BY Dan Avery
August 19 2009 11:00 PM ET
If you can't stand the heat, goes the old saw, stay out of the kitchen. And no kitchen is hotter than that of Bravo's Top Chef, where talented cooks compete in culinary challenges that in past seasons have ranged from making vending-machine haute cuisine to planning a full Thanksgiving dinner for the Foo Fighters and their entourage. Unlike singing, modeling, or fashion design, the culinary world isn't always welcoming to gays and lesbians, but Top Chef has welcomed queer competitors almost from the start. In fact, it seems to be upping the ante with each succeeding season.
Couple Zoi Antonitsas and Jennifer Biesty went whisk to whisk in season 4. Last year, three out contestants -- Patrick Dunlea, Richard Sweeney, and Jamie Lauren -- formed their own "Team Rainbow," though all turned in their knives before the finale. And gay chefs Anita Lo ( an Advocate contributor ), Elizabeth Falkner, and Art Smith popped up on this summer's Top Chef Masters .
Season 6, which debuted August 19 and takes place in Las Vegas, features another queer trinity: gay gourmand Ash Fulk and lesbian chefs Ashley Merriman and Preeti Mistry.
Fulk, 29, a self-taught chef who grew up in California, now lives in New York and works at Trestle on Tenth in the übergay Chelsea neighborhood. "I kind of fell into cooking," he admits. "My ex-girlfriend was working at a restaurant and they needed a prep cook. I just sort of kept coming back to it.Èd; He ditched the girl but stayed in the kitchen. He describes his cooking style as "California cuisine with an Asian influence."