12 LGBT Food Industry Leaders Get Real About Inclusiveness In The Kitchen

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For Pride Month, BuzzFeed chatted with 12 out and proud leaders in the food world to celebrate the varied and changing faces of the industry.

Ben Haist/BuzzFeed

In recent years, representation in the culinary landscape has finally started to highlight the diversity of the industry — and although we still have a long way to go, these individuals are working hard to make sure there’s a spot at the table for everyone.

Here’s what they had to say about life, work, and inclusivity in the food world.

1. Ted Allen: TV personality, host of Chopped, and author.

Peter Ross

Location: New York

Favorite thing to cook?

Pulled pork shoulder — low and slow in a charcoal oven for 8 to 10 hours.

Least favorite kitchen task?

Shelling fava beans.

Advice for people who are just starting out in the industry?

Cook in several different types of restaurants when you’re starting out — you never know what cuisine is going to ultimately spark your creativity. There might be a Moroccan chef hiding inside you; or a French, Mexican, or Italian one.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

I can only speak to the inclusiveness on the Chopped set, where we see chefs from every possible background. To us, nothing matters except the food that chefs put on the plate. Whether you’re from an Upper East Side prep school or rural Kentucky, whether you work in a soup kitchen or Per Se, if your dish is the prettiest and most delicious, you win.

2. Cat Cora: TV personality, author, and restauranteur.

Jonpaul Douglass

Location: Santa Barbara, California

Favorite thing to cook?

That’s like asking which child is my favorite out of our six boys. I always say it depends on what day of the week it is, seasonality, what ingredients I can get my hands on, and what my mood is. Each day is different. I do love to grill, so anything I can throw on a grill is fun — steaks, chicken, salmon, burgers.

Least favorite thing to cook?

There aren’t many, but anything I have to boil or blanch isn’t my favorite. I love fast, from-the-hip style cooking, so waiting for a pot to boil bores me.

Advice for people who are just starting out in the industry?

Get great experience in a restaurant. Not a deli or sandwich shop, but a full-service establishment. The job experience is priceless. This will also tell you whether this industry, and working in a restaurant, is for you.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

I’ve seen it change pretty significantly over my 20+ years in the industry. For me, I would say sexual orientation was less of an issue than gender. I never witnessed harassment of gays and lesbians — not that it didn’t happen — but I was so busy trying to fight the good fight of gender equality and harassment within the industry that I didn’t recognize being discriminated against for my sexuality.

The industry has come a long way in being more inclusive in executive positions and pay, but we still have a long way to go for full equality and inclusiveness — as do all industries.

3. Antoni Porowski: Food and wine expert on Queer Eye.

Joey Krietemeyer

Location: New York

Favorite thing to cook?

Recently, fish. Roasting, grilling, pan-searing — with summer months comes lighter eating and I’m all about Mediterranean flavors.

Least favorite thing to cook?

Soups, particularly ones that involve puréeing. It’s not that I don’t like them, but it all ends up a homogeneous mixture via my Vitamix. I love seeing ingredients and dealing with different techniques to arrive at a certain texture.

Advice for people who are just starting out in the industry?

Learn as much as you can about every department of whatever it is you’re interested in. You might find yourself drawn to a certain part of the business you had no idea about. Also, the sooner you can get practical experience, the better. Consider it a hands-on education.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

I’ve always been drawn to female role models: Julia Child and most recently Eden Grinshpan — so my leanings have always swayed a bit. On the cultural or ethnic background side of things, I think as the interest in cooking shows, competitions, and food knowledge in general is growing, it’s nice to see awareness of ethnic cuisine growing along with that. I’d like to think it’s a sign of changing times, but I can only speak for myself in saying that my interests and curiosity have only widened the more that I learn. The more I learn, the more I want to know.

4. DeVonn Francis: Chef and owner of Yardy.


Location: New York

Favorite thing to cook?

Desserts are my secret love. I have a big sweet tooth, so getting into West Indian desserts and pastries has been a lot of fun for me.

Least favorite thing to cook?

Meat, in excess. Plants are lovely, versatile, nutrient-dense, and leave you feeling better than devouring a ton of meat. Also, meat production causes a lot of other problems in the world, so I try to stick to a plant-based diet.

Advice for people who are just starting out in the industry?

Always stay curious and ask questions. Don’t assume you know everything. Be open to exploring and listening to folks who come from different backgrounds.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

We still have a really long way to go, but it’s been nice to see women in the food industry get more recognition. They’re being put into positions of power, and making big decisions that affect the entire industry. Also, there are now more women-led restaurants and publications — which means they can support each other in the networks they created for themselves. It’s a really inspiring model and I hope to do the same for queer, black, and brown folks.

5. Angela Dimayuga: Creative director of food & culture, and culinary curator.

Sunny Shokrae

Location: New York

Favorite thing to cook?

Anything and everything for my loved ones. Even if it’s a clearing-out-the-cupboard night.

Least favorite thing to cook?

I’m in a privileged place to say I’m not cooking unless I want to — especially with NYC food offerings like bodegas and Chinese take-out.

Advice for people who are just starting out in the industry?

Do your research or talk with the people in your immediate community. Whose work are you obsessed with? Who can provide you with mentorship or co-mentorship? Who do you share fundamental values with? Who can you imagine standing next to for 12 hours a day? Who will lift you up and let you shine? It can be a peer, or someone older or younger than you. If you can’t find all of these qualities in one person, make a list of pros and cons.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

I see an old guard and a new guard. I think institutions of power need to be changed or hacked with relevant voices. The power dynamics and politics within the industry need to be scrutinized and flipped. Who’s work is getting stolen and who is benefiting? Who is doing the good work? Who is making food for entertainment without reverence? Wokeness can be a trend without agency and commitment.

6. Deborah VanTrece: Chef and owner of The Catering Company by VanTrece.

Linnea Geiger

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Favorite thing to cook?

Something that I haven’t cooked before.

Least favorite thing to cook?

Dessert. It’s just not my thing. I have a few standbys in my dessert repertoire, but I would much rather cook something else.

Advice for people who are just starting out in the industry?

Don’t get caught up in the hype, glitz, and glitter of the culinary life. Nowadays, there’s a lot of focus given on shining and not cooking. And it’s easy to get distracted by your craft — with things like celebrity chef shows. But don’t lose sight of the hard work, focus, dedication, and passion it takes to succeed. This is not necessarily an easy journey, but it’s one that’s worthwhile.

My other piece of advice is to understand that the journey of learning about food and its relationship to the well-being of society is ongoing. You will never know enough! Our responsibility is not only to cook good food, but to source and use practices to secure food for generations to come.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

The globalization of social media has had a positive effect on inclusivity in the culinary industry, compared to 20 years ago. It has allowed us to communicate with like-minds across the world and raise awareness for the common struggles that many of us have experienced. It has helped us to recognize the strength in multiple voices lifted up for the same cause. I think we have become more confident in demanding our seat at the table, and the results are seeing more minorities recognized and included in part of the bigger picture. The playing field is not yet leveled, but the hills are not as high.

7. Liz Alpern: Author, founder of Queer Soup Night, and co-owner of The Gefilteria.

Nomi Ellenson

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Favorite thing to cook?

Soup! Obviously.

Least favorite thing to cook?

With the exception of chicken soup, I don’t generally get excited about poultry.

What is your advice for people who are just starting out in the food industry?

Work, work, work, work. In kitchens, on food trucks, at magazines. Get experience wherever they’ll hire you, work really hard, and you’ll start to figure out where in the industry you belong and have a kick-ass résumé to boot.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

Queer people have always been out in places where I’ve worked, but now I think that leaders in the industry, managers, owners, and chefs are actually talking about how to make spaces intentionally more inclusive for queer folks. It’s explicit instead of implicit. It’s part of the conversation. Also, I’m excited that over the last couple of years, I’m starting to feel part of a queer food community within the larger industry. It’s really an honor to be working in food at this moment in time. And we have a lot further to go!

8. Josie Smith-Malave: Chef and owner of Bubbles + Pearls.

Instagram: @bubblesandpearls

Location: Wilton Manors, Florida

Favorite thing to cook?

I love anything with sauce — I’m just a saucy girl! Sauce is versatile, and it goes with just about everything. Seafood is my favorite vehicle to pair it with.

Least favorite thing to cook?

Offal — which are basically all the parts of the animal that no one wants. It’s just not my thing.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

I can only speak to my experience, but I believe that the culture of restaurants is led and implemented by the chef. They’re responsible for creating an environment of inclusivity. If it isn’t a priority for the chef, that’s when it gets out of hand and you start to hear stories of negative work environments, harassment, and the «boys club» culture often associated with kitchens. Culture trickles down from the top. The chef needs to take the reigns to make sure their restaurants are safe and inclusive — and to make sure we’re always progressing, growing, and learning.

9. Brian Hart Hoffman: Editor-in-chief of Bake from Scratch Magazine.

Copyright Hoffman Media 2018

Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Favorite thing to bake?

Crème fraiche pound cake in my antique French copper pans. I’m always twirling it up with seasonal fruits and flavor profiles from zest, fruit soaked in liqueur, and ingredients inspired by my travels.

Least favorite thing to bake?

Pie or anything with raspberry or grapefruit.

Advice for people who are just starting out in food media?

Be authentic! Only do things in the lane where you’re passionate and authentically convey it to your audience. It’s really easy to see and sniff out someone who’s faking it.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in food media change?

The last decade has been amazingly transformative; now everyone has a place in the spotlight. In my experience, members of the LGBTQ community have always been leaders in the creative world, but their personal lives have never received prominent exposure. Now, there’s much more open conversation and visibility about our personal lives.

10. Kristopher Edelen: Chef and owner of HOTPANnyc.

Simon Chetrit

Location: New York

Favorite thing to cook?

Pork! Belly, snout, trotter, tail, ribs, brain, eyes, neck, shoulder, loin, butt — it’s such a versatile meat to use in the kitchen.

Least favorite thing to cook?

I actually don’t have a least favorite thing to cook. Some new ingredients do provide obstacles in the kitchen, but that’s what research and development is for.

Advice for people who are just starting out in the industry?

Pay attention to all of the details in the kitchen and trail as much as you can until you find the right restaurant — because the restaurant you choose will be your home and family for a while. And stay in a kitchen at least one year before moving onto the next. Come to the kitchen prepared to take physical and mental notes. These notes will help you for the rest of your life. Be on time no matter what position you have. And lastly, you can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days you feel good. Work on the days you feel like shit and you’ll feel much better. Trust me.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a huge change. I remember stepping into a NYC kitchen and being told by a white line cook that I was one of the first black cooks to be allowed in this kitchen in a long time. Hearing this didn’t discourage me, it only motivated me to work harder. I wanted to prove their prejudices wrong, and I did absolutely that during my year.

Kitchens everywhere are now huge mixing pots. It’s not the all-caucasian, male-dominated kitchen anymore. We have chefs and cooks from all different backgrounds and livelihoods — and seeing this lets me know that change takes time and we have to have perseverance.

11. David Lebovitz: Author, pastry chef, and blogger.

David Lebovitz

Location: Paris, France

What is your favorite thing to cook?

Salad. I make a lot of salads. That was how I got my job at Chez Panisse. During my interview before I got hired, Alice Waters asked me what my favorite thing to make was, and I said: “Salad.” I didn’t know it at the time, but it was hers, too.

What is your least favorite thing to cook?

Anything deep-fried. A recipe that starts with “Heat 2 quarts of oil in a large pot on your stove,” makes me turn the page. I don’t like the mess or the smell of deep-frying at home.

What is your advice for people who are just starting out in the industry?

I was speaking to a group last year at a book event in New York City when someone in the audience, who was just starting a career as a baker, asked what they should do for their career — I said “You’re not going to like this, but move out of New York.” It’s certainly true that there’s great talent and opportunities in New York, but the challenges are very tough to overcome — high rent and long commutes make life pretty hard. In the last ten years or so, almost every city in America has great restaurants and bakeries, and I think you can learn just as much somewhere else without constantly having to struggle to get by.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

I was fortunate that most of my jobs were in restaurants that were either owned by women, or had women chefs — so I never thought that women couldn’t do the same things that men could do, and neither did the people around me. When I worked in San Francisco, a large portion of the staff was gay and lesbian wherever I worked — so, personally, I didn’t have too many issues.

I do think restaurant kitchens can be tough places, often staffed by people that live on the fringes of society (I’ve been one, and worked with a few of them, too), but know at the end of the day, what matters most to co-workers in a restaurant kitchen is whether you can do the job or not.

12. Frances Tariga-Weshnak: Executive chef of Eden Local.

Gabi Porter

Location: New York

What is your favorite thing to cook?

Crispy pork belly, or in Tagalog, «lechon kawali.» It’s my go-to food every time I’m happy, stressed, sad, or ecstatic.

Least favorite thing to cook?

Pancakes. I just don’t have that much time to prep everything — plus I’m not a sweets person. I love savory!

Advice for people who are just starting out in the industry?

Make sure that this is what you like. A lot of people say that this is just an easy way out of college, but it’s not. It’s been 14 years since I started working in this industry — and man, I love every single day of my journey. You continue learning everyday.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen inclusivity in the food industry change?

Fourteen years ago when I was working in Dubai, it was very different. Men and women were segregated — women could only work with women and men with men — and it made me move to the United States. When I first started my career here, I always had to prove to everyone that I could do whatever male chefs could do — but in the past three years I’ve seen strong women leading successful kitchens. Now, I don’t have that fear that I need to prove myself when applying for executive chef jobs. Nowadays, a lot of companies are very open and equal with their opportunities. I’ve been very lucky to be in the toughest state in the country and continue to share my knowledge with aspiring chefs.

Responses have been lightly edited for length or clarity.

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