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A New Chapter 

New club for female foodies only.

Cleveland's culinary image is getting a little more luster with the launch of the state's sole chapter of Les Dames D'Escoffier International. Founded in New York City in 1973, the organization aims to bring together the world's best female chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, culinary educators, food writers, and the like for mutual education, support, and philanthropic pursuits. On the national scene, members have included such luminaries as Sara Moulton (The Food Network), Mary Sue Milliken (L.A.'s Border Grill), and the late Julia Child; among the 20-or-so charter members of the Cleveland chapter, there's Donita Anderson (North Union Farmer's Market), Heather Haviland (Sweet Mosaic), and Marianne Frantz (Cleveland Wine School).

Co-president Crickett Karson, of Lief & Karson Communications, says mentoring and education are the chapter's major goals. "This isn't a business opportunity," she says. "It's not for marketing or self-promotion. It's a chance for women in the industry to learn from their colleagues' expertise and mentor one another in doing what they love."

So far, the dames have had a chocolate-tasting, taken an insider's tour of the new InterContinental Hotel and Conference Center, and participated in last week's annual Farm-to-Table benefit at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. They are also gearing up for the annual international conference in Chicago this October. All of which sounds like great fun for the members, but why should your average foodie give a fig?

"Whenever the culinary community improves itself," says Karson, "it raises the bar. We bring it all into our businesses, whether we're chefs, writers, consultants, or whatever." Besides, notes charter member Frantz, anything that can create a stronger, more unified food scene is important to Cleveland, a town that's still struggling to secure its culinary street cred.

Contact Karson at 216-831-3767 for more information.

In a partially related development . . . After little more than two years, owners Maureen and Mark Reich have closed Varietals Wine Bar and Café, their friendly little bistro in Cleveland Heights. Maureen Reich says that despite having a core of loyal patrons, sales fell off by more than 25 percent following the openings at Legacy Village and Eton-Chagrin. "I believe we were in a great spot in town, had a fantastic concept, but Clevelanders as a whole flock to whatever is new and pretty and has a name they've heard of," Reich wrote in a recent e-mail. "I think only one-half percent of people would even pay attention to a little privately owned place like ours [while] the rest are waiting in line at the Cheesecake Factory."

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