Julian Hagood Suzi Pratt

Within the restaurant industry, kitchen culture is notorious for being a cesspool of toxic masculinity. Chefs rib each other incessantly about, as Anthony Bourdain famously put it in Kitchen Confidential, "who takes it in the ass." The dick-swinging aspects of kitchen work are starting to fade, especially here in progressive Seattle, but it's still a pretty aggressively heteronormative work environment.

For the Queer Issue, we caught up with a few local LGBTQ chefs for a quick chat about what it was like coming up (and coming out) in that environment, what's different now, and their hopes for kitchen culture moving forward.

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Celebrate the return of the live arts in a safe, outdoor setting. Capitol Hill, Sep. 18-19.


Owner, Harry's Fine Foods

How long have you been in the industry?

I went to culinary school right out of high school. I've known I wanted to be a chef my whole life. This is my first restaurant. I kind of went the backward route—I did catering for a long time.

Were you always out?

Yeah! I came out when I was 17 to my friends. I was working in my mom's coffee shop when I was like 15 or 16 and washing dishes at a country club in Spokane. Working in the restaurant industry there, I never felt pressured to hide my sexuality.

Where are things at now for queer people?

I've had trans employees, and half my employees are straight and half are gay—it's an incredible mix.

Having half your staff be queer isn't such a big deal anymore?

Not at all! If anything, while there is obviously the need to be politically correct, having every color of the rainbow there really opens it up for jokes of all flavors.

Shit-talking in the kitchen is never going away, we're just doing it more respectfully?

Oh absolutely! Never. [Having a more diverse staff] does create a more respectful environment, and I think everybody kind of understands where everybody else is coming from.


Co-Chef, Saint John's Bar & Eatery

How long have you been in the industry?

I first started working in the restaurant industry when I was 15, as a dishwasher. A really bad dishwasher.

Have you been out the entire time?

No. I didn't come out until I was 19. I came out at a restaurant I was working at in Massachusetts because they wouldn't stop saying the F-word and I got really tired of it. So I was like, "Hey, guys, I'm gay and I'm really tired of you saying fag." They were sort of okay with it and sort of stopped.

Since then, what's your experience been like being out in the kitchen?

I left that job in Massachusetts and came back to Washington because my mom got sick. The first place I started working here was the Tin Table, and it was a very queer-friendly environment. I left to work at [a brewery], and when I came out to the chef, the first thing he told me was, "That's okay as long as you don't try to suck my dick."

It was supposed to be a crass joke?

I don't think I laughed—it was very upsetting. But I stuck with it, and they were actually pretty cool about me being gay.

How would you describe the climate for gay people in the restaurant industry nowadays?

I think things are better. The little stuff is still there. I left after staging at [a Capitol Hill bar/restaurant] because I would hear six or seven little homophobic remarks every day. They weren't like, "Ha-ha-ha faggots." But they were definitely like, "Ha-ha-ha dicks in butts" and stuff like that. It wasn't directed at me, just toward each other. But I'm gay and I didn't really appreciate it because that's how I'm intimate with my partner. A lot of that is just thrown away as "Well, that's just how kitchens are." To a degree, kitchens are crass. But at the same time, that stuff is homophobic.

There's no way around it.

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Maybe it would be described as a microaggression? I don't know, but it's bad stuff. I think it's better now, but it's still there.


Owner, Tilth and Agrodolce

Maria Hines Frank Huster

How long have you been in the industry?

Twenty-seven years!

What was your first job?

At Carlos Murphy's, an Irish/Mexican bar and grill behind a mall. A thousand covers a day, it was just batshit crazy. I started off in the pantry. That's the great thing about the industry, it's one of those vocations that you can get into even if you don't have experience. You can start learning your craft and getting paid at the same time, which is really nice!

Were you out when you started there?

I actually didn't find out that I was a lesbian until I was mid-18. I say "found out" like, "Oh my god!? I'm gay!"

Like the clouds parted and there was a big dude with a beard who was like, "Guess what?" Did you come out to your coworkers at some point?

Yeah. I don't know how fair it is [to say it was challenging], because I grew up in Southern California and it's a very tolerant community. Lots of people hanging out on the beach, super liberal, hippie.

We have it good on the West Coast.

Of course, thanks to everyone who has paved the way for us. There's definitely a good fight that has been fought. It still goes on, but it's definitely not to the same extent.

Like we take it for granted?

We should be taking it for granted! If we're taking it for granted, it means it's not a big deal anymore. Which is where we're starting to go. We're still making monumental strides, but we're really getting to the point where it is becoming a nonissue.

Also, in kitchen culture, everyone back there is a bunch of rebels and bandits and, y'know, animals. Everyone comes in the door with their own weird shit, but everyone gets along. My wife says this—she's not from kitchens, but when I opened up Tilth, we were in the weeds all the time and she'd come help—she was like, "You guys are all like a pack of wolves back there. You all band together, it doesn't matter who's white, who's black, who's yellow, who's gay, who's straight, who's man, who's woman." It's true, the only thing that matters in the kitchen is if you can pull your weight! recommended

Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.