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, personalities and waiters who keep us sated 365 days of the year. We’ve talked with Adam Jones, Preeti Mistry and Michael Procopio so far. Next up is a chef and culinary artist named Yasmin Golan, 33. She spends much of her time working for Calico Pie where she creates private food events and lessons. Golan is also one of the brains behind the gay pop-up Queer Food For Love. Chez Panisse, Incanto, Boulette’s Larder and Eccolo are among the restaurants where Golan trained and cooked before branching out to other artistic and food related projects. Bay Area Bites interviewed Golan via telephone and email recently.
How is your work going? What’s new?
I am an interdisciplinary culinary artist who creates one of a kind dinners and pop-ups, usually around themes involving some kind of storytelling. Some of my past projects have included Queer Food For Love, a collaborative pop-up restaurant I co-organized in San Francisco for four years with queer cooks and artists; solo projects through my catering business, Calico Pie, exploring issues like food wastes and worm composting, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and biographical dinners that tell personal stories of Diaspora and migration through food. My current project is starting a bike-up grocery in Oakland, called Humblebee Grocery, to provide week-round access to fresh produce and artisan foods east of Lake Merritt.
Where do you live? How did you and your partner meet?
I currently live with my partner Ami in Oakland. We fell in love over a picnic after I taught a cooking class in their shop. We raise animals, grow food together, worm compost, and keep bees in a multiracial, mixed-class neighborhood that we love. As a couple we are always thinking about how we can get our household more sustainable, by eliminating plastics from our lives or using reclaimed wood, or getting around by bicycle and biodiesel. Ultimately, we strive to create neighborhoods that are sustainable, too, serving local needs and creating jobs with dignity that treat people, plants, and animals with respect.
I was based out of San Francisco around the Mission for seven years and I feel like I’m just another casualty of gentrification of the city. I love Oakland but mourn the way the Mission is turning into a suburb of Silicon Valley. Hopefully people like me can bring the community spirit to organizing and queer arts stuff. I definitely feel passionate about Oakland, and I'm involved in and sad about what’s happening. It’s all interconnected.
As a queer, a majority of my stuff is in the city. Everyone’s scattering for survival. Queer Food for Love was an intersection between art and love and came out of time that people could whittle away from their day jobs. None of us got paid for that. We could find underground spaces and it required all of us to take time away from our jobs. People from that project had to scatter and look after themselves rather than the community.
Ami has lived in Oakland for a few years. I see tons of queer people. There are events here and there but there’s not that sense of running into people to get coffee like in the Mission.
The culinary world has often been portrayed as quite sexist…what is your perspective and experience with regard to homophobia in the restaurant world?
Very little gratitude is paid to women and people of color who work in food establishments, including the farm workers, waitresses, cooks, and dishwashers. When more women become self-employed and support each other's businesses; when restaurant workers organize and form unions to resist exploitation; when workers form co-operatives -- I think more women, queer people, and folks of color will share the benefits and profits of growing, preparing, and serving food as a livelihood. Yes, the current food system operates within a framework of globalized racism, sexism, and class exploitation, but queer and feminist folks can help invent the future and create new systems for the production and distribution of food.
Is there a difference between the front of the house vs. the kitchen regarding this issue? A difference for men vs. women?
I feel like gender presentation does play a role in how people are treated in the workplace. As a femme I found it necessary to butch it up in kitchens to be taken seriously by straight men, and I'm sure a lot of straight women do, too. Does the gender role-playing in the kitchen make the food taste better? No. The more I work for myself, the less harassment I have to deal with, because I can focus on food and community-building instead of ignorance.
What is it like coming out as a food professional? Has being an LGBT person affected your career in any particular way?
As a self-employed person I can say I am a queer, feminist chef -- and people who would like to see the world made safer for women and queer people can support what I do. Economic empowerment is very important to being able to say who I am and what I believe. Those who resonate with the message can then come out, too. If I say I am a queer person who is concerned about global warming and I want to start a business that reflects that, then I am making the world safer for others who want that, too. Coming out means standing up for what is more important to you than money.
Is there a gay subculture within the food world and in the Bay Area?
I see women being inspired by each other to start their own businesses, and trans people inspired by other trans people to work for themselves. Empowerment is how queer people are making the world safer for ourselves.
Since San Francisco is a gay mecca are there restaurants (as opposed to bars that serve food) that are known to cater to a mostly gay clientele? Are there places exclusively for LGBT women vs. men?
I think more dykes and trans artists in San Francisco probably wrote books and put on performances and organized events and made art on diets of burritos and beer than any other food the city has to offer.
But if you really want to go somewhere queer, I recommend you shop at Rainbow Grocery.
How do you celebrate Pride Month personally and professionally?
I like to spend Pride weekend picnicking in the park with friends or camping in nature to remember what is really important to me: community, food, nature, love, and chosen family.