Les Dames d’Escoffier British Columbia scholarships ignite success for women

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      Fumiko Moreton, two-time recipient of a scholarship from Les Dames d’Escoffier British Columbia (LDBC), speaks candidly about the challenges faced by women pursuing food-related careers. “It’s very difficult for women in this industry to survive. A lot quit because they get married and have kids. It’s also very physically hard,” says Moreton, a pastry sous-chef at the Terminal City Club, during a phone interview.

      It’s for those reasons that LDBC, the local chapter of a global society devoted to supporting women in the food, beverage, and hospitality fields, grants scholarships annually to women pursuing relevant studies. The organization is inspired by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier, who is known for his philanthropic and innovative culinary work.

      Stephanie Jaeger, vice-president of LDBC and co-owner of the Pear Tree restaurant, has just completed three years as scholarship chair. She says she feels the awards help women overcome hesitation at going full throttle with their careers. According to Jaeger, one of the biggest barriers for women is the belief that they must prove their mettle to the men in the industry. “There is the perception that the women are not as talented and skilled as the men,” she says during a phone chat.

      Every year, by the February 28 deadline, the scholarship committee receives around 70 applications and eventually narrows the list down to 10 to 15 deserving individuals. Applicants must submit a $30 processing fee, an online form, two letters of recommendation, and a 750-word essay. The latter has a big influence on the committee’s decision. “We look at their passion. Are they committed?” Jaeger explains.

      Awards range from $500 to $5,000, and provide full support if the recipient is taking a short continuing-education course or partial assistance if she’s pursuing a lengthier diploma program. The funds come from LDBC fundraising efforts (such as gala dinners), as well as sponsors.

      Past scholarship winners have used the money to enroll in a wide array of programs in B.C. and beyond. Moreton, for example, won her first scholarship in 2009 and used it for two courses at the Notter School of Pastry Arts in Orlando, Florida. Her second win, in 2011, allowed her to study silicone-mould-making at the Chicago School of Mold Making.

      Michaela Morris, co-owner of House Wine, a local wine-consulting company, was jobless and cash-strapped when she won a scholarship in 2004 that paid for one year of the two-year Wine & Spirit Education Trust diploma program. “It was great because I didn’t have any money, and the scholarship allowed me to pursue my studies as I was starting my business,” she says by phone.

      When she began her career, Morris was one of few women at industry winetastings. Despite stronger representation in recent years, she says encouragement is still important for women in the industry: “If you realize there are serious jobs out there and people are willing to give scholarships for your studies, it tells you that it’s a viable business, something you can make a career in.”

      Jennifer Peters, another two-time scholarship winner and a member of LDBC, makes it clear that LDBC isn’t a forum for complaints about gender mistreatment. Rather, it’s about providing a female point of view in a male-dominated industry. “It’s a support system that you get. And everyone needs a support system,” she says in a phone interview.

      At the March awards ceremony, scholarship winners will get to network with LDBC members, among them prominent women like Lesley Stowe of Lesley Stowe Fine Foods and Meeru Dhalwala, co-owner of Vij’s and Rangoli.

      They’ll also meet Peters, who was chef de cuisine at Raincity Grill for three years before she left last year to help wind down La Belle Auberge, which closed in September. She’s now planning to open a café called the Gourmet Ghetto, which is in the preliminary planning stages.

      Peters’s scholarship in 1998 paid for a three-week pastry course at the Culinary Institute of America, while her second, in 2005, covered yacht-safety training for a nine-month cooking stint on a boat in the Caribbean. Her adventures in places like St. Barts prove that any culinary dream is possible—with a little financial help.

      “I tell all women [in the industry] to apply for a scholarship. It’s worth a shot,” she says.