The National Food & Beverage Foundation recently selected Dwynesha "Dee" Lavigne to be the first recipient of the Paul McIlhenny Culinary Entrepreneurism Scholarship.
Among the advantages and opportunities afforded by the scholarship, Ms. Lavigne will have use of the museum's Rouse's Culinary Innovation Center by JennAir at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum(SoFAB) free of charge for one year. SoFAB staff will also assist her in marketing her business, Deelightful Cupcakes, and making the connections she needs to grow her business.
Upon meeting Dee I knew she was extraordinarily talented. With her skills, professionalism, and boundless enthusiasm, SoFAB's team quickly determined that Dee would be the ideal recipient of a scholarship for use of our licensed commercial commissary kitchen. Assisting culinary entrepreneurs in turning their career dreams into realities is central to what we do.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY, Dee was born and raised in New Orleans as one of eight siblings. She started baking and cooking at the age of seven.
Following high school, she enrolled at UNO with the intention of becoming an accountant. At 18 she moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma with her high school sweetheart, Reynell, and was married one year later. "While my hubby spent his days studying and playing football for OSU I worked full time for ARAMARK in the catering department at the university. After two years I took a job at Wal-Mart in the bakery department as the lead donut decorator. It was there that I developed and honed my cake decorating skills."
Her next career move was the Stillwater Country Club where she worked a full-time prep cook and enrolled in a vocational school for culinary arts full time.
"That's when I really felt that cooking was something I was really good at," Dee said. "After speaking with my instructors I started looking at the number one culinary school in the country, the CIA! I was unsure of making a huge move almost 1,500 miles away so I let the idea rest in my head for a while, which was about two months before I got up the nerve and call the school. My admissions advisor told me everything I needed to enroll. I completed all the required paperwork ASAP, except a required essay. It took me even longer to think about what I would write about. Around that time my father-in-law had a heart attack. That really changed my outlook on how short and valuable life is. On the drive back to New Orleans is when I wrote the essay that changed my life. I was accepted only one day after they received my essay."
After graduating from the prestigious school she moved to New Jersey where she worked for a country club in Baskin Ridge New Jersey as a manager. Two years later her first son, Reynell Jr., was born. "At the age of 18 months, our son was diagnosed with autism. Although this was a tough time I pressed on." She most recently spent 10 years with Whole Foods Markets as a Bakery Manager.
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By last year, Chef Dwynesha “Dee” Lavigne, a lifelong cook, was already a well-established culinary presence in New Orleans. She had worked in the industry for years, owned a pastry business and hosted a periodic cooking segment on WWL-TV.
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In February of 2022, Chef Dwynesha “Dee” Lavigne founded Deelightful Roux School of Cooking, following in the footsteps of her heroine, the late Chef Lena Richard. It’s been over eighty years since a Black woman has owned a cooking school in New Orleans, ever since Richard closed hers—the first—to pursue opportunities in New York City in the 1940s.
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Chef Dee Lavigne learned to cook at the age of seven. After a brief career in accountancy, she decided to ditch the world of spreadsheets and focus on her true passion: food. Now she runs the first African American-owned cooking school New Orleans has seen in over 80 years, whipping up Cajun and Creole classics for hungry travellers.
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