As International Pride month comes to an end, I wanted to exhibit how queer chefs have played an essential role in shaping and revolutionising the food industry.
Yotam Ottolenghi is a celebrated chef and cookbook author whose work has revolutionised the culinary world with his unique approach to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Through his cookbooks, television shows, and restaurants, he has introduced a vibrant and contemporary twist to traditional flavours and ingredients, captivating food enthusiasts around the world.
Beyond his culinary expertise, Ottolenghi is also known for his activism as an LGBTQ+ advocate. As an openly gay man, he has used his platform to raise awareness, promote inclusivity, and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, especially being vocal about his experiences with surrogacy for both his sons.
Fun fact: Yotam didn’t turn to cooking as a profession until he was 30. He has a Masters in Philosophy and Comparative Literature and was a journalist and an academic!
In a culinary world that has historically been dominated by heterosexual white males, Deborah has defied stereotypes and broken-down barriers. Her success as a chef is a testament to her talent, creativity, and relentless determination.
As an openly gay woman, she has fearlessly embraced her identity and used it to empower others. She has become a symbol of representation and inclusivity in the culinary industry, showing aspiring chefs that their sexual orientation should not limit their dreams or ambitions.
Deborah has said, “When I first started out, I had three strikes against me. I am Black, I am female, and I am a lesbian”. “When I opened the first iteration of Twisted Soul in Decatur, Ga., I encountered a lot of racism and there was a definitive ‘You don’t belong here’ vibe. Those three strikes were hard to overcome.”
Deborah’s African-American heritage is also an integral part of her culinary identity. She has skilfully incorporated the flavours and traditions of her culture into her dishes, adding depth and richness to her creations. Through her work, she has elevated the visibility and appreciation of African-American cuisine.
She has said “I embrace soul food cooking…because I think it deserves to be elevated”, “people tend to play down the influence that African-Americans have had on the food of the U.S., and then they try to take our traditions away from us. They refer to soul food as ‘Southern food’ to dilute it and make it palatable to a larger group of people.”
I personally feel her journey and activism as a queer black woman, determined to represent and encourage people to educate themselves and learn about the cultural traditions in the culinary world, serves as an inspiration to anyone facing societal barriers or prejudice. It’s so important to listen, learn and share their stories. She paves the way for greater diversity and representation, inspiring others to embrace their true selves and pursue their passions without limitations.
Fun fact: Deborah cooked for foreign dignitaries and international executives during the Centennial Olympics in Atlanta!
Supanat “Ann” Khanarak
Chef Ann Khanarak is an inspiring figure as a transgender chef, constantly proving that talent and determination transcend gender identity.
She says “All in all, gender and identity have nothing to do with your success as chef. Work, experience and determination are the nitty-gritty here.”
She specialises in a diverse range of cuisines, incorporating flavours from different cultures into her culinary creations. Her repertoire includes dishes inspired by Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cuisines. With a keen sense of creativity and a mastery of ingredients, she expertly blends spices, herbs, and textures to create unique and memorable dishes. By fearlessly embracing her true self, she has become a role model for aspiring chefs and an advocate for transgender visibility and acceptance.
Fun fact: Ann started her career specialising in Western food before finding herself reverting back to the cuisine of her homeland, studying Thai cooking in Sydney for eight years and moving back to Bangkok to head kitchens at the Metropolitan Hotel and the Four Seasons. She recently started consulting for the Front Room restaurant of the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok!
These inspiring queer chefs have demonstrated that embracing diversity can lead to not only personal fulfilment and societal change, but also tasty creations through celebrating one’s true self 😊