For those of us who still fear homey kitchen tasks like curing our own bacon or the seemingly simple act of getting a delicious and even interesting jam going (raw blueberry-blackberry Chia seed jam, anyone?) there is definitely help. Punk Domestics is a "yes you can" site launched by San Francisco-based founder Sean Timberlake nearly three years ago and is an informative and approachable food-based community -- spanning cheese, home brewing, infusions and liqueurs, and other culinary pursuits. Timberlake is a friendly and witty San Francisco professional wordsmith (clients currently include Williams-Sonoma) who also mans the Hedonia food blog, which is still running strong after seven years. Timberlake and his husband, real estate agent dpaul brown live in Noe Valley and often attend food events together. The duo are both longtime supporters and guides for San Francisco City Guides and Timberlake also leads culinary walking tours for Edible Excursions. Having spent time with Timberlake throughout the years, I can’t think of a better person to stroll the Mission and nosh on local San Francisco delectables.
June is LGBT Pride Month and there is so much energy focused on equal rights for the LGBT community right now, especially in CA. The Supreme Court is set to rule on Prop 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban this month as well as DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. Regarding employment, professions that have been slow to open the closet doors are gradually yielding to the pressure and challenging homophobia within their systems. With that in mind, I asked Timberlake about his own experience recently. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Bay Area Bites: How did you and your husband dpaul meet? How long have you been together?
Timberlake: dpaul and I have collaborated on many things. We had a tee-shirt business with a friend in the 90s, and he has been my photographer both when I was a travel editor and for Hedonia, as well as some of my freelance work. He also contributes with the food -- preparation and styling (and eating). I’m currently helping him with content needs for his real estate business, including his newsletter. We try to make it interesting for everyone, covering both trends in the market as well as food and lifestyle news about San Francisco.
We met 21 years ago this month, via a personals ad in the Bay Times -- pre-internet! Though it turned out that we had met multiple times before. He had just broken up with an acquaintance of mine, and so we had some friends in common. We first “married” in 1993, registering for domestic partnership in San Francisco, the greatest extent of legality we could have at that time. We “married” again in 2004, registering for domestic partnership in the state of California. And we married, no air quotes, in 2008, in the narrow window of opportunity between the CA Supreme Court overturning Prop 22 and the passage of Prop 8. We remain legally married, as do thousands of other same-sex couples in California. This September we celebrate our 20th, 9th and 5th anniversaries.
Bay Area Bites: What is your experience with regard to homophobia and LGBT acceptance within the culinary world that you work in?
Timberlake: My entry into the professional food world was as a writer and blogger, and overall that’s a very accepting sphere. Just before BlogHer Food 2010, here in San Francisco, I joked in a piece that 80% of food bloggers are women, and of the balance, 80% of the men are gay. Many of the most prominent and esteemed male food bloggers are gay, like David Lebovitz, David Leite, Adam Roberts and local up-and-comers (and personal friends) Michael Procopio and Irvin Lin. So, I can’t say that I’ve experienced any outright homophobia among my peers.
But of course, having a blog means being exposed to a broader audience. Even so, only once have I encountered any push back from the general public. Shortly after Prop 8 passed, I wrote a rant on it that segued into a recipe for ropa vieja. Someone came across it, apparently from searching for ropa vieja recipes, and left a comment about marriage being between a man and a woman the way God ordained it to be. Her one comment sparked dozens of responses refuting hers with rational points about constitutional law, religious freedom and more supporting the right for same-sex marriage. It was awesome.
With my community site, Punk Domestics, my sexuality doesn’t really come into play. I don’t hide it -- my bio on the About page clearly references dpaul -- but the site is not about me; it’s about a huge, robust community of DIY foodies. Many of my contributors are LGBT, most are not. If any of them out there have a problem with homosexuality, it doesn’t come up.
Bay Area Bites: Do you find some areas of the food world more accepting than others?
Timberlake: I think acceptance is generally on the rise, and at least here in San Francisco I’ve never noticed an area that’s expressly homophobic. However, I would love to see more visibility for openly LGBT farmers (they exist!). Then again, I would love to see more visibility for all farmers. It’s grueling, thankless work, and these people literally feed us every single day. We owe them our attention and admiration.
Bay Area Bites: What was it like for you coming out professionally? When did you do it? What was your job at the time? Have you noticed a change over time?
Timberlake: I’ve been unapologetically out for over 25 years, long before I was writing about food, or anything for that matter. My first career, in the late 80s and early 90s, was in theater, albeit on the technical side, sets and props. It was like being a reverse minority: Most of the people on the technical side were straight, but the industry overall is so overwhelmingly gay, there was no issue of acceptance. If anything, I think I got more confusion from the gays on the performance and costuming side, seeing little gay me covered in sawdust and paint.
Bay Area Bites: Is there a gay subculture within the food world? In the Bay Area?
Timberlake: I often joke about the Lesbian Food Mafia. There are relatively few openly gay male chefs of note in the Bay Area, but some of our most esteemed female chefs and other food professionals are out. I don’t really know why that is. Where gay men are most prevalent and influential, though, is in the food media world. It’s as if we all descend from James Beard.
Bay Area Bites: Since San Francisco is a gay mecca are there restaurants (as opposed to bars that serve food) that are know to cater to a mostly gay clientele?
Timberlake: I used to be an editor for a now-defunct travel publication that recently rebooted as ManAboutWorld. Back in the early 2000s, we had to make a point to find the places where gays and lesbians would frequent. Nowadays, I don’t see as much of that; we’re everywhere. Conversely, as restaurants in the Castro are improving (thank heavens!), places like Frances and Fable are drawing in a more homogenized crowd. I think back to the days of Ryan’s or The Patio, which felt like the brunching version of 70s discos, and that just doesn’t exist anymore.
Bay Area Bites: What are your favorite places to eat and drink?
Timberlake: Contigo is probably our most frequented restaurant, in part because it’s a block from our house and because Brett and Elan Emerson are personal friends, but mainly because the food is amazing. We love to sit at the cava bar and chat up the staff. Ragazza is another fave, and again Sharon and her wife Alisha are buds. They came on my Punk Domestics trip to Italy last year, which we’re reprising, this fall.
Bay Area Bites: How do you celebrate Pride Month? Personally? Professionally?
Timberlake: I just go on about being me same old gay self. Come Pride weekend, we’ll probably spend a couple hours at Pink Saturday, and on Pride itself we love to find a restaurant on Market Street somewhere between the festival and the Castro, sit in the window and watch the real parade.