Dinner With The Dames: Birmingham’s LDEI Chapter Gets Ready for a Drive-Through Picnic

Birmingham Dames will again mask up for Champagne & Fried Chicken at Pepper Place Market on Oct. 3. Photos courtesy LDEI Birmingham.

By Donna Cornelius

Last year, COVID-19 restrictions had organizations rethinking their usual fundraising events. The Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, a nonprofit, professional organization for women in food, beverage and hospitality, came up with Champagne & Fried Chicken, a drive-through picnic at Birmingham’s Pepper Place Market.

The event proved to be such a hit that the Dames are hosting it again this year on Oct. 3, 3-5 p.m. For a $150 donation, you get your own tasty picnic. Each basket, designed to feed two people, includes Southern food with a French accent: fried chicken, new potato salad, kale salad, corn muffins, biscuits, fresh fruit, cheese and desserts. You’ll also get a bottle of champagne and a bouquet of fresh flowers. Take your baskets home for your own backyard party or to a Pepper Place picnic table to enjoy while listening to live music.

Other fundraiser features are raffles for collections of gift cards from some of Birmingham’s best restaurants and, for additional donations, cocktail kits and premium items such as cooking classes and Spotify dinner playlists. The cocktail kits are $25.

Classes being offered for $20 each are:

Becky Satterfield: The pastry chef and owner of Satterfield’s Restaurant and El ZunZun shows you how to bake two of her favorite things: French sablé cookies and buttermilk biscuits. Master these French and Southern treats, and then share what you’ve learned. Buyers will receive recipes and a link to a digital class.  

Sherron Goldstein: She is the author of “Fresh Fields, A Celebration of Good Food” and “Fresh Fields, Entertaining with Southern Comfort” and the co-author of “From Generation to Generation.” She also is owner-director of her own cooking school, Fresh Fields Cooking. 

Goldstein’s teaching encourages home cooks to create good food for their families and friends as they create tastes that endure. In this virtual class, she’ll teach you how to make a beautiful and delicious raspberry lemon-mint trifle. Buyers will get the recipe and a link to the digital class.

Kathy G. Mezrano:  This is your chance to have Dame Kathy G. teach you how to make mezze, which are small plates or appetizers, including her wildly popular Lebanese-style grape leaves. Available as a virtual class, you’ll get her own family recipe, and she’ll show you how it’s done. This award-winning caterer is known for her design skills, so she’ll share presentation tips, too. Buyers will receive the recipes and a link to a digital class.  

Andrea Kirkland: A registered dietitian, Kirkland is the owner and founder of Culinary Med Ed. Her Southern roots, along with her career as a food writer and recipe developer, have taught her a thing or two about good home cooking, and she’s on a mission to prove that the words “healthy” and “delicious” can coexist. Her online class will show you how to master comfort food makeovers, and she’ll walk you through her pro tips for giving a hearty chicken pot pie a healthier spin. She’ll reveal the secrets of how to achieve bold, satisfying flavor without any of the guilt.

What’s dinner without music? For an additional donation of $20, you’ll get a curated Spotify playlist delivered to your inbox at the beginning of the month for six months.

For tickets and more information about the event, visit www.ldeibirmingham.org.

Last year’s event was a sell-out, and only 350 baskets will be available this year.

Proceeds help the Birmingham Dames fund the future of food in Alabama through scholarships for culinary students of all ages at colleges and universities as well as entrepreneur grants for new women-owned food businesses in the state. To date, the Dames have awarded almost $85,000 in scholarships and grants.

Pepper Place Market is at 28th Street and Second Avenue S in downtown Birmingham.

In the spirit of the fundraiser, several Dames have shared their own favorite dishes that are easy to prepare and to transport for a picnic or tailgate party.

Kathy G. Mezrano

With more than 30 years of experience in the catering and events industry, Mezrano has garnered awards in the catering event industry on a national and regional level. President of LDEI Birmingham, she’s the owner and CEO of Kathy G & Co., a catering and event design firm. She’s also the author of a cookbook for entertaining, “Food, Fun & Fabulous: A Southern Caterer Shares Recipes and Entertaining Tips.” This recipe for potato salad with a French twist is from the cookbook and is one of the dishes in the Champagne & Fried Chicken picnic basket.


Makes 6 servings

Ingredients for vinaigrette dressing:

1½ tablespoons tarragon vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced

4½ tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

2 shallots (or substitute 4 green 

onions), minced

Ingredients for potato salad:

2½ pounds new potatoes

2 tablespoons mayonnaise or sour 


¾ cup celery, diced

½ cup green onions, chopped

½ cup fresh dill, chopped (or 1 ½ 

teaspoons dried dillweed)

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced


For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine vinegar, mustard, garlic and shallots. Gradually whisk in oil, then add salt and pepper.

For the salad: In a large pot, cover potatoes with salted water. Cover and boil gently until potatoes are just tender. Drain and cool slightly.

Slice warm potatoes and place in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette, then let stand for 30 minutes. Mix mayonnaise or sour cream, celery, green onions and herbs into potatoes. Add seasonings to taste. Cover and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature. Can be prepared one day ahead.

Sidney Fry

Treasurer of LDEI Birmingham, Sidney Fry is a two-time James Beard Award-winning food and nutrition writer and editor. Her position as digital marketing adviser at Morgan Stanley adds another layer to overall wellness, with a focus on financial health. She also works as a freelance food and nutrition writer and acts as editorial nutrition adviser for MyFitnessPal, where she maintains a regular column called “Ask the RD.”


Ingredients for the crust:

1¼ cups (150 grams) white whole 

wheat flour

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or   

roasted sunflower seeds

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup olive oil

3 tablespoons ice water

Cooking spray

Ingredients for the filling:

1 cup good quality part-skim ricotta 

cheese (such as Calabro) 

1 large egg

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¾ cup chopped fresh basil, divided

1½ tablespoons fresh thyme, divided

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons 

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated 

and divided

2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest

1 pound assorted heirloom tomatoes, 

seeded and cut into ¼-inch slices (or 

halved, if using cherry tomatoes)


To prepare crust, weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through pepper) in a food processor; pulse 3 times. Combine oil and water. With processor on, slowly add oil mixture through food chute; process until dough is crumbly.

Dump dough into a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate coated with cooking spray. Press firmly into an even layer in bottom and up sides of dish. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

To prepare filling, combine ricotta, egg, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ cup basil, 1 tablespoon thyme, ½ cup Parmigiano cheese, and lemon zest in a food processor; process until smooth. Spread ricotta mixture evenly over crust.

Arrange tomato slices over ricotta mixture, using a circular pattern and slightly overlapping. Sprinkle tomatoes with remaining 2 tablespoons cheese. Bake at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until filling is set. Sprinkle with remaining basil and thyme.

Martha Johnston

Martha Johnston, who with Dame Idie Hastings is in charge of sponsorships for Champagne & Fried Chicken, was vice president of food marketing and director of business development for Southern Living/Southern Progress Corp. Johnston also was on the start-up team for Cooking Light. She was president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals from 2003 to 2004 and is a founding member of Southern Foodways Alliance.


Makes 2 cups


1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, 


½ cup beer

2 teaspoons soy sauce

½ teaspoon prepared horseradish

¼ teaspoon dried mustard

1⁄8 teaspoon garlic powder


Place ingredients in a food processor and process until mixture is smooth. Cover and refrigerate overnight for flavors to blend.

Serve at room temperature with crackers, pita chips, bread or fresh veggies.  

Susan Swagler

A founding member and past president of LDEI’s Birmingham chapter, Swagler is a food and lifestyle writer for Alabama NewsCenter and owner of savor.blog. She’s written about food and restaurants for more than three decades. She says this colorful, crunchy salad is “great with grilled anything. In the summer, you might want to substitute halved fresh cherry tomatoes and crumbled feta for the sun-dried tomatoes and gorgonzola.”


Serves 8-10 as a side dish, 4 as a main dish


1 medium fennel bulb

12 sun-dried tomato halves

1 pound asparagus, trimmed

1¾ cups couscous

½ teaspoon salt

6 scallions, thinly sliced

16 oil-cured black olives

6 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

6 ounces gorgonzola cheese, cubed

Freshly ground black pepper to taste


Trim fennel bulb and remove tough pieces. Sliver bulb and mince the dill-like fronds. 

Pour boiling water over the sun-dried tomatoes and let stand for about 5 minutes to plump; drain and sliver the tomatoes.

Slice asparagus on the diagonal and steam 3-4 minutes until crisp-tender; drain and dry with paper towels.

In the same pot, bring 1¾ cups water to boil. Stir in couscous and salt; cover and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes, stir with a fork to fluff grains.

In a large serving bowl, toss fennel, tomatoes, asparagus, couscous, scallions, olives, lemon juice and olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Gently fold in cheese. Serve at once.

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