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We Talked To 11 Out And Proud LGBT Leaders Of The Food Industry

"They say the way to the heart is through the stomach. Love is love. Food is love."

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For Pride Month, BuzzFeed chatted with 11 out and proud leaders in the food industry to celebrate the varied and changing faces of the culinary world.

Ryan Pattie/Buzzfeed

In recent years, the food world has finally started to highlight the diversity of the industry (see: this year's Food & Wine's "Best New Chefs" list) — and in turn, it's helped change the dated perception of what a chef looks like.

We talked food, work life, and what it means to be queer in the food world with 11 industry leaders. Here's what they told us:

Kristen Kish

Kristen Kish

Job: cook, author of Kristen Kish Cooking: Recipes and Techniques

Location: constant traveler

What is your favorite part of your job?

My job has a lot of moving parts and it is hard to pick just one. The common theme I can thread through all of my “jobs” is meeting and connecting with new faces. Whether I’m cooking, traveling, taking meetings, attending TV appearances, or trying new restaurants, I always love meeting the people I cross paths with.

What is the hardest part of your job?

I still have a hard time letting go of expectations from outside factors and ones I place on myself. "Hard" is relative, but if I step back and look at my work as a whole, I can’t help but be grateful. Challenging moments happen every day, but having a firm grasp on being open to risk, growth, and having a controlled sense of disorder and uncertainty help out. Working hard, remaining grateful, and cultivating a life that works for me is a lot to manage, but it's really all about perspective.

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Instagram: @kristenlkish

Now that you're an influencer in the food world, do you plan to use that platform to talk about queer issues and support the queer community?

Outside of partnering and supporting LGBTQ organizations, the best thing I can do is be openly me — not just being gay, but all aspects that continue to show that we can all be unapologetically and gracefully ourselves while being empathetic and supportive of everyone doing wonderfully positive things for our communities and beyond.

Hannah Hart

Emily Berl / Buzzfeed

Job: author, creator of My Drunk Kitchen, host of upcoming Food Network series

Location: Los Angeles

What is your favorite part of your job?

EATING. Just kidding. My favorite part of the job is getting to bond with others over our shared passion — food! Plus, I've learned a lot along the way.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Avoiding burns and staying hydrated!

Ryan Pattie/Buzzfeed

How has your work in the queer community impacted your career in the food industry and vice versa?

Food transcends all barriers. I'm so grateful to work in the food space because it allows me to enter into people's lives — people who might protest against the LGBTQ community. They say the way to the heart is through the stomach. Love is love. Food is love.

Nik Sharma

Nik Sharma

Job: food writer, founder of A Brown Table, featured columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle

Location: Oakland

What is your favorite part of your job?

Without a doubt, it has to be the ideation process: creating a new recipe and documenting it visually through photography. I spend a lot of my time reading older cookbooks and then in my own way, trying to incorporate those ideas along with my experiences into my cooking style. The photography component is highly visual and I get to play with different aspects of what I find sensual in food. I’m currently working on my first cookbook, and it’s been an exciting experience from a creative standpoint because I get to push myself while constantly learning.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Staying true to my point of view and avoiding the occasional negativity that comes with being in a public space. You have to learn to take feedback, both positive and negative, with a grain of salt and focus on working hard to achieve your goals.

Ryan Pattie/Buzzfeed

Now that you're an influencer in the food world, do you plan to use that platform to talk about queer issues and support the queer community?

Over the past few years, I’ve been thinking more about what it means to be an immigrant of color (and a gay one at that). All of my experiences, both positive and negative, have shaped the way I communicate through my food and photography. I’ve also become much more confident in publicly writing about my coming out and acceptance with the hope that it might help someone who has been in a similar situation or is going through a difficult stage. Recently, I launched a supper club through which I draw attention to social issues and bring the discussions to the table, regardless of whether or not those discussions are comfortable. There are a myriad of social issues, from racism to sexism, that exist within the LGBTQ food community. My hope is that the more we talk about them, the closer we get to uplifting the community as a whole.

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Zac Young

Melissa Hom

Job: pastry director of Craveable Hospitality Group

Location: New York

What is your favorite part of your job?

Being able to work on several concepts — everything from high-end steak houses to quick-serve restaurants to movie theaters. My days are never boring and full of carbs.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Remotely managing properties. I can't be in 12 places at once (I've tried) until cloning becomes a reality. I have come to rely on systems and training to ensure consistency.

Instagram: @zac_young

Now that you're an influencer in the food world, do you plan to use that platform to talk about queer issues and support the queer community?

For a while, I kept thinking, What can I do to support the community? Certainly, I participate in every fundraiser and benefit I can. Then, a few years ago, I got a Facebook message from the mom of 13-year-old from Nebraska who was having a rough time at school. She said that she and her son watch Unique Sweets together. I make them laugh, and more importantly, have shown them that it's OK to be yourself. In no way do I think I am a role model (most of my life is a disaster). But they made me realize that I actually do have a small platform.

Anita Lo

Annisa Restauant

Job: owner and executive chef of Anissa, author of Cooking Without Borders

Location: New York

What is your favorite part of your job?

Eating, of course!

What is the hardest part of your job?

Managing people is challenging. Somehow, after all these years, I still can't push aside my need to be liked. Everyone is so different. That said, this can also be the most rewarding part of the job.

Now that you're an influencer in the food world, do you plan to use that platform to talk about queer issues and support the queer community?

I already am part of the LGBTQ community. I've been out, loud, and proud for at least a quarter of a century and have been involved with various LGBTQ organizations over the years.

Elizabeth Falkner

Georgi Richardson / Via georgirichardson.com

Job: chef, artist, and author of cookbooks, including Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts: Recipes from Citizen Cake

Location: New York

What is your favorite part of your job?

I’ve owned, worked in, and opened restaurants for over 25 years and recently began writing my memoir about the experience. I continue to cook at events, execute some media and TV projects, and have begun working on activation/installation projects for the next phase of learning about the world we live in through food.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The limited amount of time in a day. Trying to get a lot done and stay balanced.

Instagram: @cheffalkner

Now that you're an influencer in the food world, do you plan to use that platform to talk about queer issues and support the queer community?

I have been actively involved in the LGBTQ community for years. I lived in San Francisco for 25 years and have been involved with Act Up; The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center; the Human Rights Campaign (I received the Chuck Holmes award from HRC National several years ago); a massive amount of AIDS fundraising and awareness work; and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. I have also raised money for Sharon Smith in the lawsuit against the dog owners who killed her partner. I was on the board of directors for Frameline for a few years (an LGBTQ Film Festival), rode in Dykes on Bikes in the early '90s, made the wedding cake for Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin at City Hall (the first gay couple to get married in SF), and most recently have worked with (Red), which aims to end AIDS, in New York.

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Preeti Mistry

Alanna Hale

Job: chef and co-owner of Navi Kitchen and Juhu Beach Club

Location: Oakland

What is your favorite part of your job?

There are so many parts of my job that I love, but the part that makes me the happiest is cooking. Being in the kitchen and having the bandwidth to create new dishes is when I am the most relaxed. I have been running food a lot more lately and love to interact with the customers — hearing what diners liked and didn’t like. I work in an open kitchen and really love seeing everyone enjoy themselves.

What is the hardest part of your job?

I opened an all-day diner, so currently the hardest part is waking up at 6 in the morning to get to work. But chefs are tasked with solving so many problems, and there is a lot of pressure for us to see beyond our industry. The rising costs of rent, food, and simply being able to live is a challenging reality to work with. I wish I could pay my staff three times the rate of minimum wage, but I have to work with what the industry can bear while doing the best by my customers and staff. This industry was built on oppressing women and people of color, and I am working to do right by all people.

Ryan Pattie/Buzfeed

Now that you're an influencer in the food world, do you plan to use that platform to talk about queer issues and support the queer community?

I am part of the LGBTQ community and don’t know why those two worlds would ever be mutually exclusive. I don’t compartmentalize my life. It doesn’t make sense to me. That would be like asking me if I cook more Californian or more Indian, and the answer is no. I don’t plan to stop being myself, and I will continue to be as outspoken as I want on political issues while raising up people who have been put down or oppressed. I support LGBTQ organizations, especially ones that support queer people of color.

Julia Turshen

Gentl & Hyers

Job: author of Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs

Location: Hudson Valley, New York

What is your favorite part of your job?

Empowering home cooks to be comfortable in the kitchen.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Inconsistent income. As a freelance writer, I don't have anything resembling a regular paycheck. It means a lot of planning ahead and saving for taxes, and then following up.

Ryan Pattie/Buzzfeed

Now that you're an influencer in the food world, do you plan to use that platform to talk about queer issues and support the queer community?

Absolutely. Visibility is one of the most powerful and effective tools we have. I always bring my full self to my work which translates to regularly writing about my relationship with my wife and our life together. I am proud to be out and loud.

Susan Feniger

Lisa Romerein

Job: chef and author of cookbooks including Susan Feniger's Street Food: Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes

Location: Los Angeles

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love wearing a uniform every day, having delicious coffee to drink all day, walking in bright and early to a batch of freshly made guacamole, carnitas coming off the fire, and fresh corn tortillas coming off the comal. I love having a team of people who like and help each other, and the great camaraderie it brings. It’s like having a second family, and I love seeing these young kids grow and become adults with passion. I also love the pressure of a busy service and seeing guests having a great time.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Meetings can be the most challenging for me and the part of my job I like the least.

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Instagram: @susanfeniger

Now that you're an influencer in the food world, do you plan to use that platform to talk about queer issues and support the queer community?

I am very involved in the community. I have been on the board of the LA LGBTQ Center for the last 10 years. It’s an amazing community — the board is so inspiring, and the center does incredible work that is so important. It makes my life feel complete and helps me feel like I am a small part of making change happen.

Jake Cohen

Michelle Heimerman

Job: food editor at Tasting Table

Location: New York

What is your favorite part of your job?

The constant variety of dishes and culture I get to experience. In one day I can be learning about making kouign-amann, cooking up a Brazilian stew recipe from a Michelin-starred chef, and hosting a video on how to fold dumplings, all back to back. It's incredibly stimulating, especially for someone constantly looking to learn more about food and cooking. Also, I have a huge sweet tooth, so getting cookies and pies sent to the office on a frequent basis is pretty amazing.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Trial and error is a huge part of any test kitchen. Being able to not take a failed recipe to heart is so important so you can objectively figure out how to fix it for the next test. Fighting the frustration can be a challenge sometimes. Oh, and not eating everything. That's really hard because I have very little self-control.

Ryan Pattie/Buzzfeed

Now that you're an influencer in the food world, do you plan to use that platform to talk about queer issues and support the queer community?

Being gay is a huge part of my life. When I write, whether it's about food or not, I'm never looking to butch it up or pretend to be someone I'm not. My voice is unapologetically queer. I love to write and share stories about my relationship. The two highlights of my professional career surround my relationship. The first was a feature on babka that I wrote (because my boyfriend is a Sephardic Jew and knew little about my Ashkenazic heritage when we started dating). The second was a feature on Persian rice I did for Tasting Table. My boyfriend is Persian, so learning how to cook a cuisine that's important to him is a huge way of how I show my love. Obviously, those were all personal examples, but I presented them on public platforms identifying myself as a proud gay man.

Michael Twitty

Bret Hartman

Job: culinary historian and author of The Cooking Gene:
A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South
and the food blog Afroculinaria

Location: Washington, DC

What is your favorite part of your job?

When you can help recapture a moment from someone’s past or the collective past by teaching the history of food, that is amazing. All of a sudden, it’s as if you've filled the room with people’s long-lost friends and family, lovers, and adversities they overcame. You can do that with smells, facts, tastes, and it works just the same. It’s a pleasure to see people leave a presentation glowing because they realize they’ve carried these stories and meanings with them, and they have something to pass on. A lot of the good comes from helping people to acknowledge they have a story of their own to tell, and that they should — by any means necessary — make sure it gets told. I want everybody to be a storyteller.

What is the hardest part of your job?

A lot of what I do is teaching people about culinary history, and from the angle of social, food, and culinary justice. When people aren’t hearing you, and they don’t want to better their minds and spirits by bending to empathize with the enslaved people of the past, it's more painful than you think. I’m standing over a hot fire for nine hours on my feet trying to give them truth mixed with rich sensory elements, and they don’t want to connect with the ancestors. They walk out, commit acts of microaggression, or simply ask about the wallpaper or floor while ignoring the human story.

Now that you're an influencer in the food world, do you plan to use that platform to talk about queer issues and support the queer community?

I have been out of the closet since I was 16, and I came out in my school newspaper while I was president of the student government association. I’ve been a queer activist of sorts for the past 24 years. Whether it was issues of racism in gay clubs, gay youth issues, issues specifically pertaining to black, queer people, I’ve kept an active profile. Being a gay culinary figure is important to me because it’s a legacy built on the shoulders of James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Bill Neal, and many others. When I was writing The Cooking Gene, it became very important to me to do what they couldn’t do, which was to say, hey, gay chefs come from gay kids who once dreamed of wowing people with their food and flair. Even though we struggle with anti-gay sentiment in the modern food world and kitchen, knowing that there are so many women, men, and trans individuals in the food world makes me feel indescribably and deeply connected.

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