Fun, Funds & Fabulous Food: SummerDine 19 Was a Real Success

By Elaine T. Cicora
Photos by Elaine T. Cicora, Cynthia Shuster-Eakin, Shara Bohach, Bev Shaffer

This year’s SummerDine19, our chapter’s major fundraiser for our grants and scholarships program, was held on Wednesday, Aug. 21. The evening proved to be a rousing success, raising over $4,000 and fully funding next year’s awards.

In the process, 55 lucky diners (LDEI members and non-members alike) contributed $80 each to the cause, in return for a very special dining experiences at one of 12 of the area’s top restaurants:

Each and every venue offered a specially designed, multi-course menu that highlighted its culinary style. At Spice Kitchen, for instance, 10 guests were treated to The Whole Beast Feast, an extraordinary spread wherein the guest of honor was a succulent roasted piglet, carved tableside by Chef Dave Blackburn. Meanwhile, at La Campagna, chef/owner and chapter member Carmella Fragassi presided over an authentic Italian repast that began with an Aperol Spritz, moved into the summertime classic “prosciutto e melon,” proceeded to homemade burrata ravioli, and reached its apex in a succulent pork rib eye, or eggplant Parmesan for the vegetarians.

At Vacarro’s, six diners were delighted by owner Raphael Vacarro’s friendly interactions, especially as he poured the wine pairings that accompanied each course. At Paladar, on the other hand, it was a series of rum tastings that won over the guests at the six-top.

Supporters who dined at Luxe are still raving about the five-course tasting menu, especially the perfectly prepared halibut, and the savory short rib served with ricotta gnocchi. At Michaelangelo’s, the star of the menu may well have been the saltimbocca, so full of flavor it literally “jumped in the mouth.” “Five courses of deliciousness!” exclaimed the guests who dined at Der Braumeister. And the lucky guests at Dante not only savored sumptuous dishes like tuna tartare topped with foie gras and truffle sauce, and a dessert tasting that included apple-rhubarb sorbet with fresh fig and kumquat, peach bars with almonds and Bing cherry puree, and chocolate mousse with homemade marshmallow and peanut butter ice cream – they got to do it all while seated at the Chef’s Table where they were personally served by Chef Dante Boccuzzi himself! (We understand the chef even delivered a goodbye hug as his guests departed!)

Thanks, and thanks again, to all the fine restaurants who supported SummerDine19, and to the discerning members of the Cleveland dining community who purchased tickets to join us.

Thanks as well to the chapter members who coordinated the event, and the members who sold or bought two or more tickets. We could not have had such a successful evening without your help!


Brunching in the Garden

By Elaine T. Cicora
Photos by Elaine T. Cicora, Beth Davis-Noragon and Caroline Davis

Six dames and one guest came together on Sunday, July 14, for a potluck brunch and general membership meeting at Cavotta’s Garden Center & Urban Farm in Cleveland, a family operation founded in 1930 and currently run by Angela Cavottta, the third-generation owner. Beneath cloudless skies and surrounded by tidy gardens, vintage outdoor décor, and planters overflowing with colorful blooms, we enjoyed the chance for some task-focused conversation and planning, along with some very tasty brunch fare. Crisp, salty-sweet slices of bourbon-brown sugar bacon, cucumber tea sandwiches with lemongrass and ginger, cucumber-dill salad with sliced smoked salmon, tortellini salad, beautiful loaves of artisanal bread and toppings, and eclairs – all made an appearance. And what is brunch without a Mimosa or two? Happily, Cavotta’s newly opened Garden Bar was there to serve.


Dinner in the Dark with Dames

June 24, 2019

From Dame Carol Hacker’s irresistible Basil Vodka Lemonade to Dame Amanda Montague’s stunning strawberry-chocolate tart, last night’s Dinner in the Dark with Dames was a delicious success.

More than 70 devoted foodies and fans of Chef Brian Okin’s popular Dinner in the Dark series turned out to support our chapter’s culinary grants and scholarship programs and enjoy a multicourse menu created by chefs and chapter members Karen Small (Flying Fig), Heather Haviland (Lucky’s Café), Ruth Levine (former chef-owner of Bistro 185), Britt-Marie Horrocks (Levy Restaurants) and Amanda Montague (Lilly Handmade Chocolate). A group of Dames volunteered as the servers and bussers for the evening, allowing us to put even more proceeds towards our grants and scholarships. Thanks also go to Michael and Dawn Selzer of Private Reserve Wine, Stevee Wagner Terry of ICASI and all the great staffers, front and back of the house, who made this evening rock!

Not only was it a fun way to highlight the immense talents of our membership while raising funds to support the next generation of female culinarians, but it also was the perfect way to introduce our chapter to the broader community.

We hope many of last night’s guests will be inspired to support us in August, at SummerDine 2019, our major annual fundraiser. Tickets are now on sale, here!

And... by popular demand, here it is!
Dame Carol Hacker's Vodka Basil Lemonade
Photo by Mary Manno Sweeney

12 ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate
12 ounce vodka (use the empty lemonade can to measure)
Big handful of fresh basil
12 ounces water (use the empty lemonade can to measure)

Combine the lemonade, vodka and basil in a blender and blend until the basil is pureed. Add the water and 7 or 8 ice cubes and blend until the ice is liquefied. Pour over ice in a glass to serve.

To make as a slushy drink: Eliminate the water and combine the lemonade, vodka and basil in a blender and blend until the basil is pureed. Fill the blender container with ice and blend until smooth and slushy.


LDEI Cleveland Chapter Announces Winner
of the 2019 Culinary Scholarship

Meet Melissa Holden!
Winner of the 2019 Culinary Scholarship

Sponsored by the Cleveland Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International

“A natural born leader.” “I trust her unconditionally.” “Consistently a team leader.” “Passionate.” “Truly deserving.” “Melissa doesn’t wait to be told who to help. She sees a need and takes action.” — excerpts from Melissa Holden’s 2019 letters of recommendation

Chef, community activist, mother of three college-aged children, and full-time student at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio – where she holds down a 3.85 GPA – Melissa Holden is winner of the 2019 Culinary Scholarship, sponsored by the Cleveland Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International.

This scholarship is awarded by the Cleveland Chapter of LDEI to a woman student enrolled in an accredited culinary program, who has permanent Ohio residency. The award is based on academic accomplishments, career goals, culinary experience, professional and personal references, and financial need. Awarded scholarship money goes directly to the school or institution in which the recipient is enrolled and must be used for tuition only.

Melissa’s victory was announced on April 20, 2019. As winner, she will receive $2,000 from the Cleveland Chapter to help support her culinary studies at Hocking College, where she is enrolled in two associate degree programs. She’ll earn her Culinary Arts degree in May; in December, she will complete her studies for a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management.

Melissa is also deeply committed to grassroots programs that improve food access. Beyond volunteering at food banks, she has been involved in projects for Live Healthy Appalachia and Local Matters Columbus. And as founder of Community Share, a community-based volunteer group that comes to the aid of families facing food insecurity, Melissa has been consulting with renowned Columbus restaurateur Cameron Mitchell to transition her organization into an official nonprofit.

In the past, Community Share volunteers have done everything from delivering holiday meals to families in need to manning a series of pop-up kitchens in some of Columbus’ neediest neighborhoods. Once her studies are complete, and the organization has attained its nonprofit status, Melissa aims to become Community Share’s Executive Director and transition full-time into nonprofit food-related programming.

Meantime, Melissa says, she is honored to have been chosen for the award.

The 49-year-old chef, who has been working in professional kitchens since 2006, says the scholarship application process gave her a chance to take hard look at her career path. “It really motivated me think about what I want to do with my future,” she says. “I love being a chef, but I am also ready for a new culinary challenge. This process has catapulted me into examining my goals and to really understanding that this can be a new start.”

Plans are underway for Melissa to meet our chapter membership in person sometime over the summer, and to receive a certificate reflecting the scholarship honor. Please keep an eye on our website’s Events page for more information.


A Brand New Year – Take a Fresh Look at Your Brand

By Shara Bohach

The new year offers the perfect resolution opportunity to re-evaluate your brand. To take a look back on the past year and realign your efforts for the year ahead.

Personally, we visit hundreds of food and beverage establishments each and every year. Some are just opening and making their culinary mark, while others are well established and well known. They range from the local right down the road to treasured new finds discovered in our travels. As brand marketers, we cannot help noticing, evaluating, analyzing, and discussing brands everywhere we go. It’s just a hazard of the profession.

The most rewarding is when we encounter a brand that we feel has hit the mark and has been executed in all the right ways. No detail too small, everything considered and aligned to the brand. Some are extremely creative, while others are simple and elegant. But overall, there is no question that they know who they are. As customers we are immersed in their distinct message, design look, and interior space. In print and online the brand is defined. Language, tone and design cohesively communicate the same essence.

A successful brand is not the repetitive use of logo, graphics and message on everything. It is an evolving integration of elements that stay true to a defined feel and tonality. They uphold a consistent look and tone in every communication that makes them both recognizable and memorable.

Take a moment and resolve to evaluate your own brand.

The Brand
Many think their logo is their brand, and it undoubtably does a lot of the heavy lifting, however your brand consists of so much more. Every marketing impression creates it. Your brand is essentially what people think and feel about your company. Can you list a few meaningful words that represent your business. Are you about integrity, service, quality, reliability, simplicity? Think about what your business strives to do better than anyone else. Consider a farmers market known for always having the freshest, local produce; a modern, upscale restaurant with inspired preparations and impeccable service; a gourmet product with a reputation of only natural, organic ingredients. This is what you become known for. It's your brand promise to your customers.

Elevator Pitch
Now formulate those few words into a few sentences with a distinct tone and you'll have your “elevator pitch”. This is your answer to “What do you do?” It is not a tagline, positioning statement, or mission statement… although it does play into all of them. The pitch serves as the beginning to your unique story.

The Message
It is critical to stay in front of your customers. Put together a marketing calendar for the year. Plan out a healthy dose of creative, compelling promotions or events, and intriguing communications just to stay in touch and on their minds. The key is to stay visible. Be first after the holidays when nothing else is going on and cabin fever starts setting in. Understand the audience you want to reach and the language they speak when crafting your marketing communications. Don't talk young to an older audience and vice versa. Be succinct. You do not want to frustrate your audience with cryptic marketing messages.

Refresh When Needed
The best thing you can do for your brand is to define it and stay true to it. However, sometimes a brand starts to stale. It might look outdated, or the business focus may change. If you feel that's true, it may be time for a refresh. You might modernize the design elements and color palette or change up some language to better reflect the brand’s evolving personality.

Whether you have limited budget and time, or you have plenty of both, basic principles remain the same to making a lasting impression and cultivating a brand. Stay focused and true. Evolve and know your audience. Avoid adding conceptual noise – distracting elements everywhere to grab attention. These compete for attention, diluting your core message. Always have fun with the journey and stay creative.

Shara Bohach is Owner and Creative Director at Unity Design, Inc. a design firm that specializes in building brands for the culinary industry. In business since 2000, Unity Design has carried out every imaginable type of project from logos to packaging to websites to trade show graphics and all things in-between. Shara has been an active Les Dames d’Escoffier member for over 10 years. Unity Design, Inc. at 440-516-9688 | www.unitydesign.biz


Winter's Wonderful Wines

By Maggie Harrison

The cold winds of winter are upon us, but there’s always a bright side: Each season brings a fresh opportunity to find new wine varieties and explore new regions.

Here are six slightly outside-the-box wines to keep you warm and happy – with food or not!


Sparkling Wines

Not just for New Year’s Eve: The next time you roast a chicken or serve a root-based dish, try a Cremant. This is a sparkling wine from anywhere in France that isn’t Champagne. Made with a variety of grapes but in the same way that Champagnes are made, Cremants are almost always rich, creamy, and delicious, while costing 30- to 50-percent less than Champagne.

My pick: NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant D’Alsace, $19.99

Notes: 100-percent Pinot Blanc. Aromatics of lemon, grapefruit, and slight yeasty character. Ripe fruits on a gently, creamy palate balanced by crisp acidity and a long finish.


You can expect wines labeled as Rosé to be dry, and that’s what you should stick with. The darker pink ones will have more heft...some even show a little tannin. Lighter colored wines will be lighter in weight, but both styles work wonderfully as an aperitif; the higher acidity stimulates both an appetite and conversation. Rosé pairs perfectly with honey-baked ham and shrimp cocktail.

My pick: 2017 Chateau Campuget ‘Tradition’ Rosé, Costieres de Nimes, France, $10.99

Notes: 70-percent Syrah, 30-percent Grenache, this pale-pink rose is delicate in both aroma and flavor, offering perfumed cherry blossom and crisp red cherry and raspberry notes. Dry and full bodied, refreshingly mineral, brightened by juicy, lemony acidity.


Gamay is a light-bodied red wine, similar to Pinot Noir, from the Beaujolais region of France. You can expect a highly aromatic wine offering fresh-cut violets, red cherry, and plums. Medium bodied, dry, yet with loads of expressive fruit, usually silky smooth and mouthwatering. They are a bit fuller than Pinot Noir from Burgundy and they come at a nicer price. Yet much like Pinot Noir, they are friendly with a lot of foods. Their floral aromatics and snappy style make them a delicious counter to cold weather.

My pick: 2015 Drouhin Beaujolais Villages, $15.99

Notes: Fresh and silky with both the freshness and fruit remaining for quite a long time on the palate.


Expand your horizons beyond California. There are fantastic Cabernets coming from Chile, Italy and, of course, France, with Bordeaux. Domestically, Cabernet grows magnificently in Washington State, delivering classic flavors at extremely competitive prices. They lean toward an Old-World style, with leather, mint, herbs, and bell pepper under currant and cherry flavors. These score high on the quality-to-price ratio.

My pick: 2016 Boomtown Cabernet by Dusted Valley, Washington State, $16.99

Notes: Refined yet rugged, offering wonderful cherry fruit and balancing acid, while giving you the rustic complexity of freshly crushed herbs.

Cabernet Alternatives

Portugal has become the last, great wine frontier in Europe, offering an intriguing, affordable selection of wines. Two regions in particular seem to be easy to find: Alentejo and Douro. Alentejo, inland in the south of Portugal, is a hot region similar to California. Red wines from there are robust, powerful, and rich. Douro region wines are concentrated yet elegant.

My pick: 2016 Quinta do Crasto, Douro Tinto, $14.99

Notes: Excellent aroma expressiveness, showing notes of fresh red fruit and elegant florals reminiscent of violets. Seductive on the palate, evolving into a balanced wine of great volume and solid structure. The tannins are polished and well integrated.


Ninety-five percent of all Sherry is dry, with amazing amounts of flavor. Lighter Sherry offers raw almonds, herbs, a slight bitterness, and high acidity; the darker versions feature hazelnuts, caramel, oak, and raisins while remaining dry to slightly off-dry.

My pick: NV Lustau ‘Don Nuno’ Dry Oloroso, $27.99

This middle-of-the-road style offers a perceived sweetness of dark chocolate, walnuts, and roasted chestnuts. Very persistent on the palate, tempered with a slight acidity. Pairs deliciously with squash, root dishes, soups, hearty pastas, and roasted fowl. This is also an alternative to Whisky and a fun cocktail ingredient.

Maggie Harrison is a professional in the service industry, with more than 30 years of experience, with a specific focus on wine. She has experience in restaurants, retail, distribution, and training/education, and brings a broad and deep repertoire of skills to her clients and consumers. Contact her at m.harrison@vintwine.com.


What I Learned at Conference

By Elaine Cicora

Cannabis Cuisine Panelists (from left to right): Jodi Hall, Jessica Tonani, and Tamara Murphy

It took me nine years to catch on to the LDEI Conference. Over that time, I found plenty of reasons to ignore it: The late-October date seemed dreary. The cost seemed high. There would be flights to book. And how the heck was I supposed to figure out all the registration details?

But eventually, I started to come around. Sure, Dame Carol Hacker’s oft-repeated claim that, “You can’t turn around at Conference without somebody putting a plate of food or a glass of wine in your hands!” sounded tempting. But it wasn’t until last year that it finally hit me: Conference and commitment to our mission could go hand-in-hand.

Of course it is possible to be a leader within the chapter and never attend a Conference. But – and this is a big one – it is almost impossible to overstate the value of sharing your successes, your challenges and your questions, one-on-one, with Dames from around the world, who have already traveled down those roads before you. What you learn at Conference – and you will learn a lot – makes you a stronger, smarter and more effective member of your chapter, and makes your chapter better for it.

Sales pitch aside, here are four quick learnings I brought back from this year’s Seattle Conference. They got me thinking about “best practices.” Perhaps they will do the same for you.

LDEI membership is a privilege. Everyone who applies need not be accepted. Recruitment efforts should be strategic, aimed toward finding the types of members your chapter needs, and focused on women who are ready to lead.

Fundraising need not be limited to one blowout event per year. Some chapters hold one or more small, ticketed events throughout the year, i.e., dinners, speakers, panel discussions. And don’t forget silent auctions; in San Antonio, the silent auction associated with their main fundraiser brings in 50 percent of their profits!

Many chapters regularly engage in community work, doing things like teaching healthy cooking classes at food pantries, and gathering and donating farmers’ market leftovers to soup kitchens. The San Antonio chapter holds an annual on-site, catered Holiday Dinner for abused children that includes tree trimming, gingerbread-house decorating, and gifts. “It feels so good to make someone happy, and we Dames just get tighter and tighter,” chapter president Blanca Aldaco told us.

And finally, this – not from fellow Dames but from presenters at one of our concurrent sessions: Cannabis cuisine is the wave of the future. Among the speakers was Jody Hall, founder of The Goodship, producer of delicious, and strictly dosage controlled, marijuana-laced cookies and candies. Want to make “tons” of money? Cannabis cuisine could be your ticket. “Make it delicious, make it low dose, and make it easy for people to take to a concert or a party,” advised Jody. Currently, marijuana is an $800 million industry in Washington, we were told; the rest of the nation can’t be far behind.

The 2019 conference is in Nashville, Oct. 24 through 27. Maybe this is your year to attend?

For more on the 2018 Conference, go here, and be sure to grab the Winter Quarterly when it arrives: It will be full of Conference stories.