Hanging With the South's XXX Gay Rock Star Chef

Food Porn

I’m a fan boy. I admit I’ve tracked down plenty of comic book artists at Comic-Con to get their signatures. But I never thought I would be asking a chef for his autograph — let alone pushing a menu at him to sign as though he was the late great Stan Lee and this was the first appearance of Spidey. Yet here I am, breathlessly waiting for rock star chef David Shannon to add his John Hancock to the menu of his magical Richmond, Va., restaurant, L’Opossum.

When first conceiving of L’Opossum, Shannon says he wanted a restaurant that was also a comfortable stage for him to share his life, interests, and experiences. He was born and raised in Richmond and wanted a way to blend his humble beginnings with his culinary training in classical French cooking. “I think my dish, Escargots à la Ham Biscuit captures this perfectly,” Shannon explains. “I did not want to get tagged as a ‘fancy’ French restaurant, so using opossum in the name is a way of keeping it fun. Sort of a play on the old joke of putting a Le or La or L’ in front of a word, then saying it with a faux fancy French accent.”

Southern Living magazine concurred when it named L’Opossum the best restaurant in the south earlier this year.

The L’Opossum menu is a joyous experience in and of itself, written by Shannon and featuring drink specials with such delightful names —“Dark and Stormy Daniels” and “Safeword” are two of my favorite — that you’ll want to try them all.

You’re invited to (and may even feel compelled to) wander around the restaurant during dinner — looking at the individual pieces that are the mise en scène of L’Opossum.

 

 

Initially, Shannon wasn’t thinking about making the space playfully queer. He says, “I just wanted to run a place that felt right to me. There is definitely a gay vibe with the way I write the menu and the decor and art. A few years ago, a woman I have known since kindergarten came up to me and said, ‘I can’t believe you are doing this here in Richmond, Virginia.’ I was like, ‘I’m just running a restaurant.’ She said, ‘No. It’s more than that in this town. You are so out there and unapologetic about who you are and being gay.’” Given that perception, the chef acknowledges, “It’s amazing how well it’s been received.”

This past November, Shannon’s one-night XXX FoodPorn XXX event sold out as part of the hugely popular Fire, Flour & Fork food festival in Richmond. He says FoodPorn came about through a series of serendipitous moments and sprang from Shannon’s wildly original mind. After reading Chicago-based porn star and chef Jack Vidra’s “Do Something That Scares You” essay for the sex-toy site Fort Troff, “I contacted him and we started to discuss the possibility of the dinner. I shared his essay with a few friends to test the waters with my ideas of a FoodPorn dinner and got great interest. We met briefly in March, at Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend — CLAW — then I went to Chicago in July to hang out with him a bit and plan our event. Finding madison moore, author of Fabulous: The Rise of The Beautiful Eccentric was another key piece of the puzzle. Now, I felt we had a complete message promoting everyone’s right to live the life that is true to them.”

Fabulous is a riveting synthesis of autobiography, cultural analysis, and ethnography, wherein moore positions fabulousness as a form of cultural criticism that allows those who perform it to thrive in a world where they are not supposed to exist. Which is exactly what the L’Opossum experience embodies: from the golden David statues to the kitschy Franklin Mint collectible Star Wars plates, down to the hysterically witty menu — it’s like a 1990s queer theorist’s wet dream come to life.

Says moore: “I’ve never been to anything like XXX FoodPorn XXX and I’ve never been to a restaurant as delicious, decadent, and absolutely full of cocks as L’Opossum. Vintage porn playing on the ceiling, a suggestive menu, hot waiters, hot chefs, and Cocksuckers — and by that I’m talking about the final item on the menu. The food was unreal, the drinks were strong, and the music was so good I was very close to dancing on the tables, but, well, maybe next year. Richmond is very lucky to have someone as innovative as David Shannon in the house—someone who is deeply invested in upsetting norms, flipping the script, and creating something new out of the ashes. I’m interested in queer and marginalized people who choose to live their lives on their own terms, who are exhausted by cultural norms they feel forced to abide by, but that weren’t actually made for them. For me, the act of fabulousness is in realizing norms are boring and suffocating.”

FoodPorn was part of the four-day Fire, Flour & Fork festival celebrating the best the region has to offer: its complex history, its rich artistic community, and its established and rising culinary stars. Event cofounder Maureen Egan says “in its five years [it has] shone a spotlight on Richmond’s many talented chefs and restaurateurs for one weekend in November while bringing in out-of-town stand-outs in food and beverage, many of them friends and mentors of our own. It’s garnered national press and a reputation as being a fun, intimate un-festival festival.” 2018’s 43 events raised more than $12,000 for “organizations that make the community stronger.”

When it comes to Shannon’s FFF events, Egan says, “Over the years, [they] have always sold out in a matter of minutes as everyone knows whatever he produces will be spectacular, with no detail or sensory sensation left to chance… He’s inventive and idiosyncratic, playful and serious.”  

Shannon, says the FoodPorn collaboration reaffirmed for him the idea that for anyone to reach their full creative potential, they have to be able to live an open and authentic life. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” he says.

It’s a slogan L’Opossum and XXX FoodPorn XXX practically scream as loud as street activists used to.

From our Sponsors

READER COMMENTS ()