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Saluting a Super Saugus Chef

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Denise Graffeo of Saugus will be honored as “Dame of Distinction” for her ultra talented culinary skills


Saugus resident Denise Graffeo made history in 2017 when she became the first woman inducted into the prestigious American Academy Chefs Hall of Fame. “Someone has to crack this glass ceiling and I’m so glad that it was me,” Chef Denise told the crowd at her induction ceremony.

On Sunday she’ll get to retell that story when the Les Dames d’Escoffier Boston Chapter honors her as this year’s “Dame of Distinction” at the group’s 62nd Annual Escoffier dinner. There will be a lavish meal for sure when the group sits down for dinner at the Colonnade Hotel in Boston. But Chef Denise will be the main course, as she joins an honor list that includes a few of the Boston Dames culinary luminaries: Julia Child, Mary Ann Esposito, Lydia Shire and Elle Simon Scott.

“This year’s honoree as Dame of Distinction, Chef Denise Graffeo (CEC, AAC, HOF) fits perfectly into this group of ultra talented culinary women,” wrote Robin Cohen in a press release announcing the event. Cohen – a writer, cook and dreamer – is president of the Les Dames d’Escoffier Boston.

The press release notes that Graffeo worked as the executive chef at Marblehead’s Eastern Yacht Club for 26 years before retiring in 2008. “She started working in restaurants from the age of 14 and has done just about every job a restaurant has to offer,” according to the press release. “Graffeo worked her way up from prepping vegetables in the Boston Ritz-Carlton kitchen where she was one of two women among 52 male cooks. Her success was hard fought through many days of determination, a love of learning, an adventurous spirit, burns, cuts and a few tears. In her retirement, she continues to contribute to the culinary industry through mentoring, non-profit leadership and philanthropy.”

The Boston Chapter of Les Dames has a rich history dating back to 1959, when its predecessor organization, Les Dames des Amis d’Escoffier was founded by Eda Saccone with THE encouragement of Charles Banino, the executive chef of the Ritz Carlton. At the time, the group was all-male. Les Dames des Amis d’Escoffier, Boston Chapter was the first all-female society dedicated to the art of fine dining in the Escoffier tradition, according to the press release. The Boston Dames today is an organization for women in food, beverage and hospitality.

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