Loud and Proud in Food 

June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, so we’re showing off some of the loudest and proudest people in food. To live proudly as your authentic self and to be a leader in food at the same time is something to celebrate. 

Ted Allen, TV personality and philanthropist 

You may know Ted Allen as the host of the cutthroat cooking show, Chopped. Maybe you  know him as the food and wine specialist on the first iteration of Queer Eye, which took home an Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program in 2004. Or maybe you even have one of his two cookbooks on your shelf. The point is – Ted is a force in the food world. He also uses his chops (no pun intended) for good as a spokesperson for Dining Out for Life, an annual fundraiser in which restaurants across the country donate a portion of their sales to HIV/AIDS service groups—about $4 million each year. 

Deborah VanTrece, chef and owner of VanTrece Hospitality Group 

If you’ve never been to Atlanta and dined at one of Deborah VanTrece’s restaurants, you are missing out on some exquisite soul food. Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours is an award-winning restaurant that serves southern classics like fried green tomatoes, mac and cheese and peach cobbler. In 2021, she released a cookbook to help home cooks recreate some of her incredible dishes. Deborah aims to respect her family’s food traditions and recognize the influence of Black food heritage on American cuisine. Her passion for food goes beyond the plate. She is also an advocate for local farmers, whom she regularly supports by using farm-fresh ingredients on her menus.  

Dominique Crenn, chef and owner of Atelier Crenn 

Earning a coveted Michelin star is something most chefs can only dream of, but Dominique Crenn is living that dream. As the only female chef in the country with three Michelin stars – she’s practically a constellation. Owner and chef at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, Dominique is passionate about using organic, sustainable, local ingredients in her food. She has received numerous accolades, including the James Beard Foundation Award of Best Chef: West in 2018 and The World’s 50 Best Icon Award in 2021. Dominique also served as a consultant for Ralph Fiennes’ character in the 2021 dark comedy horror film The Menu

Jody Williams and Rita Sodi, chefs and restaurateurs 

Jody Williams and Rita Sodi are a dynamic power couple in the food world. As co-owners and co-chefs of the ever-popular Via Corita, an upscale Italian restaurant in New York City, the couple has been elevating the restaurant scene in the West Village and beyond. Rita is also the owner and chef of I Sodi, a Tuscan restaurant located in the heart of Greenwich Village, which has been met with critical acclaim. Jody’s culinary counterpart is Buvette, which serves très magnifique French food, and has locations in Tokyo and Paris, in addition to its flagship in NYC. As of this year, the pair own two more restaurants, Pisellino and The Commerce Inn. What’s more romantic than creating a restaurant empire with the one you love? 

Andy Baraghani, chef and former senior food editor at Bon Appétit magazine 

Many of us probably played with playhouse kitchens as children, but for Andy Baraghani, that childhood fantasy became a reality. A lifelong food-lover, Andy began experimenting with food as a child, leading him to eventually work at the restaurant Chez Panisse, under his “culinary idol,” Alice Waters. In 2015, Andy joined Bon Appétit and quickly gained popularity on the magazine’s YouTube channel. He was Senior Food Editor at the magazine until 2021, when he left to work on his debut cookbook, The Cook You Want to Be. His cookbook focuses on recipes that need little prep time, making the dishes more accessible to amateur chefs.  

Telly Justice, chef and co-owner of HAGS 

HAGS is a self-described queer* fine dining restaurant changing the game in NYC. Telly Justice co-owns the spot with her partner Camille. Telly set out to challenge the standard fine dining restaurant experience, which she felt was one-dimensional. Being an out-and-proud Trans woman made it difficult for Telly to feel like she belonged in the restaurant space, where she faced microaggressions and misunderstanding. So, she made a space that is “queer first, restaurant second,” and focuses on curating a safe and warm atmosphere for guests. Of course, the food is also delish. They offer ever-changing tasting menus with extensive vegan options and a wine list to write home about.  

Niki Nakayama, chef and owner of n/Naka  

Born in Los Angeles to two Japanese immigrants, heritage is very important to Niki Nakayama. As she grew up and discovered her passion for cooking, she trained in Japan to master Kaiseki, which is a Japanese cooking technique that focuses on using different preparation styles to show off each ingredient. Her restaurant, n/naka, serves an impressive 13-course meal, all crafted in the kaiseki style. In 2019, n/naka was on Food & Wine’s 30 best restaurants in the world, and Niki was awarded two Michelin stars that same year.  

Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, chefs and restaurateurs 

Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier have been happily together in life and business for over 30 years. The pair focus on sustainability and old-world cooking practices, including curing their own meats and making their own cheeses. The two have embarked on several restaurant ventures, including the refined fare of M.C. Perkins Cove, as well as co-authored two cookbooks. In 2022, the pair began their latest culinary charge with the launch of “Food Road Clark & Mark,” a food and travel blog that they update with their world travels and the delicious eats they find along the way. 

Cat Cora, TV personality and restaurateur  

If you are a fan of Food Network, you’ll be well aware of Cat Cora, who broke the glass ceiling and made history as the first female Iron Chef in 2005. Cat has opened more than 18 restaurants worldwide, including Ocean Restaurant, which is located in the S.E.A. Aquarium in Singapore. In addition to her entrepreneurial efforts, Cat is a philanthropist at heart. She is the founder of Chefs for Humanity, a non-profit with a mission to reduce hunger across the globe through education and humanitarian relief efforts. 

Gee Smalls, chef and restaurateur  

Our stomachs are rumbling just looking at the offerings at Gee Smalls’ restaurant, Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen & Bar, which offers southern delights such as deviled crab and okra gumbo. Gee co-owns Virgil’s with his husband, Juan, and named the restaurant after his late father. In 2019, Gee released his debut book, Black Enough Man Enough, which details his experiences as a mixed-race Black and gay man. In addition to being a restaurateur and author, he is a co-founder of “The Gentlemen’s Ball,” an annual gala celebrating accomplishments of the Black LGBTQIA+ community. 

Art Smith, chef 

Chicago Magazine’s 2006 Chicagoan of the Year, Art Smith, has made a name for himself in the food world. He was Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef for ten years and has appeared on numerous television programs, including Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. Chicagoland residents may know him from his popular restaurant Blue Door Kitchen, where he prioritizes using sustainable, in-season ingredients. He is also the owner of the contemporary southern restaurant Reunion, located on Chicago’s famous Navy Pier. 

Being true to yourself isn’t always easy, and we applaud these strong individuals for being brave and making a difference in the world. This month, and every month, we encourage you to support local LGBTQIA+ owned restaurants and businesses. 

*Note: we are using the term “queer” here as it is the wording Telly uses to describe herself, but it is important to note that many people in the LGBTQIA+ community don’t feel comfortable with allies using this term. For more information, click here. 

About the author
Ella Shirk is a graphic designer at Esrock Partners, a foodservice marketing agency located near Chicago, Illinois.

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