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.



Susan Feniger


Feniger is known by many for her expertise in Latin cuisine, and she says her talent grew out of the bias she encountered as a young chef. “Back in the late ’70s,” Feniger recalls, “there weren’t many women in the kitchen. And when you did get into a very strict French kitchen in the United States… you got put to the prep kitchen because you were a woman, [and] most of the guys that you were working with ended up being Hispanic.”

Elizabeth Falkner, a lesbian chef who has a new cookbook, Cooking Off the Clock, says that for women, sexual orientation is often a nonissue in the high-stakes world of commercial kitchens. Falkner, who has appeared on Top Chef Masters, $40 a Day, and The Next Iron Chef, among others, can be seen on The Next Iron Chef: Redemption on Food Network this month.

Falkner became San Francisco’s de facto gay wedding cake baker with her flagship bakery, Citizen Cake, known for its unique, creative constructions, and its proximity to City Hall. Falkner recently left Citizen Cake and her other San Francisco eatery, Orson, to launch her new restaurant, Krescendo, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I don’t think that me being a lesbian has ever gotten in the way of me doing anything in my profession,” says Falkner, who has been cooking for more than 20 years. “The biggest stereotype I’ve ever been cast into is being a pastry chef. And I am a pastry chef, but I’m also a chef.”

Pura struggles with the same stereotypical assumption, with the compounding factor that people assume all pastry chefs are gay, he says. But, Pura says, a good meal can overcome even the starkest of differences or the most vindictive prejudice.