Queers in the Kitchen

From the looks of Bravo and the Food Network, gay and lesbian chefs are ubiquitous. But big-name LGBT cooks say they’re still the minority — underpaid and underrepresented.



Yigit Pura mixes it up in his San Francisco kitchen.

Pura agrees with Smith, recalling how hard he had to work to earn respect in New York kitchens early in his career. Pura said the first chef he worked for was a lesbian, so he didn’t encounter much homophobia under her leadership. But when it came to high-end restaurants, Pura says he had to prove himself, even though he held one of the most esteemed positions in the kitchen.

“Everyone else was older than me — they were French and definitely very aggressive,” Pura says. “So I never really came out of the closet for the first three to six months. I never hid it, but I really wanted people to see my perseverance and my work ethic and my talent first.”

Male and female chefs agree that the best way to silence disparaging coworkers and unfriendly environments is to work hard. But unlike gay chefs, several lesbian chefs reported less bullying due to their sexual orientation and instead had to confront the sexist, male-dominated mindset of the culinary world.

Lesbian food maven Susan Feniger, a staple of the Los Angeles culinary scene who, with her business partner Mary Sue Milliken, owns about a half-dozen restaurants in California and Las Vegas, says being a woman in the male-dominated culinary industry has made her stand out, more so than being a lesbian.

“In hindsight, as a woman, I’m sure I made less money than some of the men I was working side by side with, who probably had less experience than me,” Feniger says. She also notes a gender gap when it comes to venture capital funding of culinary endeavors. “My sense is that you see a lot more men out there funded for [restaurant] expansion and growth than you do women.”

Nevertheless, Feniger has surmounted that gender gap, opening her latest restaurant, Street, in 2009, and launching her newest cookbook, Susan Feniger’s Street Food, based on that successful concept this summer.