Eda Saccone never minded assembling her husband’s formal wardrobe to attend the elaborate annual dinners of the Boston chapter of Les Amis d’Escoffier, a male-only group of eminent chefs and culinary specialists. What bothered her was that those eight- and nine-course dinners were closed to women.
She decided to do something about it.
With charm and her husband’s assistance, she invited Charles Banino, executive chef of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and chairman of Boston’s Escoffier society, to a home-cooked dinner and persuaded him to help. In 1959, she founded Les Dames des Amis d’Escoffier, the first women’s Escoffier chapter.
Thirty invited guests attended its first dinner at the Ritz-Carlton and “the unprecedented success of this event landed it on the 11 o’clock news and the front page of every major Boston newspaper,’’ said Mrs. Saccone’s daughter, Lucille S. Giovino of Westwood, a former president of the Boston Les Dames chapter, which counted Julia Child among its members.
Mrs. Saccone, who insisted that Les Dames be more than a gastronomic feast and also engage in charitable fund-raising, died Jan. 20 in St. Patrick’s Manor in Framingham of complications of dementia. She was 102 and had previously lived in Newton for 35 years and before that in Brighton.
“Les Dames is where Nana really shined,’’ said her granddaughter, Ann-Margaret Giovino of Ann Arbor, Mich. “She used to talk of being one of the first feminists because her fight to get her women’s food appreciation society was so successful. She apparently was told she could not do it. She showed them.’’
The men’s and women’s organizations are named in honor of Auguste Escoffier, the legendary French chef who died in 1935.
In the 1970s, Mrs. Saccone’s work inspired Carol Brock, food editor of The New York Daily News, to found a Les Dames chapter in New York City.
“Eda helped us get a charter in 1976,’’ Brock said.
The New York chapter, Brock said, spawned many other chapters here and abroad under the umbrella of Les Dames d’Escoffier International.
In 1966, Joseph Donon, the last student of Escoffier and founder of Les Amis d’Escoffier in the United States, granted the Boston Les Dames a charter, making it the first women’s chapter in the world.
“Now we’re on a level with Les Amis, our husbands,’’ Mrs. Saccone said at a Les Dames dinner attended by Dorothy Crandall, then the Globe’s food editor.
Crandall, who died in 2007, noted in a 1972 article that although the Boston men’s Escoffier chapter had never invited women, Mrs. Saccone took a different approach.
“We go the men one better, and invite them as guests - on occasion,’’ Mrs. Saccone told Crandall.
In 1977, Donon presented Mrs. Saccone the coveted French Escoffier Medal of Honor.
Anne Hopkins of Belmont, president of the Boston Les Dames, said the chapter set up an Eda Saccone scholarship fund for young people pursuing a career in the culinary arts.
“Eda stood for quality,’’ said John Vyhnanek, a former executive chef at Boston’s Ritz-Carlton and a longtime friend. “She was sort of a forerunner in creating a foundation to help with the education of future chefs.’’
Mrs. Saccone was “a diminutive, strong-willed woman who made a giant impact on the culinary arts, a guiding star,’’ said Roger Saunders of Boston, founder of the Saunders Hotel Group and a Les Amis member.
Her achievements are recorded in the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard because Les Dames “was one of the first organizations for women in the culinary field,’’ said Kathryn Jacob, curator of manuscripts.
“Nana was full of life and loved to be around people,’’ said her granddaughter Adrienne Giovino of Westwood. “She really loved young people. She doted on her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.’’
Although elegant dinners of many courses with fine wines and rich desserts were a large part of Mrs. Saccone’s life, she stayed healthy and was particular about what she would eat.
In 1989, Jack Thomas of the Globe wrote about attending a 10-course Les Dames dinner at the Ritz-Carlton.
“I was fortunate to be seated with Eda Saccone, a feisty grande dame of Boston who founded the society,’’ he wrote.
“Dining on frog legs provencale, Saccone admitted she had never tasted Indian pudding,’’ Thomas wrote. “ ‘I never had the courage,’ she said, ‘and I’ve never had a frankfurt, either, or a potato chip. I wouldn’t put them in my mouth.’ ’’
She then startled Thomas by saying, “I’ve never had peanut butter, either,’’ and added, “I understand it sticks to the roof of your mouth.’’
Always ladylike, Mrs. Saccone “wore dresses or skirts, even on the coldest, snowiest winter days,’’ Giovino said. “We tried to get her to wear pants, but she just wouldn’t. She wore white gloves when she went out.’’
And even though her husband was a chef, Mrs. Saccone could cook.
“She made the most delicious chicken soup, roast chicken, sautéed potatoes, risotto, meat sauce, and gnocchi,’’ Giovino said, adding that “when we got older, she taught us all how to make these and many more.’’
Eda DiSciullo was born and grew up in Boston, one of six children of Italian immigrants. After high school she got a job with a specialty clothing buyer and left to marry chef Pasquale Saccone in 1930.
In the mid-1940s, they opened the Devereaux House, a small inn in Marblehead.
For 12 years, her husband was executive chef at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming head chef at Jimmy’s Harborside in South Boston. In 1974, when he was 70, Mr. Saccone died there while at work.
In addition to her daughter and two granddaughters, Mrs. Saccone leaves another granddaughter.
A funeral Mass will be said at noon Saturday in Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Newton.
Mrs. Saccone continued to attend Les Dames dinners well into her 90s.
Though she was unable to attend the 50th anniversary banquet at the Parker House, Michel Escoffier, a great-grandson of Auguste Escoffier and president of the Auguste Escoffier Foundation, was there and praised “La Grande Dame Eda Saccone.’’
“What a strong, but also lovable personality she had,’’ he said. “She was at the very origin of Les Dames back in 1959 when she convinced our great friend Joseph Donon . . . that women were also capable of successfully running a professional kitchen and therefore deserved to form a chapter of their own.’’