13 Queer Chefs You Need To Know

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

The food industry, which is primarily headed by white, male, heterosexual, cisgender individuals, has been a difficult sector to break into, since, well, forever. However, there are many people outside of the aforementioned chef norm who are pushing boundaries and redefining what fine dining means. These people are helping us change who we imagine when we see the word "chef."

In the food industry, a staggering 80% of queer workers in 2020 reported seeing, experiencing, or hearing homophobic or transphobic things from customers, employers, or coworkers, (via One Fair Wage). Therefore, it is undeniable that in the food industry, queer awareness is essential for elevating marginalized voices and making sure that everyone feels safe and able to thrive. Take a look at this list of powerhouse chefs who are breaking down stereotypes and pushing for visibility. Hopefully, you will be inspired by their perseverance and passion for cooking, just like we are.

Melissa King

Winner of "Top Chef: All-Stars," Season 17, host of the Hulu series "Tasting Wild," and named one of the best female chefs in San Francisco, Chef Melissa King is impressively reimagining the culinary world. Using influences from their Cantonese-American upbringing, King is known for combining Asian flavors with California cuisine to create stunning dishes, as she did for the 2022 Met Gala. She is also known for using local, seasonal ingredients which are highlighted in "Tasting Wild." In the series, King embarks on many journeys to forage for ingredients, truly savoring each unique ecosystem they find themself in and using it as inspiration for her creative process.

As a proud Asian-American queer woman, King is very vocal about supporting her community and the importance of representation in the workplace. They donate to multiple organizations that support marginalized communities and was listed on Out Magazines Out100 list, which celebrates impactful LGBTQ+ community members, (via Chef Melissa King).

Dominique Crenn

Chef and owner of Petite Crenn and Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, Chef Dominique Crenn is a record-breaker in the culinary world. In 2018, Crenn became the first woman chef in the U.S. to receive three Michelin stars, and in 2021, she received the World's 50 Best Icon Award. Her food, which takes a modern and artistic approach inspired by her French heritage, is distinctive, unique, and a poetically creative story, says Atelier Crenn.

Crenn is not only changing the food industry, but she also uses her voice and influence to support LGBTQ+ chefs, women in the food industry, and marginalized voices around the world. In her memoir "Rebel Chef," Crenn writes of the discrimination she faced as a chef and voices her personal commitment to elevating and celebrating the perspectives and contributions of people who have historically been marginalized, (via 50 Best).

One of the ways Crenn has been known to celebrate women and queer people in the food industry is through her 2018 Women Of Food Series, during which she collaborated with other chefs such as Niki Nakayama. This initiative, and many others that she has spearheaded and partaken in, have served as a way for her to speak up about women in the food industry, and how small changes can lead to huge results.

Michael Twitty

Michael Twitty is the author of "Koshersoul: The Faith and Food of an African American Jew" and "The Cooking Gene," which won the 2018 James Beard Award for the Book of the Year, (via James Beard Award). He is a culinary historian, scholar, and chef. He is determined to preserve and promote Jewish and African American foodways and the traditions that were born from the African and Jewish Diasporas. Twitty uses his writing and voice to spread awareness of Antebellum Chefs, and chefs along the Atlantic coast of North America who were integral in the creation of Creole cuisine. He also coined the term "identity cooking," which refers to his personal brand Kosher/Soul. Twitty explains that, to him, Kosher/Soul, and thus identity cooking, is a way for him to reclaim and celebrate the complex mix of histories and flavors that make him who he is, an African American Jewish man (via Afroculinaria).

In a powerful and heart-wrenching essay written after the 2016 Orlando Nightclub Shooting, titled "I'm Gay and This Is Why You Should Care," Twitty delves into his own past and the long lineages that make him, proudly, who he is. He further stresses that his sexuality plays — just as any part of his identity does — a huge influence on his food, writing, and how he navigates the world, notes Afroculinaria. He is a vocal advocate for marginalized rights, uncovering culinary heritage, and learning from discomfort.

Kristen Kish

In 2013, Chef Kristen Kish was the first woman of color to win "Top Chef." She then went on to be the host of "Fast Foodies" and currently co-hosts "Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend." She is also the mastermind behind Austin, Texas-based restaurant Arlo Grey, and is a successful cookbook author. Her food, described as a mix of French and Italian, which also pays homage to her Midwestern roots, is an artful blend of seasonal and modern, (via Arlo Grey).

While she says that she never wants to participate in "Top Chef" again, since winning, Kish has embarked on many other food endeavors that have led her to meet many famous chefs, travel the world, and get to know her own heritage roots. Adopted from Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Michigan, Kish now uses her visibility to be a voice for Asian-Americans, adoptees, women, and queer women in the food industry. Women, women of color, and queer women have been running kitchens for centuries, and after being on "Top Chef" and in the public eye, Kish says that she is more aware of how people view her. She is a strong advocate for visibility and emphasizes that being someone to relate to and feel safe around is something that Kish is honored and proud to represent in the kitchen and in life, adds Queer Forty.

Gregory Gourdet

Gregory Gourdet is many things, one of which includes being a chef. Chef and owner of Kann in Portland, Oregon, Gourdet is proud to helm a restaurant that pays homage to his Haitian heritage and the Caribbean diaspora. He is also known for food that expertly intermingles his own food culture with many flavors that he gathered throughout his travels. In 2021, Gourdet released his cookbook "Everyone's Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health," which he describes as a cookbook designed to make healthy eating accessible to all. "Everyone's Table" was honored with the James Beard Award for Best General Cookbook in 2022, (via Gregory Gourdet).

In addition to being named "Chef of the Year" by Eater Portland and the Oregon Department of Agriculture and a two-time "Top Chef" finalist, Gourdet is also an avid environmentalist, ultra-runner, advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, and is vocal about his sobriety and past addiction. He strongly encourages active inclusion in the workplace, which to him means knowing the stories of who you work with and understanding the barriers they face. Furthermore, active inclusion to Gourdet means believing in people and giving them a chance, especially if they display a true passion for their trade. Gourdet further emphasizes that when he started out in kitchens, no one talked about anxiety or wellness, thus exacerbating the toxic environment that restaurants can embody. Now, he is striving to build a workplace that is supportive and healthy, notes Huffpost.

Yotam Ottolenghi

Few authors or chefs have continuously influenced the food scene in both North America and Europe in the way that Yotam Ottolenghi has through his 11 cookbooks, which garnered him multiple James Beard Awards and the National Book Award for Ottolenghi SIMPLE. In addition, Ottolenghi is the co-owner of multiple delis and restaurants across London, head of the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, as well as a regular contributor to the Guardian and The New York Times. Ottolenghi's food and recipes are famous for celebrating Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, which are inspired by his own Jewish heritage and his family's history, (via Ottolenghi).

Ottolenghi is proud to make food that is accessible to many home cooks which was highlighted in his most recent books "Shelf Love and Extra Good Things," which focus on how to use pantry items in delicious ways and how to restock your pantry in a delicious way.

On top of being a highly acclaimed author and chef, Ottolenghi is a proud gay man and father. In an article he wrote for The Guardian on gay fatherhood and coming out as a gay father, Ottolenghi addresses his own feelings of discomfort at being vocal and visible about his sexual orientation. Ottolenghi continues to use his voice to express how important visibility in the workplace is, and even says that he realized that keeping his private life private was no longer an option.

Tara Monsod

Executive Chef at San Diego-based restaurant Animae, Chef Tara Monsod brings her own Filipino roots into the kitchen. Animae, which specializes in Japanese A5 Wagyu beef, is a fine-dining experience that is set to make you feel like you are in a theater, featuring modern architecture and futuristic design. In addition to the restaurant's alluring interior, Monsod proudly incorporates flavors from her heritage into the food, adding Filipino twists that bring diners back again for more, (via Animae).

Unabashedly Filipina and proud to represent her community in a fine-dining space, Monsod uses her position as Executive Chef to play with other East Asian flavors and create new flavor journeys. A proud queer woman who is remaking the food industry in her own way, Monsod's food speaks for itself. She explains that, historically, Filipino food has been seen only as street food, and to feature it in a fine-dining experience is a way to change culinary perspectives, (via Asian Journal).

Ritu Dalmia

Chef Ritu Dalmia is a force in the kitchen and the business world. Born and raised in Calcutta, and now a restaurant owner and manager in India, Italy, and Spain, Dalmia is a powerful culinary force that has been expertly cooking and innovating with modern Indian and Italian food for years. Her entrepreneurial and culinary successes have been recognized worldwide and are the reason why she was named one of India's 25 Biggest Chefs in 2017 by The Indian Federation for Culinary Association, (via Diva Italian).

In 2016, Ritu Dalmia, along with four others, signed a petition to the Supreme Court of India. Their petition was against section 377, a law that stated that being part of the LGBTQ+ community was illegal in India. In September 2018, the law was finally declared unconstitutional. This ruling was a landmark event for India and the world and signified a major step towards inclusion and safety for queer people. Dalmia continues to serve, proudly, as a role model and inspiration for many in the food industry and is happy to share her own journey, says Diva Italian.

Niki Nakayama

Chef Niki Nakayama time and time again has proven herself beyond expectations in the food industry, and more importantly, in the world of Japanese food and sushi. Nakayama describes the stigma of having women sushi chefs as "remarkable," as per The Advocate, which makes her success as both a sushi and kaiseki chef, that much more remarkable. Kaiseki, the Japanese culinary art of serving many small dishes that complement one another and reflect the seasons and local bounty, is what n/naka, Nakayama's restaurant, specializes in. N/naka, which has two Michelin stars, is described as modernly and delightfully working with the spirit of traditional Japanese food, (via Michelin).

Featured on Netflix's "Chefs Table" and a teacher on MasterClass for modern kaiseki and Japanese cuisine, Nakayama is always pushing gender stereotypes in the male-dominated Japanese food world. Nakayama and her team at n/naka are impressive, seamless, and poetic. Part of the reason they meld so well may be because Nakayama's wife, Carol Iida-Nakayama, is her sous chef. The two work in tandem to create an unforgettable dining experience for those guests who are lucky enough to get a spot at n/naka, notes The Advocate.

James Beard

The James Beard Foundation, the living legacy of James Beard himself, has the mission of celebrating and elevating food across the U.S. James Beard, a Portland, Oregon native who wrote several cookbooks, opened and taught at culinary schools in both Oregon and New York, and left a legacy of excellence when he passed away in 1985, has helped shaped much of the culinary culture in the U.S. today. The foundation aims to uphold this legacy by continuing to celebrate up-and-coming chefs across the country and acknowledge those who are striving to create a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food future, (via James Beard).

Throughout his life, Beard befriended and worked alongside many other big names like Julia Child. But, despite his fame and ongoing respect in the food industry, little was known about his personal life until after his death. Beard was gay, but during the time when being gay was not publicly acceptable, Beard and his long-term partner Gino Cofacci lived private lives away from the limelight, notes The New York Times. Today, James Beard serves not only as an inspiration for many chefs across the U.S., he also continues to show us how food can bring people together despite differences.

Gabby Maeda

Chef Gabby Maeda is the creative and passionate mastermind behind San Francisco's renowned restaurant State Bird Provisions. Named one of Food and Wine's Best New Chefs in 2021, Maeda has made a name for herself in the California cuisine sector and across the fine-dining world. Originally from Honolulu, Hawai'i, Maeda moved to California for culinary school and never left. She says that even in her days as a line cook in Hawai'i, she was always grateful for the respect she received as an openly out queer kid. This pride and determination carried over to her journey at State Bird Provisions where she started as a line cook, then sous chef, and eventually chef de cuisine, (via Food and Wine).

Having come from kitchens her whole life, and now presented with the incredible opportunity to meld her own Hawaiian heritage with the bounty of California, Maeda has put State Bird Provisions on the map. She credits her success and growth to the incredible mentors she has worked with throughout her journey and says that their kindness and openness to her sexuality, gender, and points of view, showed her how she wants to run her own kitchen, reports Gay Cities.

Deborah VanTrece

She's a chef, business owner, author, and mentor; Deborah VanTrece does it all. She has worked for decades in the food and hospitality sector and is renowned as one of the South's most famous culinary personalities, and is the creator of the VanTrence Hospitality Group. The VanTrence Hospitality Group manages Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours in Atlanta, Georgia, which embodies VanTrence's mission when it comes to food. She aims to celebrate the intersection of food and culture and help others do the same for their own heritage. She coined the term "modern global soul food," which she uses to describe her food that is, at its heart, soul food, but inspired by her international travels as a flight attendant, (via Chef Deborah VanTrence).

As a proud African-American restauranteur, member of the LGBTQ+ community, and business owner, VanTrence is constantly advocating for social justice and elevating marginalized voices. She is known to be a fantastic mentor and is passionate about helping other African-Americans re-examine their own food culture and traditions, notes her website.

Anita Lo

In 2015, Chef Anita Lo was the first female chef to cook for a State Dinner at The White House, where she had the honor of cooking for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan. This, among many other accolades such as maintaining a Michelin star for nine consecutive years at her restaurant Anissa, and being named one of the 10 Best New Chefs in America in 2001, Lo beautifully fuses flavors and techniques to create her uniquely divine food, (via Chef Anita Lo).

As an Asian-American lesbian in the food industry, Lo has undoubtedly faced her own hurdles. The way she has handled and learned from the obstacles is what makes her the fantastic mentor and chef that she is today. She says that while her sexuality never felt like a point of discrimination, she did feel singled out for being an Asian woman and was expected to cook Asian flavors, even though she was classically French-trained. She describes herself as a vocal advocate for women and ensures to support women however she can. That means especially at Anissa, where, before it closed, almost all of the staff were women and the wine list was a celebration of women in wine around the world, adds Autostraddle.