Our gay-friendly town is 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 and personalities who keep us sated 365 days of the year. We’ve talked with Palomino’s chef Adam Jones, and chef Preeti Mistry of the upcoming Juhu Beach Club.
Michael Procopio was on the top of our list of folks to talk to because he is funny and smart. Readers may remember his witty writing from his days here as a Bay Area Bites contributor. He currently turns out great lines like these at his Food for the Thoughtless blog:
“If the dough has become too warm at this point (read: if it feels as droopy as a retired wet nurse’s bosom) place the folded dough onto a tray and pop it into the freezer until it is once again pert.”
Then there’s this one, “Wash hands as thoroughly as if you were about to perform surgery on your own grandmother.” Procopio lives in North Pacific Heights and attended the California Culinary Academy. He grew up in Anaheim and is a professional waiter who also has experience cooking in restaurants. Procopio was interviewed via telephone recently.
The culinary world has often been portrayed as quite sexist. What is your perspective and experience with regard to homophobia in the restaurant world?
My experience has been very good actually. When I worked in the kitchen, I worked in a small restaurant for a Kiwi woman who was actually wonderful. I never had any problem in a restaurant kitchen. Oddly the only homophobia and discrimination was from someone famous that I’d rather not get into.
Is there a difference between the front of the house vs. the kitchen regarding this issue? A difference for men vs. women?
Most of my career has been spent as a waiter. It’s been 20 years of waiting tables. There’s one woman in the kitchen at the restaurant where I work and she’s openly gay. She sort of straddles the two worlds because she’s on the floor as well. Our pastry chef was joking that gay men are in the pastry department and gay women are on the line, cooking. It seems a bit of a stereotype but at least it’s true in our restaurant. We’ve got a great kitchen staff. I think they’re all really nice people and they kick ass. If you don’t work well, that’s going to be more of an issue than whether you’re a man or woman.
What is it like coming out as a service professional? Has being an LGBT person affected you career in any particular way?
I was already out. I’ve lived here for 17 years. I’ve never had an issue. It’s just a part of who I am. It doesn’t define me as a person and a waiter. My sensibilities and humor come through individually. I don't see it as gayness, I see it as Michael-ness and it can be a non-issue. I can’t speak for anybody but we have whatever we consider a normal-to-us life here.
Is there a gay subculture within the food world? In the Bay Area?
I lived in the Castro for several years and there were concentrations of gay restaurants: Mecca, Orphan Andy’s, The Sausage Factory… that’s just because of the neighborhood. Frankly it’s San Francisco for god’s sake. I don’t think people really bat an eye. To me it’s a non-issue.
As for a subculture, there’s not one that I’ve witnessed. I have gay friends and straight friends in the restaurant industry. I don't’ see any concentration. At my restaurant, there’s three gay men and one gay woman. I work with one guy who’s very effeminate and stereotypical. He’s an extremely professional waiter and so am I. It’s something I don't try to flaunt or hide. I don’t think there’s a gay union.
You live near the Red Door Café and call it one of the gayest spots around. Can you tell us more?
The clientele is mixed. The owner, Ahmed, is unapologetically gay. He often dresses in costumes and wigs. Sometimes there’s an hour and a half wait. During the wait, Ahmed makes people hold baby dolls. He’ll say, “If you can’t take care of the doll, you can’t take care of me.”
Or he’ll interview people with a mirror, and ask, “Tell me something fabulous about yourself, why I should serve you.”
He makes people play along. When you’re in, it’s theater. The food is good. It’s an incredible place: a performance piece, where everyone is participating. It’s really fascinating. He frankly doesn’t give a shit. He only wants people that want to be there. I told him this is what I feared San Francisco is losing... being there made me the happiest boy in the city. It’s awesome.
Red Door Café is only open four days a week, Friday through Monday. I rarely go in to eat because it’s so busy. I go get a coffee there and then hang out, chat and watch the action… watch the barista.
How do you celebrate Pride Month personally and professionally?
I don’t. It’s personal for me. I don’t like any kind of crowds, gay or straight. If it’s a drunk crowd, it gives me the creeps. I don’t care for parades because I worked in one every evening at Disneyland. I was even Goofy, and it was very hot in the costume.
I understand pride and the meaning of it. I have been to the parade. I showed up jaded and said, “Oh the floats suck.”
And then I saw people marching from the small towns from outside the city and saw how they were beaming and joyful. I thought, “they couldn’t do this where they live.” The only pride I felt was from that. I’m not proud that I’m a gay man -- it’s not necessarily a thing to be proud of because it’s just who people are. But I was proud of my city because it fosters acceptance. The fact that all these people feel welcome here and can march in the open is really an incredible thing. I think that’s great. If I do go to anything, I go to the Dyke March because it’s fun and unstructured. I wander because I like to keep moving.
Do you think about your style of humor as particularly gay? Are you aware of it?
My humor is a product of my environment. I’ve always had a very gay sensibility. I grew up with an older brother, Doug, who was my primary source of entertainment. He was very funny and he was gay. He loved musicals. He was my primary influence. I owe a lot to him. I just happened to have an older brother who even as a teenager was a middle aged gay man trapped in a teenager’s body. For Anaheim, he had a very worldly outlook. And he was remarkably sophisticated. He died of AIDS. That’s part of the pride celebration that gets me, and it’s not in a bad way. I’m so grateful to see people marching with AIDS. When I do see them marching, it’s sort of a happy-sad time.
I’ve always been surrounded by smart people. Even in school I felt like I was keeping up with them. I kept myself sharp. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded with really talented, funny people.