partner Hudson Tang, who previously operated New York City’s popular Manchester Pub. “With downtown’s historic preservation, paired with the area’s plans for a live/work/play environment, it’s an incredibly exciting time to introduce the Cotton Calf brand here.”

In addition to serving up quality dry-aged beef, the menu will feature heirloom vegetables and a tapas-style array of appetizers. A popular Atlanta chef (to be formally announced prior to opening) has been lured to northeast Georgia to oversee the kitchen and menu.

A 20-seat outdoor patio facing the city’s eagerly anticipated amphitheater will be ready in time for cooler weather dining this fall. A private dining room is also planned for the space.

As for Tang, a former New Yorker, he’s so committed to the success of Cotton Calf Kitchen, he’s modified his work commute accordingly. “I just moved into a house about 1/4 of a mile away from the restaurant,” he explains. “To live and work downtown will provide me with an entirely fresh perspective on how we operate Cotton Calf Kitchen. I’m a local now. I’ve jumped into this with both feet!”


2015 ACF Cook. Craft. Create. Convention & Show

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

July 30-August 3, 2015, Orlando World Center Marriott, Orlando, FL. For more information, visit National Convention – American Culinary Federation.


5Church expands to Midtown Atlanta

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Restaurateurs Patrick Whalen, Ayman Kamel, Alejandro Torio and Jamie Lynch are announcing their plans to open a third location of 5Church in Midtown Atlanta early in the first quarter of 2016. The restaurant, which has an existing location in Charlotte and a second opening in Charleston, will be located at 1197 Peachtree Street NE. Serving lunch and dinner daily along with weekend brunch, 5Church offers a technique-driven menu that blends a casual, yet refined dining approach for a memorable experience. The name of the restaurant comes from its original location, the corner of 5th and Church Street, in Uptown Charlotte.

“We love the growth that’s happening in Atlanta and feel there is a lot of continuity between Charlotte, Charleston and Atlanta,” explains Kamel, who will be moving to Atlanta with his family to operate 5Church locally. “We look forward to enhancing the Midtown restaurant scene with a 360-degree dining experience that blends award-winning food with top rate service and nationally acclaimed design.”

The team behind 5Church brings a wealth of operations, marketing and culinary talent to the table and credits their combined forces for the success of their dining concept.

“Our philosophy is ‘there is only we’ because we believe as a company that no one person can make a business successful,” says Kamel, whose expertise lies in growth strategies, business improvement and systems optimization within the hospitality industry. “We are a varied team with different backgrounds who respect each other’s areas of expertise.”

At 5Church, guests will be drawn to the restaurant’s eye-catching design. The restaurant speaks to guests who are looking for a top-notch meal and the service to match but who are also in search of an ambiance that reaches beyond the typical restaurant environs. The neo-Victorian décor features white concrete bars, black leather banquettes, imaginative chandeliers and large-scale artwork created by local artists. The hand-painted ceiling will feature Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” in its entirety. 5Church will seat 185 guests downstairs with an additional rooftop dining space upstairs.

Jamie Lynch, who is both a partner and the restaurant’s executive chef, boasts an impressive culinary background including Le Cirque, Aureole and Café Boulud, as well as Blue and Barrington’s in Charlotte. Since opening 5Church, he has been recognized as Charlotte Magazine’s Best Chef for the past three consecutive years. His menu will feature many 5Church favorites such as the famed “60 second” NY strip steak and 5Church lamb burger with red onion marmalade and Gorgonzola fondue along with new, locally sourced dishes original to the Atlanta restaurant. A 200-bottle wine list curated by an in-house certified sommelier and a selection of specialty cocktails and craft beers will complement Lynch’s menu.


Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint Opens Smyrna Location

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Atlanta-based build-your-own pizza concept Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint continues to build its Atlanta-area locations with another restaurant opening in Smyrna’s Old Ivy Village.

The opening is the 13th Uncle Maddio’s restaurant for the Atlanta-area. The chain has expanded quickly across the country with more than 33 locations in 14 states. Uncle Maddio’s continues its growth in its home market with 14 units planned for the metro-area in the next 5 years. Uncle Maddio’s opened in Newnan in June and will open in Loganville, Ga., later this summer.

The Smyrna restaurant is owned and operated by Mike and Cajgie-Mcgaha Dickey. Mike has more than 25 years in the restaurant industry, 15 of which were spent managing restaurants for Darden. Cajgie Mcgaha-Dickey worked for 20 years as a general manager and in human resources for Applebee’s.

Uncle Maddio’s offers guests the opportunity to choose from one of three crusts, including a gluten-free option, and 48 toppings including six sauces, 27 vegetables and 15 meats. More than 30 menu items are made fresh daily in-house. For those with dietary restrictions, Uncle Maddio’s serves up a selection of healthful options such as whole wheat and gluten-free crusts, hormone-free chicken, fresh local vegetables, Daiya vegan cheese and organic greens. Create-your-own signature salads and toasted Panini sandwiches round out the Italian-style menu. The restaurant also offers a selection of craft beers and wine.

Since launching its aggressive growth plan in 2008, Uncle Maddio’s has signed franchise agreements with 55 different entities in 18 states. Many of Uncle Maddio’s franchisees have previous multi-unit experience with Jimmy John’s, Firehouse Subs, Dairy Queen, McDonalds, Burger King, Krystal, Papa John’s, Domino’s, Golden Corral and Five Guys. Uncle Maddio’s is on track to have 300 restaurants open in five years with 1,000 units in development and is opening units every 10 days.


Oak Steakhouse Announces New Executive Chef Eric Zizka for Avalon Development

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Oak Steakhouse, one of the latest concepts to join Alpharetta’s Avalon development, announced the arrival of new executive chef, Eric Zizka. Already a member of the Indigo Road Restaurant Group family, chef Zizka comes to Atlanta from Oak Steakhouse, the Charleston, South Carolina sister restaurant, where he served as chef de cuisine.

Chef Zizka has already made his mark in Alpharetta by revamping the restaurant’s ever-popular brunch menu. The new menu still showcases Oak’s familiar favorites such as the poutine, cinnamon rolls, shrimp and grits and the oak burger but now additionally includes a handful of new dishes.

Additions to the menu include a lobster grilled cheese with toasted brioche bun filled with hot house tomatoes, tarragon créme fraîche and brie; a local apple fritter, a housemade fried pastry topped with powdered sugar; a shrimp and avocado omelet with farm fresh eggs, local shrimp and mixed greens; and the stuffed French toast with cinnamon raisin brioche, mascarpone, Georgia peaches and toasted pecan maple syrup.


Co-Chefs Matt Weinstein and Christopher Maher Join Forces for One

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

ONE. midtown kitchen announced that Executive Chef Matt Weinstein, formerly Executive Chef of Woodfire Grill, and Executive Chef Christopher Mayer, previously Sous Chef under Nick Oltarsh at ONE. midtown kitchen, will combine their talents for One. midtown kitchen.

Weinstein’s modern cooking perfectly complements Maher’s more traditional comforting approach. A menu is already in-development that incorporates both strengths.


Georgia Grown — Connecting Restaurants and Producers

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Georgia Grown is Go-To Source for Restaurant Operators Statewide

By Ellen Hartman

Holly Chute - Georgia Grown

Chef Holly Chute

Georgia Grown, under the leadership of Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black, has blossomed in recent years. The initiative not only helps the agricultural community in Georgia thrive, it connects producers and restaurant operators across the state to work together and make Georgia products the top item on restaurant menus.

Restaurant Informer sat down with Holly Chute, senior executive chef of Georgia Grown and a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, to learn more about Georgia Grown. Before joining Georgia Grown, Chef Chute worked at the Governor’s Mansion for 33 years and a total of six administrations. During her time at the Governor’s Mansion, she cooked meals for the first families and for business leaders, all while planning menus and recipes to showcase Georgia produce and protein products. It was during this time she came to learn the value in using Georgia agricultural products to stimulate the local economy, while also offering fresher, better-tasting food.

Chef Holly Chute has now taken her years of experience and love of Georgia-made products to Georgia Grown. Restaurant Informer talks to Chef Chute about the program and how it’s making a difference for chefs and operators alike.

RI: What is Georgia Grown?

HC: Georgia Grown is the marketing and economic development program of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. It brings together producers, processors, suppliers, distributors, retailers, agritourism and consumers into one community to help agribusiness grow throughout the state.

RI: What is your role with the program?

HC: As the Senior Executive Chef and Ambassador for Georgia Grown, I am responsible for developing recipes that use Georgia products. These recipes are then used to help our members market their products statewide and nationally. You will often find me conducting food demos using these recipes at expos and events on behalf of the program and the Georgia Department of Economic Development. I also volunteer and conduct community outreach to give exposure to the program and its members.

RI: How does Georgia Grown help restaurant operators?

HC: At Georgia Grown, we help restaurant operators learn how to utilize Georgia products in their menus while also educating them on the availability of products based on seasonality. In addition to educating operators on the many Georgia Grown products available, we also educate them on how to source Georgia agriculture. We take chefs on farm and facility tours so they can see first-hand the farm-to-fork process and actually meet the farmers who are growing their produce and raising their chickens.

RI: Why is Georgia Grown so important to the state and to restaurant operators?

HC:  Consumers are demanding locally sourced food, and in order to be successful, restaurant operators need to meet this demand. Georgia chefs and restaurants can offer a healthy and delicious menu with products all sourced statewide – everything from peaches, pecans and peanuts to Georgia White Shrimp, beef, pork, quail and chicken.

Many chefs don’t know they can buy locally made fresh pecan and olive oils. Or that we can help them source unusual items like ramps that grow in the wild in the North Georgia Mountains. Georgia Grown should be the first place chefs go when developing a menu. They can learn what is available in Georgia and what’s in season.

RI: What chefs and restaurants have you worked with that have benefited from Georgia Grown?

HC: We have worked with so many Georgia chefs that make an effort to serve locally sourced food. Hilary White, executive chef at The Hil in Serenbe, makes seasonal produce a big part of her menu, and we work closely with her. On a larger scale, we are currently working with Chick-fil-A on using local produce in its Dwarf House and Truett’s Grill concepts. And [personal chef and menu consultant] Jennifer Booker is also a strong advocate of Georgia Grown.

In addition to working with restaurants, we also work closely with other organizations like Kennesaw State University (KSU). Chef Gary Coltek, senior director of culinary and hospitality services at KSU, is a member of Georgia Grown and is teaching the next generation of chefs the value and benefits of eating and serving locally grown products.

RI: What do operators need to do to get started?

HC: First, an operator must join through our website,, and complete the business profile to be included on the Georgia Grown website and locator map. They can then use the Georgia Grown logo on their menus, products and merchandise. They will also enjoy the marketing opportunities, like events and social media efforts, available to our members.

We encourage restaurant operators to get involved in Georgia Grown and utilize this innovative program to meet consumer demand for locally grown products.

Editor’s note: It is free to add your company’s business profile to the searchable database, then you may join as a premium member with five levels of membership starting at $100 a year.

Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Huddle House, First Watch, Fresh To Order, Billy Sims BBQ and Uncle Maddio’s and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, Les Dames d’Escoffier International and has served on the board of the Georgia State University School of Hospitality. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.


Advancing Leaders to the Top

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

A peek into Les Dames d’Escoffier International, which provides philanthropic and networking outlets for women in the culinary field 

By Ellen Hartman

Each fall Atlantans gather for an “Afternoon in the Country” at the picturesque urban village Serenebe in Palmetto, Georgia. More Virginia Willisthan 80 of the region’s top chefs whip up their best dishes, and attendees sip on the finest wines and premium micro-brews.

With entertainment like live music and hayrides, it may just seem like a fun party south of the city, but there’s more to the celebration than just a good time. The unique experience reflects a one-of-a-kind group’s commitment to funding a good cause. In 2013 alone, the event raised more than $115,000.

The women behind the annual fundraiser are part of the world’s philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality: Les Dames d’Escoffier International.

When simply looking at the numbers, the amount of women leaders in the food and hospitality industry can seem disheartening. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while women represent a majority of the food service industry, only 18.7 percent identified as head chefs and cooks. In fact, there are more female CEOs than there are chefs.

With such disparities continuing to grow, organizations like the Dames, formally known as Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI), remain a critical piece in the lives of many women. The organization was founded in 1976 by New York Daily News food reporter Carol Brock at a time when the number of opportunities for women in the culinary arts was dismal. Not only did the invite-only organization create networking opportunities, but philanthropy and scholarship are also key components to its mission. LDEI has grown to count more than 1,400 members across 29 chapters.

“From chefs, restaurateurs and caterers to winemakers, journalists and hospitality executives, we have an incredibly diverse membership of women leaders representing all facets of the food and hospitality industry,” says Shelley Pedersen, CPCE, Atlanta Chapter president and on staff at Affairs to Remember Caterers. “We’re proud that we’ve established ourselves as not only a top advocate and asset in the food industry, but we’re also a philanthropic leader in our community.”

Founded in 1996, the Atlanta chapter boasts a membership of about 100 women who focus on creating educational and charity opportunities. The Atlanta Chapter is all about helping to feed the hungry, teaching children about how to eat healthy and helping organic farmers to get their products to consumers.

For Virginia Willis, a past president of the Atlanta chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, “the Dames” incredibly influenced her path to success.

“What truly makes the Dames stand out is the fact that it is truly made up of leaders and doers who accomplish important things for the restaurant industry,” she says.

After graduating from the University of Georgia with a BA in History, she was in management at Rich’s clothing store. But she had long been interested in food and cooking when she met Southern cooking doyenne (and LDEI Grande Dame) Nathalie Dupree through a friend. She soon became an apprentice with Dupree’s cooking show on PBS and began her journey to becoming an authority in food.

“The passion definitely began at home in my grandmother’s kitchen, but under Natalie’s tutelage, I saw and tasted things I had never experienced,” Willis says.

In addition to Dupree’s mentorship, Willis received a scholarship from the Atlanta LDEI chapter and successfully pursued a culinary arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine. “In culinary school, the chef wanted me to go work for top male French chefs, but I wanted to work for a woman and wanted to learn how to succeed in this industry as a woman.”

She learned the proper techniques, but the real game-changer came when she moved to France. Willis found her next mentor in Anne Willan while attending École de Cuisine La Varenne, the first bi-lingual cooking school in Paris. Willan not only taught her how to create recipes, but she also exposed her to the editorial side of the business and luminaries like Julia Child and James Beard.

Since her days in retail, the boost of the LDEI scholarship and the mentorship of other women leaders, Willis has gone on to achieve many accolades and accomplishments. She has worked on more than 1,000 TV episodes as Kitchen Director for Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay, Producer of Epicurious on The Discovery Channel and Home Plate for Turner Studios. She has been featured in USA Today and Country Living and is a contributing editor to Southern Living. She is also the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, Okra: A SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook, and Grits by Shortstack Editions, which was featured in The New York Times.

“By giving scholarships to women, we’re ensuring restaurants have educated employees,” Willis says. “We take it to the next level with our mentoring programs, which keeps employees engaged and empowered.”

Willis isn’t the only testament to how LDEI’s model of networking, scholarship and mentorship contributes to growing women leaders throughout the food industry.

Les Dames descoffierFor Tamie Cook, her dream culinary career blossomed later in life. After spending 15 years as an occupational therapist, she had the opportunity of a lifetime to live in Paris for three years.

“I discovered food and wine, the way it is meant to be enjoyed,” she says.

While she dreamed of turning her passion for food into a viable career, it took an unfortunate round of layoffs to spur her to action. She, too, won a scholarship from LDEI and attended New England Culinary Institute. She interned with Bacchanalia and the cooking school LaVarenne in Burgundy, France, then went on to work on Alton Brown’s Peabody-award winning Good Eats and became Alton’s first full-time employee.

She now has a sought-after recipe development and culinary consulting company with clients across the Southeast. She also serves as Les Dame’s Atlanta scholarship committee chair and helps to give other the chance she was given to finally follow her dream.

“Les Dames helps level the playing field,” Cook says. “While women do most all of the cooking in the world, men get most of the credit. We are about changing this, changing lives and making the food industry a great place to work.”

The journeys of Cook and Willis are two of hundreds of other success stories tied to the Dames. Despite the daunting numbers, their efforts help to give the field’s most talented women the lift they need.


Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola Refreshments, Olo Mobile/Online Ordering, Chili’s, Huddle House, First Watch, Fresh To Order, and Uncle Maddio’s and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, Les Dames d ’Escoffier International and has served on the board Georgia State University School of Hospitality. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.


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