Carol Brock, who helped break down barriers for women in the culinary arts as founder of Les Dames d’Escoffier International — the first and foremost professional women’s organization for food, wine, and hospitality leaders — died on July 27 in her long-time residence in Douglaston, New York. She was 96.
Her son, Craig, confirmed the death, saying she died of natural causes.
Née Carol Lang was born Dec. 14, 1923 in Queens, New York, where she was also raised, educated, and spent her entire adult life. After receiving a degree in Home Economics at Queens College in just three years, she later went on to earn a Master’s degree in Food Science from New York University. She was married to Emil Brock.
Brock began her long and distinguished career in food journalism at age 20, when she landed her first job as assistant food editor at Good Housekeeping. Lacking any journalistic training, she made a deal with management: She would prepare luncheons for William Randolph Hearst and his guests — which included heads of states and other publishing luminaires including the Duke of Windsor, former President Herbert Hoover, and Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief Helen Gurley Brown — and, in return, the editors would teach her the magazine business.
Good Housekeeping created a position for her as Hostess Editor, a moniker Brock would keep for 23 years. She then became food editor at Parents magazine, where management proudly declared her to be “the mother of two ever-hungry children” referring to her sons, Brian and Craig. Brock joined the New York Daily News in 1971 as food reporter, a position she held for the next 15 years.
In the early ‘70s, while at the New York Daily News and at a time when the feminist movement sought equal rights and opportunities for women Brock set about creating the first organization in America devoted to professional women in food, fine beverage and hospitality. She was inspired by Boston’s Les Dames des Amis d’Escoffier, a dining and philanthropic society of women formed in 1959 in response to the all-male Les Amis d’Escoffier which excluded women. The membership of this organization named after Auguste Escoffier — the most innovative chef in history — was comprised of chefs de cuisines, hotel executives, restaurateurs, and business executives.
In 1973, Brock received a charter from the New York chapter of Les Amis d’Escoffier to form a women’s chapter. But Brock was not satisfied. As she liked to say, “We didn’t want a dining society. We wanted to show what women could do. We wanted to raise the Pyrex ceiling!”
When Brock established her organization, the prevailing culture in the culinary and hospitality industries was rife with discrimination against women in hiring, compensation, and educational opportunities. Against this backdrop, she emerged as a visionary. Brock embarked on a journey to create a professional women’s organization determined to address and redress gender inequalities. Her mission was to increase the presence and prestige of women in the food, wine, and hospitality industries which at the time were still largely dominated by men.
By 1976, starting with 50 top women professionals in New York City, Les Dames d’Escoffier New York (LDNY) was born. Today, the organization founded by Brock is called Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI), a worldwide society and the only one of its kind with 45 chapters in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom and France. Its current membership includes some 2,400 women leaders in the food, fine beverage, and hospitality professions. As a 501(c)(3) organization, its goal is to secure donations and award scholarships to accomplished women who are studying to become the industry’s leaders of tomorrow.
Brock holds the title of Grande Dame, an honor awarded by the organization for exceptional philanthropic and educational contributions to the culinary world. Past LDEI members and recipients include M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Marcella Hazan, Alice Waters, and Dr. Marion Nestle, among others.
As famed Chef Julia Child noted in 2001: “Les Dames d’Escoffier is a leadership culinary organization composed of women who have not only achieved success in their profession, but who contribute significantly to their communities. Les Dames d’Escoffier has followed its mission to elevate the profession through mentoring members and helping worthy students succeed in their culinary careers. I am very proud to be a member.”
On May 14, 2016, Brock received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from SUNY Cobleskill. Her donation of hundreds of culinary books to SUNY Cobleskill’s Van Wagenen Library as well as her support of the university’s culinary program has helped raise the college’s profile among food professionals. During commencement ceremonies, SUNY Cobleskill President Dr. Marion A. Terenzio introduced Brock as a philanthropist, chef, editor, journalist, and trailblazer: “Carol Brock’s vision and support of our college and our culinary programs have had and will continue to have a tremendous, positive impact on our students and the industries they enter.”
After retirement, Brock continued working in journalism as contributing restaurant critic for TimesLedger Newspapers in Queens, New York. Additionally, she served as Culinary Arts Coordinator for Great Neck Adult Education programming for 25 years.
Accomplished gardener and nature lover, Brock was also an avid swimmer. As she noted: “Swimming was the way of pulling me through, especially as I went from magazine to newspaper work. I swam in the morning at 8:00 a.m. and in the evening at 7:30 p.m. On the way home, if I walked fast enough and the tide was high, I swam out to the float on Little Neck Bay and back. It was a half-hour to hour swim. It was so relaxing. It also helped keep my weight down.”
Brock is survived by her two sons, Brian and Craig.
In tribute to Brock, Les Dames d’Escoffier International President Bev Shaffer stated: “For the past 70 years, Carol has inspired and challenged women, young and old, in the fields of food, wine, nutrition, and arts of the table. As a trailblazing feminist, role model, and mentor, her impact will be felt by generations to come.”