Navigating the testosterone-fueled world of professional kitchens is a difficult task for anybody, but these LGBTQ+ chefs have found success in their truth and in the incredible food they're making. Nickelodeon / Via media.giphy.com
"It was a little difficult to navigate at first because I wasn't sure if I would be fully accepted. Moreover, I feel like I wasn't taken seriously for being a small Asian female," says award-winning head chef of Animae and proud LGBTQ Filipina Tara Monsod.
"There was an instance when of my colleagues stated that they felt being gay was a choice. I spoke up and said that it was not a choice, why would I choose to have a more difficult life. From there, I felt more comfortable speaking my truth and having conversations without any judgment."
As we celebrate Pride month and the accomplishments of those in the LGBTQ+ community, here are 15 LGBTQ+ chefs making waves in the restaurant industry and achieving success — not despite, but because of — celebrating who they are.
1. Tara Monsod
Tara Monsod is the executive chef of San Diego steakhouse Animae, serving up Japan's finest Wagyu 5 beef and fine dining dishes influenced by her Filipino-American childhood. She recently took the position next to head chef and Animae owner Brian Malarkey after working in a string of prestigious establishments like Herringbone, Burlap, and at the acclaimed Pizzeria Mozza.
Jtran Photos 2. Yotam Ottolenghi 3. Ashleigh Shanti 4. Gregory León
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma to a Venezuelan father, Amilinda founder
Gregory León spent his childhood in his father's native country before returning to the US and starting his culinary career cooking in San Francisco restaurants like Mirtille, Horatius, and Zuni Café. He settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to found the innovative Amilinda, a showcase of Portuguese and Spanish influences inspired by his stints in the Iberian Peninsula. Joel Houghtby 5. Laine Myers
Laine Myers originally started working in professional kitchens to pay her way through college. She picked up cooking jobs at local restaurants while studying environmental science and urban planning at Virginia Commonwealth University and got hooked, working her way up the line at Graffiato after graduating before joining Brittanny Anderson at Metzger Bar & Butchery. She was working as the executive chef at Nota Bene before COVID-19 shut their doors, and she decided to focus on pasta pop-up Oro, delivering fresh handmade pasta and seasonal vegetable dishes. Tyler Darden 6. Jo Chan Jo Chan's another young Top Chef star with some impressive notches on her belt; before moving to Austin, Texas to work at Eberly (where she is now executive chef), the San Diego Culinary Institute grad worked in NYC's Nobu Five Seven as well as being the executive chef for the Scandinavian branch of Marcus Samuelsson's restaurant brand. Bravo / Via youtube.com 7. Silvana Salcido Esparza
Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza opened the legendary
Barrio Café 20 years ago with her partner, Wendy Gruber, to critical acclaim. Esparza specializes in regional Mexican cooking, especially from Central and Southern Mexico. Her passion for sharing Mexican culture goes beyond food — murals painted by a revolving array of local Latinx artists cover the walls of her restaurant with Chicano and Mexican cultural symbols like low riders and lucha libre. The Washington Post / The Washington Post via Getty Images 8. Margot McCormack
Margot McCormack got her start in the kitchen as a line cook at Bennigan's while studying English at UT Knoxville. She originally moved back to her hometown of Nashville to be a writer, but reality quickly hit, and she ended up back in the kitchen at Faison, where McCormack found her true calling in cooking. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America (back in the 1990s, there was even FEWER women), McCormack cut her teeth at Danal in NYC's East Village and Nashville's F. Scott's before opening the eponymously named Margot Cafe serving French-inspired takes on locally sourced ingredients.
FilmMagic for RED / Getty Images 9. Deborah VanTrece
Globetrotting chef Deborah VanTrece catered for the Centennial Olympics in Atlanta along with cooking for many foreign dignitaries and international executives before opening Edible Art in East Atlanta 20 years ago. She opened the celebrated
Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in 2014, serving thoughtful takes on "soul food" as the soul food of different cultures around the world. VanTrece's long list of awards include being showcased at the James Beard House and in the American Cuisine Cookbook, along with being spotlighted by illustrious outlets like Zagat and NBC News. Leslie Andrews 10. Nick DeSimone Nick DeSimone turned their decade of experience working in professional kitchens of all types into a writing career, spending the last two years writing about plant-based cooking, interesting recipes, and their trans journey for publications like Eater, USA Today, AllRecipes, and Mashed. 11. Supanut "Ann" Khanarak
Transgender Thai chef Supanut "Ann" Khanarak started her career specializing in Western food before finding herself reverting back to the cuisine of her homeland, studying Thai cooking in Sydney for eight years and moving back to Bangkok to head kitchens at the Metropolitan Hotel and the Four Seasons. She recently started consulting for the Front Room restaurant of the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok to
rave reviews, serving simple, elegant Thai flavors with upscale ingredients like Gaeng massaman si-krong nuea, a massaman curry made with Australian Wagyu and sweet potato; Phla lai bua or lotus stem, pomelo and homemade chilli paste; Maphrao cheesecake, cheesecake with young coconut jelly and white chocolate mousse. Story continues
Along with consulting for the Front Room, Khanarak also co-runs pad thai joint Pad Thai Wanchart and plans on opening
her own restaurant and cooking school in the near future. 12. Ritu Dalmia
workaholic" Ritu Dalmia grew up in Kolkata, India, where her family ran an Italian marble business that she began working for full-time at the age of 16. Her work frequently took her to Italy, where she developed a deep appreciation for Italian cuisine that eventually turned into a seven-restaurant fine dining empire stretching from New Delhi to London. A prominent LGBTQ rights activist, Dalmia and five other members of the LGBTQ successfully filed a petition against an Indian law prohibiting same-sex sexual conduct, resulting in the Supreme Court of India ruling it unconstitutional to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Rohal Harnal 13. Kristen Kish 14. Eileen Andrade
Eileen Andrade grew up in the kitchen; her family has owned restaurants since her grandfather opened restaurants in Cuba (after he immigrated to Miami in the '80s, he opened the celebrated Islas Canarias). Eileen opened CUBANCUBE food truck in 2011 to instant success and followed with Finka Table & Tap in 2014. Andrade's eclectic takes on Cuban, Peruvian, and Asian cuisines won her spots on Zagat Miami's 30 Under 30 and Miami Herald's South Florida's Food 50. Since then, she's opened cozy Cuban diner Amelia's 1931 (across from her parents' restaurant) and Latin-Asian fusion spot Barbakoa by Finka. Sergi Alexander / Getty Images for Food Network SoBe Wine & Food Festival 15. Lazarus Lynch
Lazarus Lynch wears many hats: Two-time
Chopped Champion, bestselling cookbook author, host of Snapchat's Chopped U and Food Network Digital's Comfort Nation. As his "soul food bible" proves, culinary entrepreneurialism runs in his blood — his father Johnny Ray Lynch was also a chef who opened popular soul food restaurant Baby Sister's Soul Food when Lazarus was 10. Lazarus studied culinary arts at NYC's Food and Finance High School (during which he also ran a now-defunct blog, Keeping-it-Healthy), cooked in Food Network Test Kitchens, and was a recipe developer and tester for the Son of a Southern Chef New York City Green Cart Cookbook and Virgin Vegan: The Meatless Guide to Pleasing Your Palate cookbook. After further study abroad as a 2011 World Food Prize Borlaug-Ruan International Recipient, including work with the US Department of Agriculture, Lazarus created Son of a Southern Chef in 2014 to honor his father and help build the next generation of soulful cooks. Theo Wargo / Getty Images