Cookin' Up Community with Chef Avery Zeus

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Chef Avery Zeus dishes food onto a plate.
Chef Avery Zeus plates tacos during Taco Tuesgay (courtesy of Avery Zeus)

Chef Avery Zeus is a whiz at combining flavors. They use that same energy when they bring queer people of color together at the monthly "Taco Tuesgay" pop-up event in Oakland. Zeus' company, Concept Kitchen,  plans the catering for the event, but their main business is making sure that other QTIBIPOC-led food start-ups have the resources to succeed in the hospitality industry through kitchen access, booking services, and equipment for catering and street vending.

Rightnowish's Corey Antonio Rose spoke to Chef Zeus about the importance of gathering space, even when it's temporary, and why you shouldn't rush the process when it comes to cooking.

Read the transcript

Below are lightly edited excerpts of Corey's conversation with Chef Avery Zeus:

COREY ANTONIO: In what ways do you think food brings people together? 

AVERY: For me personally, I'd just like to create an experience like, yeah, I want people to like eat my food and stuff, but I don't necessarily care if people are coming out for the food necessarily.

I just want like a community comfortable space where everyone can like kick it, and like kick back, you know?

COREY ANTONIO: I see and so you see the food as just part of that bigger tapestry.

AVERY: I feel like the food is a way to invite people in.That's why we did the open mic and stuff, for instance, you know what I'm saying? If I'm ever going to do pop-ups or anything like that, I just want people to come for the community. 

COREY ANTONIO: There are not a lot of black owned, black queer-owned spaces where we can just go any day, any time and get our life. And so I'm wondering, what is the importance of a temporary space, even if it is just that, temporary? 

AVERY: We don't have very - we actually, no, we don't have space. We don't have black queer spaces at all and I feel like it's important because it's like nothing like partying with your people, you know what I'm saying? It's like a total different experience. I don't care, I'm gonna do my thing. But it's not the case for a lot of people, especially like us.  I feel like it's important that we have these spaces that are centered around us. I've even had conversations with people, they can't even dance how they want to dance because they like, oh, these people can't keep up or are these people going to judge me for doing this, that and other? We deserve to have these spaces to where we can just like, really like kiki and kick back. Most of the US is going through gentrification and we're losing a lot of the culture in these spaces. So it's very important, if we can, to continue to curate these events where it’s centered around Black people, POC. We need these spaces because we're losing them. 

COREY ANTONIO: This is where the culture is created. 

AVERY: It's like we need to keep the culture, you know? 

COREY ANTONIO: LGBTQ-owned business are only a fraction of our economy, and transgender-owned businesses are an even smaller fraction of that fraction. As an independent chef, Avery understands the challenges for other Black and queer independent chefs: getting access to affordable kitchen spaces, tools, and other cooking gear. That led him to create Concept Kitchen: a ghost kitchen that provides all of those things.

AVERY: It's not accessible for people trying to get into business, you know, or like trying to run their business. You don't want to spend all your money like pantry to prep in a kitchen because then you're not really going to make anything right. And then also just equipment, like kitchen equipment is like extremely expensive. You know, like one little pan can cost you like $100, you know? 

AVERY: I feel like opportunity is not available to everyone. I've been blessed in the sense of getting opportunity just because like I feel like I have a really good community around me and stuff. And once people try out food like they'll recommend it to someone else, which is awesome. Thank you so much. Like but that's how that's how it should be, you know.

So it's like but the thing is, I also work a full time job. So sometimes I can't take these opportunities and I want to give them to my homies or like give them to people who are looking for these opportunities. So that's really what motivated me to create Concept Kitchen is like, yo, I want to provide this access to people like, you know, kitchen space. I want to give people opportunity.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.