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We begin with a reminder that the non-profit LEE Initiative is an acronym for Let’s Empower Employment:

We started the LEE Initiative in Louisville, Kentucky in 2015 after we saw a need for more diversity, more training, and more equality in our own restaurants.

Speaking personally, it has been 14 months since the first and only time that your daily correspondent exercised his media credentials to attend a function, this being The LEE Initiative’s and Kentucky to the World’s presentation of “The Future of Food is Female,” held at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.

It was an entertaining and thought-provoking evening, and you already know the spoiler, because shortly thereafter the pandemic descended like a theater curtain to announce the end of one era and (we certainly hope) the beginning of a better one to come. Seemingly overnight The LEE Initiative morphed into a multi-faceted relief coordinating organization.

But it has been only a little more than a year, and The LEE Initiative’s reason for being hasn’t gone away. In an information release earlier this week, the organization announced its next lineup for Women Chefs of Kentucky, now renamed Women Culinary and Spirits Program.

The Women Culinary and Spirits Program, formerly Women Chefs of Kentucky, was The LEE Initiative’s first program, founded in the wake of the #MeToo Movement. Now in its fourth year, the program is expanding into the sprits world and launching nationally. This year, the program received more mentee applications than ever before, and a selection committee narrowed the mentees down to ten chefs and five spirits mentees.

Here’s the work and study program to come for the next class.

The spirit and culinary mentees will each participate in a seven-to-ten-day externship at a female-led restaurant or beverage program and seven days throughout the year working on a sustainable farm. They will spend a week in Kentucky for programming to include bourbon blending at Maker’s Mark, foraging, butchery workshops, cooking sessions at the Monogram Experience Center, and numerous other trainings. Later in the year, they will collaborate on a series of regional fundraiser dinners.

Major sponsors include Maker’s Mark (a partner since the start in 2017) and Audi of America, which came aboard in 2020. Co-founders of The LEE Initiate are Chef Edward Lee and Lindsey Ofcacek, and Ofcacek has today’s coda:

“We are so happy to be able to expand this program both nationally as well as into the spirits space. Seeing how the first classes of mentees have grown through this program has been inspiring and we’re eager to bring these experiences to more people and have these women join our network.”

2021 Chef Mentors

Chef Amy Brandwein
Centrolina & Piccolina in Washington, DC

Chef Beverly Kim
Parachute in Chicago, IL

Chef Cheetie Kumar
Garland in Raleigh, NC

Chef Claudette Zepeda
Vaga in Encinitos, CA

Chef Jessica Koslow
Sqirl in Los Angeles, CA

Chef Katie Button
Cúrate in Asheville, NC

Chef Sarah O’Brien
Little Tart Bakeshop in Atlanta, GA

Chef Nina Compton
Compere Lapin in New Orleans, LA

Chef Ouita Michel
Holly Hill Inn in Midway, KY

2021 Spirit Mentors

Kristina Magro
Orbit Group in Chicago, IL

Christa Cotton
El Guapo Bitters in New Orleans, LA

Colleen Hughes
Supperland and Haberdish in Charlotte, NC

Jesse Peterson
Morning Glory in San Diego, CA

Charlotte Mirzoeff
Kindred in New York City, NY

2021 Chef Mentees

Chef Aretah Ettarh
New York City, NY

Chef Ashlee Martinis
Bristol, VA

Chef Darian Jones
Scottsdale, AZ

Chef Hannah Arvin
Lexington, KY

Chef Juliann Stoddart
Austin, TX

Chef Lauren Schoen
Louisville, KY

Chef Meagan White
Cincinnati, OH

Chef Megan Duffy
Lexington, KY

Chef Nadia Casaperalta
Elsa, TX

Chef Sydney Fisher
Cincinnati, OH

Chef Taylor Davis
Louisville, KY

2021 Spirit Mentees

Bri Hlava
Louisville, KY

Meredeth Wright
Louisville, KY

Sarah McCabe
Raleigh, NC

SC Baker
Louisville, KY

Sherri Jenkins
Louisville, KY 

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