Meet the (Gay) Top Chef Masters
Last Wednesday, a GLBT community’s favorite reality show returned to the airwaves -- Top Chef Masters, on BRAVO-TV. Where the original version of Top Chef has aspiring cooks fighting for the title and the chance to win money to launch their first restaurant, Top Chef Masters is a roster of seasoned, accomplished professional chefs who are already established in the business. They seek the same title, but their prize money is donated to their favorite charity.
If you’ve ever worked in a professional kitchen of a restaurant, hotel or resort, you would understand that it is quite militaristic. French chefs are notorious for making an apprentice peel mounds of potatoes just for the sake of learning how to peel a potato to the standard of a French chef. Does it really take two years to learn this? Japanese chefs are even more demanding (and don’t forget they have really sharp knives).
Up until recent years, this culinary environment for GLBT chefs was like the US-Military: "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." However, in the past few seasons of Top Chef, GLBT contestants have taken center stage and have started to tell. Along the way they’ve become visible role models for our younger GLBT community and have opened discussion to such gay subjects as same-sex marriage, equality and gay acceptance. Suddenly the presence of a GLBT person, who is not a "character" in a scripted sit-com, started to appear because of Top Chef. These contestants are natural, honest and real. They also make for great entertainment.
’I’m not your bitch, Bitch!’
In Season One, who could forget when chef Dave Martin, 40- year old gay contestant from Long Beach, California lashed out to the intense bi-sexual chef, Tiffani Faison during one of the challenges, "I’m not your bitch, Bitch!" (Ah, gay pride at its best.) Season One also gave us our first gay wedding when the two "Scotts" were wed in then Pre-Prop 8 San Francisco, California. We felt sorry for contestant Lee Anne Wong, whose menu was chosen by the grooms for that battle. It just seemed there was no pleasing those two brides.
Season Two introduced us to lesbian Josie Smith-Malave, who after she was eliminated from the show, hit the press waves when her lesbian partner and she were victims of a gay bashing attack in New York. In another episode, we met Chicago gay chef contestant, Dale Levitski who has been cooking professionally for 15 years. One of the stereotypes he’s had to deal with is the preconceived notion of being the big snappy queen in the room.
"I’ve walked into kitchens feeling a little under the gun," Levitski stated in a Chicago Tribune interview, "Thinking about what other people are going to think about me being gay, and you definitely have a little bit of insecurity about it."
Last year Chef Ashley Merriman from New York City voiced her concern about one episode’s challenge. Ashley felt uncomfortable catering for a straight Bachelor/Bachelorette party at a fancy resort in Las Vegas, when in her own life, her partner and she couldn’t do the same because they were lesbians.