BBC Good Food Magazine

MELISSA THOMPSON

What has being queer got to do with food anyway? Our columnist celebrates LGBTQ+ people making a difference in the hospitalit­y industry

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Hearing from LGBTQ+ hospitalit­y heroes

Pride is firmly rooted in protest and struggle

Throughout the year, Pride celebratio­ns take place up and down the country. But its foundation­s are firmly rooted in protest and struggle.

In June 1969, New York City police raided the city’s Stonewall Inn, having persecuted and harassed the queer community for years. This time, club-goers fought back. Days of protest followed and a movement was born.

Modern Pride celebratio­ns prompt mixed reactions. For some, it’s a party, while others resent the commercial­isation of a movement that has persecutio­n at its core.

And, what does Pride have to do with food anyway? Well, for me, everything. Being a gay woman is as much a part of my identity as food, as both permeate every aspect of my life.

Here, I speak to leading people in the food and drink industry about what Pride means to them – away from the rainbow flags and whistles.

Resh: ‘It wasn’t our intention to be an openly gay Indian restaurant.

‘We weren’t worried about the general public or our customers, but we thought we’d be judged by industry people.

‘The chefs didn’t understand – a woman running a restaurant, then two women owning it, then us being a couple. It was so foreign. So at first it was hidden, a bit like when we were younger. I only came out 12 years ago when I met Heena.

‘But, with our business, we realised we should just own it. And if people don’t like it, they can do one.’

Heena: ‘The changing point was during Pride 2017, the year we opened. I’d picked up a rainbow flag and put it in a vase next to the bar. People noticed and we started getting more gay customers.

‘If we can provide a space for just one person who has nowhere else to go, then that’s incredible.’

Resh: ‘Growing up, there was nowhere I could go where I felt comfortabl­e. I could go to my gay friends’ houses, but nowhere openly.

‘Now, we’re really proud we’ve created that space.’

If we can provide a space for just one person, that’s incredible

‘Queer Brewing was conceived after my love and passion for the drink led me to working full-time in the beer industry. I never intended to get into brewing, and to be honest, I don’t consider myself a brewer. Running a brewery happened almost through happenstan­ce. I wanted to use collaborat­ions with brewers as a vehicle for activism, fundraisin­g, and increasing visibility and representa­tion of LGBTQ+ people. The initial scope was to brew a collaborat­ion a month, and see if it reached a year. In the first year, I brewed nearly

30 beers in five countries, and raised close to £20,000 for a number of charities. The response kicked up such momentum that the first year immediatel­y surpassed my hopes.

‘But then the pandemic struck. As breweries were so focused on simply surviving, and along with a period of bad mental health and dealing with grief, I came close to winding it up. But then along came Cloudwater Brew Co [for a new collaborat­ion]. This reinvigora­ted my motivation and my ideas. A year after nearly packing it in, we’re in a pretty good place.

‘What keeps me going are the responses from people who see themselves in what we do, feel recognised and represente­d, or have found the confidence to come out or be more open about their identity as a result of our work.

‘Pride and LGBTQ+ representa­tion absolutely has a place in food and drink, and all other areas of culture. How can it not? LGBTQ+ people have been involved in the production of food and drink forever, so why shouldn’t our causes have a place? Representa­tion and visibility are important – and to a queer person unsure of their place in the world, or feeling alone, seeing something that references them could be really meaningful. But this is the means rather than the end.’

Russell: ‘Recently, one of the main gay bars in Dublin had homophobic graffiti scrawled at the front. Two Pride flags were burned down outside city council offices in the south of the country, and now “straight pride” flags have been put up outside shops. So, Pride is still important.

‘It’s time to reflect on the work that’s been done – especially for us in Ireland, where we had the Marriage Referendum in 2015 – and those who’ve done so much to push things forward.

‘Here, many of the post boxes are decorated with rainbows for Pride and there are secondary schools flying Pride flags. I think of 13-year-old Russell at school thinking, “God, if I get called a fag today – again – that’s my day ruined”.

‘But, imagine seeing a rainbow-flag-covered post box on your way to school and a Pride flag flying at school, and being listened to by a teacher rather than them brushing it under the carpet, as they did with us. What a long way we’ve come, with so many people for children to look up to so they can be assured that being gay is not abnormal. It’s a great thing.’

Patrick: ‘For me, Pride is still a protest. It’s about authentici­ty and being seen and heard.

‘Yes, it’s fun and colourful, but it’s a scream that says I exist and I’m allowed to, but it’s annoying that I still have to do this every year to remind you that I am an equal part of this world.’ Russell: ‘Our name started as a hashtag that we put at the end of tweets. It was a bit of fun and something to help friends keep a tab on what we were doing. Now it’s grown and grown.’ Patrick: ‘It wasn’t a conscious decision and it means there’s a “coming out” for us nearly every time, on every introducti­on and new client.

‘There isn’t any hiding who we are or what we stand for. And, with all the opportunit­ies we do get, there are the opportunit­ies that aren’t afforded to us because of the name. It’s been helpful, but it’s also hindered us.

‘As we’ve got to a certain level over the last few years, I think it’s brave that we have the word “gay” in the name and can’t hide. Not that I’ve got the impetus to hide, but it’s putting yourself out there in a vulnerable way.

‘I have to give us credit for sticking and perseverin­g.’ ‘A few years ago, Jay Rayner came in to review a café where my business partner Hanne and I were working. He described the lunch offering as a selection of “butch salads”, which we found hilarious – I had really short hair, Hanne had a shaved head and we both looked quite butch. We thought, “How did he know? Did he see us in the kitchen?”

‘That’s how our name came about. It probably isn’t the best name for a catering company, but it’s a good way of separating the wheat from the chaff. People either think it’s cool or they don’t get it. It’s quite subversive: if you’re a homophobe, don’t ask me to cater your event.

‘Pride is important. People wonder what your sexuality has to do with your identity as a chef, but I live in a London bubble and as soon as you step outside of it, you realise how heteronorm­ative things are. It’s presumed that you’re straight and if you don’t look straight, then that’s cause for looks or questions, so it’s important for people to realise it is relevant. Food’s part of me and my queerness is too.

‘I never saw anyone who looked like me – a butch woman chef – in food media or on television. That public image is not representa­tive of the industry. Queers in Food & Beverage, my online network and platform, came from wanting to know more queer people in food, because it’s important to have people around you who have had similar experience­s to you, who you don’t have to explain yourself to.’

I never saw anyone who looked like me in food media or on television

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 ??  ?? Chapati Club serves traditiona­l Indian meals in a safe space for all members
of the community
Couple Resh and Heena founded Chapati Club in 2017
Chapati Club serves traditiona­l Indian meals in a safe space for all members of the community Couple Resh and Heena founded Chapati Club in 2017
 ??  ?? Resh and Heena’s meals are inspired
by their childhood dinners
Resh and Heena’s meals are inspired by their childhood dinners
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 ??  ?? Patrick and Russell’s blog following their food and drink experience­s in Dublin has grown into a full business
Patrick and Russell’s blog following their food and drink experience­s in Dublin has grown into a full business
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 ??  ?? Rachel’s catering company, Butch Salads, creates seasonal, bespoke menus for events
Rachel’s catering company, Butch Salads, creates seasonal, bespoke menus for events
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