Scholarship program puts more women in chefs’ hats

Nalah Tann-Wilson grew up in a Marietta home with a mom who was an avid baker. Creating sweet treats became her hobby until, as a sophomore at Sprayberry High, she signed up for culinary courses.

“Sprayberry’s three-year culinary program covers everything from international cuisine to basic kitchen skills,” said Tann-Wilson. “But when we got the unit on baking and pastry, I realized how creative and fun it was.”

That got Tann-Wilson thinking that a career in the food industry was possible. She met representatives from the prestigious Johnson and Wales culinary school in Rhode Island, but she found the cost prohibitive as an out-of-state student.

Her instructor told her about a scholarship program offered by Les Dames d’Escoffier International-Atlanta, an organization of professional women from all hospitality fields. Since 2001, the local chapter has given scholarships to aspiring local chefs like Tann-Wilson, who received the honor last spring. She is now finishing her first term at Johnson and Wales.

“This scholarship is paying for my tuition,” she said. “It got the ball rolling to get me in culinary school.”

Tamie Cook, president of LDEI-Atlanta and owner of her own food business, knows first-hand the impact the scholarship can make because she received the same honor in the early 2000s.

“Cooking was a second career for me, but when I applied to culinary schools, no one gave me any money,” she said. “Then one of my internship supervisors suggested I apply [to Les Dames]. The Atlanta chapter believed in me, and it’s meant so much. It’s the reason I wanted to be a member of this chapter and why I chaired the scholarship committee for several years.”

LDEI-Atlanta has also partnered with ProStart, the educational foundation of the National Restaurant Association, and the Hospitality Education Foundation of Georgia to find scholarship candidates: women pursing degrees in culinary arts and related fields, from agriculture and nutrition to hospitality. Candidates must be Georgia residents or plan to attend a program in the state.

“In the past, students have gone to Johnson and Wales, the Art Institute here in Atlanta or the Culinary Institute of America,” said Cook. “And we continue to support students for two or four years if they re-apply. They can use the money wherever it’s needed. Our hope is this will pay for their education.”

This year, the chapter expects to award around $86,000. A significant portion of those funds comes from the annual Culinary Futures fundraiser, slated for Thursday at The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta.

“We’ve seen that a couple thousand dollars can make or break these students’ abilities to pursue their dreams,” said Cook.

For Tann-Wilson, her culinary education is putting her closer to her own dream: “I really want to have my own bakery someday.”

Information about LDEI-Atlanta’s scholarship programs is online at


Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at or 770-744-3042.