Our gay-friendly town is about to get full of visitors. June means that the Bay Area and more specifically, San Francisco, fills to the brim with folks from all over the world to observe and celebrate the events, marches and festivities that culminate in SF LGBT Pride. Bay Area Bites is noting this 42nd annual come-as-you-are love fest by telling stories from the LBGT chefs, personalities and waiters who keep us sated 365 days of the year. Turns out, cooking and serving food here can be something of a non-issue for some of the LGBT folks we talked with.
Up first is Adam Jones, who is the Food and Beverage (“F&B” in industry parlance) Director and Executive Chef at the Embarcadero restaurant Palomino in San Francisco, where Jones said “forty per cent of our staff are gay.” Jones has spent 26 of his 38 years working in restaurants. The Kansas City native is from "the Missouri side, where it’s home of the Chiefs, restaurants and industrial stuff.” He has also cooked at the Hotel Whitcomb, and Restaurant Michael Mina. Jones was Executive Chef at the Franciscan Restaurant, which is known as much for its crab cakes as it is for being one of the only restaurants to ever sponsor a float for the San Francisco Gay Pride parade.
Bay Area Bites caught up with Jones via phone interview. His comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Adam Jones with Roland Passot at La Folie photo courtesy of Adam Jones
The culinary world has often been portrayed as quite sexist. What is your perspective and experience with regard to sexism as well as homophobia in the restaurant world?
I’ve seen way more women in the kitchen these days. It’s not just a San Francisco thing. I’ve been in kitchens all over: Paris, Venezia, Kansas City, and here. There are way more women now than there were before. I am 38 but 26 of those years have been spent in commercial kitchens. That kind of work is all I know. I have more women working for me now. I should say girls since some of them are quite young. Overall, I think having more women in the kitchen is a positive thing.
As for homophobia, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it. There weren’t any gay people in kitchens in Kansas City when I got my start that I know of. Being gay on a chef’s resume may be a positive. If you’re a lesbian, then you’re super alpha and strong. And if you’re a gay man, it’s really the same thing.
Is there a difference between the front of the house versus the kitchen regarding this issue? A difference for men vs. women?
Front or back of the house, male or female, gay or straight, I don’t think there’s any difference in the experience each individual may have. I tend to find a few less lesbians in the front of the house because they tend to cook and be in the back of the house. Maybe I’m biased and have seen this set up because of me. [Laughs]. I don't know.
Adam Jones cooking. Photo courtesy of Adam Jones
What is it like coming out as a chef? Has being an LGBT person affected your career in any particular way?
I was kind of a late bloomer and moved out to San Francisco with the woman who was my wife. I came upon this discovery of being gay late, when I was around age 24. I was working at the Franciscan and had been there five or six years when I came out. Obviously I had worked with those folks for a long time. I had a wife, and then I had a husband. It was bizarre, funny and strange. I don't regret anything that happened.
There were a few professional folks who said to me, ‘You can’t market yourself as gay.’ I don't put being gay as my big selling point and it’s also something that I don’t deny. I’m proud to represent and I’ve done Pride events. Sometimes those things get political and if so then I keep my distance. There are some folks who have TV shows and they kind of go for a profile. In general, the gay community is made up of foodies and they have dollars to spend in restaurants like mine. Foodies in cities like this are gay friendly. I don’t wear being gay on my sleeve, but I’m happy to represent.
You and your husband Gary have been together for 14 years. What is coupled life like for you?
We have a house in Pittsburg in the East Bay and are signing adoption papers the same month of our anniversary this year. We’re doing an open adoption. It’ll be local and we’re stoked about it.
Is there a gay subculture within the food world? In the Bay Area?
I’ve done a lot of gay events and cooking demos at Macy's. It used to be there was a gay subculture until all my other cohorts went on Top Chef and then fled the area. Ironically most are lesbians. Jennifer Biesty, Janine Falvo, Jamie Lauren and Yigit Pura come to mind. My gaydar is horrible but there’s Traci Des Jardins and Elizabeth Falkner. I have bleached blonde hair and used to get mistaken for Elizabeth all the time. People would come up to me and say, “Elizabeth?!” and start talking. I think her blonde hair is natural. Mine’s not.
We chefs only call each other if we need something: “Oh my god, I need clams, I’m out of ‘em.” Or, “I need halibut.”
Since San Francisco is a gay mecca are there restaurants that are known to cater to a mostly gay clientele? Are there places exclusively for LGBT women vs. men?
There are more approachable restaurants here, like Market Street Grill. Everything on my resume fits that bill: Palomino, Michael Mina, and the Franciscan. I’ve always known Gary Danko, Michael Mina and Mecca as spots.
There are a few restaurants that cater and market to the gay dollar. The Franciscan was the only restaurant that sponsored a float in the Pride parade for two out of the ten years I was there. One of the Franciscan dining room managers said “put Adam’s name on it.” It was a lot of work, way more work than we thought. But it was fun, too. The Franciscan management was always really cool about that and morally supportive. The owners were two straight men! I was really stoked that they said, “Hey let’s support the parade.”
How do you celebrate Pride Month?
I’m a horrible person for this question. I'm the one that gets there the week before. I forget every year that it's time for Pride. Gary and I lay low and try to be domesticated. We’ll probably be making stir fry for our dogs and planting tomatoes. I’m not really big into the party scene but I’m cool with it happening. We’ll probably be laying low this year.