Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Black Chefs' Struggles + E. Patrick Johnson Speaking on Gays & Gospel + Direland on Anti-Gay Poland

G. GarvinIn today's New York Times, Michael Ruhlman pens a 3-page article on "Black Chefs' Struggles at the Top." C. and I have caught and enjoyed Turn Up the Heat with G. Garvin on TV One several times (his hyper-butch, LL Cool J-esque persona fascinates me, as does his repetition of the phrase, "This your boy!"), and he like some of the other chefs who're profiled offers his thoughts on dealing with stereotypes and racism in upscale restaurant kitchens, as well as the persistence and emotional toughness required to succeed. Ruhlman and his interviewees attribute part of the problem to the absence of Blacks in the cooking school pipeline, and he reports that not only external factors, such as low and often warped expectations among restaurant owners and non-Black chefs about Black cooks and their skills and talents, but also familial dissuasion, based on a range of factors, play a role.

(Bernie of Bejata recently added culinary training to his list of skills, so I wonder what he thought of the piece. I also thought about my younger brother, an excellent cook who's worked in an assistant capacity in a number of kitchens, but who has yet to finish his education, despite my and other family members' encouragement and support.)

The article ends on a positive note, however:

After graduating from Stanford, Beth Setrakian, 49, got her first job as a pastry chef in 1979 for Mark Miller at the Fourth Street Grill in Berkeley, Calif., where, she said, "I was definitely the only African-American in the kitchen." She opened her own business, Beth's Fine Desserts, in San Francisco in 1988; she said it now has annual sales of around $8 million.

"There are so many black cooks," she said, adding: "We're on the verge of change. And thank goodness, because the heritage that we bring is a great addition to American cuisine as a whole."

For those in Chicago, one of my brilliant colleagues will be speaking tomorrow evening, so please catch it if you can. E. Patrick Johnson is one of the co-editors, with Mae Henderson, of the new Black Queer Studies volume, and also has an essay in Frank Léon Roberts's and Marvin K. White's I'll Take Tomorrow (which I got the other day and highly recommend):

NU Prof. E. Patrick Johnson
(Dept. of Performance Studies, School of Communication)
will present
Gays & Gospel
an evening of lively discussion and song
examining gay men’s contributions to church music
Prof. Johnson will be joined by Kent R. Brooks, Director of Music Ministries at the First Calvary Baptist Church of Durham, North Carolina

The event will take place at
The Chicago Temple
77 West Washington Street, in the Loop
(The Temple is located directly opposite the Daley Center and the Picasso sculpture; closest Red Line stop is Washington)

This Thursday, April 6th @ 6:30 P.M. Take the "EL" downtown for an evening of music and conversation! Reserve your tickets today!

Admission $10/$5 for students and Chicago History Museum members

For tickets, visit or call 312.642.4600.

LegierskiDoug Ireland has yet another fascinating piece on the increasingly extremely anti-gay climate in Poland, where right-wing twin brothers, who were former child-actors, the Kaczynskis, hold the government's reins (Lech is the President of the country, while the other, Jaroslav, a legislator and powerbroker, is the leader of the largest parliamentary party, Law and Justice). Since gaining power in October 2005 elections, the Kaczynskis, in league with ultraconservative elements of the Roman Catholic Church and even more viciously anti-gay parties, have launched an all-out assault on LGBT people there, in contravention of the EU's human rights laws and protections. EU officials have called Poland to task, but the Kaczynskis and their allies are determined to turn the clock back socially and politically.

Among the recent crises that have befallen LGBTs in poland, the Warsaw City Council, controlled by the Kaczynskis' party, ordered the closing of Le Madame, a popular gay nightclub that has also served as an important Leftist cultural and political space, a theater and lecture hall, a center for the country's dissident public sphere. Le Madame is owned and run by Krystian Legierski (above right, photo from Direland), a Black Polish-born gay activist. When the police attempted to shut down the establishment on March 29, 2006, it found that over 200 people inside refused to leave, which led to a blockade and siege whose temporary end Legierski was able to negotiate, with the proviso that the City Council not shutter the club for 48 hours. Even American actor John Malkovich joined the press conference at Le Madame to argue for its continued existence. As Ireland reports above, on March 31, the police again raided the club and closed it for good. Two smaller Left parties in the City Council have called for an emergency meeting concerning the closing of the center, but for now, the Polish "Stonewall" remains closed.


  1. Oh my, a Black Pole! *grin!* Okay now, I know I wasn't the ONLY one thinking it! *LOL!*

  2. I just got around to reading the article about Black chefs this morning, printing off the internet. It is consistent with a lot of what I have heard.

    In my class at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) there was also a Black female and a Puerto Rican male. In some of the other classes that matriculating at the same time, there were maybe one or two at the most in each. As stated in the piece, despite our training, there is always the implicit assumption that all you can or will cook is soul food. I even got that from several friends, who expected my training to teach me how to whip up some "mean collard greens" or something of that order, as if I couldn't do that before schooling.

    But the other reality of the profession is that there are low pay scales for beginners, regardless of background and experience. At this point in my life, I couldn't realistically live on half my current non-culinary salary (which also comes with benefits which the food service industry often lacks) just to work in a restaurant.

    I have stayed in touch with the chef from the restaurant where I did my externship (he's actually around my age, if not younger). If young people enter the field, I do believe things will change over time, but having someone to mentor them is crucial.

  3. C, yes, that's exactly how he said it! :-)

    Donald, yes, that's what he is... :-)

    Bernie, thanks for your comments. The issues of the introductory pay scale and lack of mentorship do seem critical. I believe more young people of color interested in the culinary arts will enter that field, but I don't think the expectations--Asians cook Asian cuisine, Black Americans cook soul fool, Caribbean Blacks cook Caribbean cuisine--will change anytime soon. Having more cooks like Garvin or the others who prepare a range of cuisines with skill, and portraying them on TV and in other media doing so, will also play a role in changing things.