Dinner by Dames
A Sisterhood of Chefs Prepares One of Rhode Island’s Favorite Benefit Dinners
At least seven grand dames will be chopping, stirring and wielding their formidable knife skills for Dinner by Dames—a formal sit-down event on the second night of the 2018 Eat, Drink RI Festival.
The festival is a four-day celebration of the Ocean State’s best food producers, caterers and restaurants—a savory weekend for food enthusiasts. It began in 2011 as the brainchild of culinary promoter David Dadekian, who believes “food will help Rhode Island grow.” This year’s sampling of our state’s gustatory best runs from Wednesday, April 25, to Saturday, April 28, at venues in Providence.
Dinner by Dames is one of the highlights of the festival. This women-run event began as a response to Time magazine’s 2013 cover story on the Gods of Food. Of 13 individuals Time anointed as gastronomic influentials, only four were women and none were chefs. Like many others, Dadekian thought that was an outrageous snub to women who were pushing their way into the boys’ club world of restaurant kitchens. So, with chefs on the local food scene, like Kaitlyn Roberts of Easy Entertaining and Maria Meza of El Rancho Grande, the dinner was borne.
Now in its seventh year, the five-course fine-dining experience, “with a few surprises,” is planned and prepared by the female team, with support from Dadekian and his Eat Drink RI partner, Katie Kleyla. Much of the food is provided by women farmers like Jordan Goldsmith and Melissa Denmark (of Gracie’s and Ellie’s Bakery) who own Moonrose Farm in Cranston—both are chefs who will be cooking once again this year.
Ashley Vanasse, executive chef at Easy Entertaining, enjoys the camaraderie of working with her peers. She also finds it empowering. “Men and women have equal skill sets,” she says. The Time magazine story showed that men have more visibility in the commercial food world. “This dinner is a chance to showcase what we can do.”
“This is my favorite event of the year,” says Jessica Wood, co-owner of Fire & Water Restaurant Group, which runs, among other venues, U-Melt café in downtown Providence and numerous beach concessions in Rhode Island and on Cape Cod. She explains that cooking with other women is a more collaborative experience. The members take turns each year preparing the difficult parts of the meal. They share ideas and the yearly dinner reflects each chef ’s current passion, whether it be farm-to-table, small bites or other food trends.
As for recent reports of the adversities women endure in male-dominated restaurant kitchens, Wood says more female leadership in the food industry is the way to stop harassment. “Let’s create an environment of #UsTogether to avoid #MeToo situations.”
Gloria De Paola is a freelance writer with a focus on food, travel and history. Visit her blog at Provender Tales.wordpress.com
Dinner by Dames will be held on Thursday, April 26, at the Skyline at Waterplace, overlooking Waterplace basin in Providence. Tickets are available at EatDrinkRI.com/festival and proceeds benefit AIDS Care Ocean State.