The LEE Initiative Unveils New Class of Women Culinary & Spirits Program

The Women Culinary and Spirits Program (WCSP) from The LEE Initiative, co-founded by Chef Edward Lee and Lindsey Ofcacek, announces its fifth class of mentees since starting the program in 2018. WCSP creates a path to leadership for women in the food and beverage industry through seven months of programming, including immersive training experiences, professional culinary training, and continuing education opportunities. Each mentee also works with one of this year’s mentors: Kelsey Barnard Clark, Anne Quatrano, Katie Button, Nina Compton, Reem Assil, Beverly Kim, Silvia Barban and Jessica Koslow. 

The program equips members of each class with skills and resources needed to succeed in the industry, with the ultimate goal of bringing more equity, diversity, and compassion to the culinary space. After a record number of applications, The LEE Initiative’s selection committee announces this year’s class:

Culinary Mentees

  • Eka Sunaryati Soenarko – Metairie, Louisiana
  • Chelsea Ballard – Bluffton, South Carolina
  • An Cao – Louisville, Kentucky 
  • Tayler Barnes – Atlanta, Georgia 
  • Ashley Knight-Williams – Washington D.C.

Spirit Mentees

  • Alex Kachakji – Gilroy, California
  • Jarina Naone – Atlanta, Georgia

The 2023 program includes the following experiences: 

  • The Kentucky Experience: Mentees travel to Louisville, Kentucky, for an immersive experience from May 19th to the 22nd that highlights the unique aspects of the hospitality industry in Kentucky. Culinary mentees will work with the team at Red Hog, a woman-owned restaurant and butcher shop, to conceptualize and create their own sausage recipe, in addition to learning about business, leadership and mentorship in the restaurant industry. Spirits mentees will join award-winning bartender and graduated mentee SC Baker for a hands-on cocktail workshop focused on sustainable practices, intentionality and creativity. 
  • Externships: For one week, mentees will work under their mentor and will be trained in all aspects of operating a restaurant, ranging from back of house work to business accounting. 
  • FAB Conference: Mentees travel to Charleston for educational and inspirational workshops created by women, for women in the hospitality industry. This includes the Halfway Soiree, an event catered by WCSP graduates for FAB attendees. Additionally, in collaboration with Maker’s Mark, the current class of spirits mentees will curate a cocktail menu and take over Proof bar to conclude the conference.
  • Maker’s Mark: Mentees will participate in the Maker’s Mark Private Selection program, a custom barrel offering where mentees taste and craft a bespoke “recipe” for a signature bourbon and learn more about the company’s best in class sustainability practices.

Monogram Experience Center: Mentees spend the day preparing a multi-course lunch using Monogram appliances, participating in hands-on media training, learning how to cultivate a professional social media presence, and exploring how to build their personal brands to attract corporate partnerships.

Maker’s Mark and James Beard Foundation Event Series: For four days in November, The LEE Initiative will host a series of programming at Pier 57 in partnership with the James Beard Foundation. Events will be open to the public, and include a panel discussion with WCSP mentors, mentor and mentee collaborative dinners, and a cocktail party presented by Maker’s Mark. 

The Women Culinary and Spirits Program is supported by partners and donors including Audi of America, Libbey, Maker’s Mark, Westfield Insurance Foundation, Olo for Good, Chef K Gear,, and Richard’s Rainwater.

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