IT looked like an everyday exchange, but actually it was historic. Two chefs, Helen Wasserman of Chez Wok and Cora Regterschot of the Netherlands embassy, were arranging for Regterschot to help Wasserman with a catering job.

The occasion was the first-ever get-together of Washington's women restaurant and embassy chefs. Eleven of them showed up last Sunday at the tea, billed as a Salute to the Women Chefs of Washington by Les Dames d'Escoffier, the two-year-old organization of women food professionals.

The three female embassy chefs were exchanging phone numbers. Until the tea, Linda Donald of West End Cafe "did not know any other women chefs in the whole area," except for Ann Amernick, pastry chef at Jean-Louis, with whom Donald had once worked at the Big Cheese. And Amernick was late because her son's class was cooking a meal in Jean-Louis' kitchen as a school project; the other mother/professionals empathized, and the talk turned to juggling two careers (Donald also juggles a career in architecture).

"It's enlightening, it's exciting," said Donald as the chefs began to mix and get to know one another. Regterschot had already met several other chefs, men and women, when she took refresher courses at the Culinary School of Washington, but as Donald said, being a chef is an isolating experience because the job demands so many hours. And, she noted, a woman chef may have an especially hard time because she has to prove herself by working even harder than a man. Angela Traettino, chef and proprietor of Positano, has contact through her job with chefs who are men. But with women chefs? "Never."

The chefs also got to sample each other's creations and those of other Dames d'Escoffier. Traettino brought pizza rustica, as well as a meat and cheese pie called casatillo and a semi-sweet bread. Bao Zeir, owner-chef of Bangkok West in Reston, brought egg rolls; Maisie Krikliwy contributed potato samosas from her restaurant Shezan; Marge Guarasci of Finesse catering brought canapes; Carole Mason and Rebecca Marshall of Chanterelle catering made biscuits filled with barbecue and sweet potato biscuits with ham; Amernick arrived with three cakes: Gateau Nancy, miroir of pear and chocolate-raspberry torte.

Even after all that, appetites were whetted--for more shoptalk.

AS long as ma che is the new lettuce on the block, a reader has written, she would like to know how to pronounce it. The closest we can come in English is "marsh" without the "r". HAIRDRESSERS who can't stand the heat get into the kitchen; several Washington restaurants are run by hairdressers, one of whom has opened an Italian deli and carryout, Pierdonati, in Bethesda's Westland Shopping Center. We don't know about this hairdresser's perms, but his stromboli is terrific, a salty, chewy, cheesy and pungent filling in the same dough that he uses for his homemade breads and rolls. There might be a different lasagna at Pierdonati every day, for the repertoire includes seven kinds. And the kitchen makes its own noodles and ravioli, chunky and spicy sausage, sauces for pasta, meatballs and pizza that is yeasty, peppery and heavily laden with cheese. In the refrigerator case are salads--maybe three kinds of eggplant, zucchini--and imported cheeses from smooth mascarpone to grainy parmesan, plus the pancetta home Italian cooks find indispensable. Plan to spend time meandering among the olives and pastas while your pizza bakes, for this is a tiny, busy shop that unfolds as you sort out the sights and smells.

IT has seemed incongruous to carefully buckle toddlers into their automobile seat belts, then leave them precariously loose in supermarket carts. Now Grand Union is tackling the problem--and it quotes the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission as estimating 9,000 injuries a year for toddlers in supermarket carts. Grand Union has installed seat belts on shopping carts in two Food Markets, 845 Rockville Pike, Rockville, and 1624 Belleview Blvd., Alexandria. The belts are made to hold children ages 1 to 4, approximately, and can be found on 75 carts in each store. Look for a return to elaborate and precious stacks of groceries in celebration of these new restraints.

NOW something for older children: L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda has a lavish birthday party idea which, as you might expect, combines celebrating with a cooking class. The child can pick the menu, and the guests can either watch or help the teacher cook both the lunch and the cake. The parties require a minimum of 10 people at $12 to $15 a person, and are usually held on Fridays or Saturdays. So far the celebrants have been 8 to 15 years old, but age range, price and menu can be negotiated by calling L'Academie at 986-9490.