Food fans and radio listeners are likely familiar with the voice of Joel Riddell, the award winning host and producer of Dining Around on Talk 910—-a show that is considered the Bay Area place for chefs and notable personalities to dish on food, wine, event and travel. Thought leaders like Lidia Bastianich Felidia, Michael Pollan, Hubert Keller, Margrit Mondavi and Joanne Weir hit the airwaves for interviews with Riddell, and he is often at food and fundraising events with his partner, Robert Moon. The couple is based in San Francisco and Moon, who works for Google, is an apt sidekick for his ability to photograph and document (in witty fashion) the details of their restaurant and home-cooked feasts from hole-in-the-wall Korean to white tablecloth joints. Chef Emily Luchetti enjoys checking out Moon’s social media to guess what Riddell may discuss on air the following weekend—the descriptions always make me hungry, too.
Riddell’s earlier career revolved around theatre, hospitality (he co-owned and operated a bed & breakfast) and internet publishing before he landed in San Francisco at KGO Radio where he was the Producer of the Gene Burns Programs for coverage in Israel, Cyprus, Tuscany, Vatican City, and French Polynesia. I first met Riddell over a decade ago via a local chef who was friendly with the radio broadcaster Gene Burns, who recently passed away and was a professional mentor to Riddell. I have catered for Riddell and Burns and spent time carousing with Riddell and Moon at media events including “pinch-me-now” dinner moments at Incanto Restaurant with Marco Pierre White and a fundraiser at E&O Trading Company in San Francisco with Anthony Bourdain.
June is LGBT Pride Month and there is so much energy focused on equal rights for the LGBT community right now, especially in California. The Supreme Court is set to rule on Prop 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban today 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 Riddell about his personal and professional experiences being an out gay man in the food media world. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Bay Area Bites: How long have you and Robert been together? You did a No H8 photo, share the same shoe size, and are pretty open about your love for each other. Tell us more.
Ridell: Robert and I have been together for over 17 years. He is my bright and shining star and at times my knight in shining armor, too. We do try to be a team. The night that we did our No H8 Adam Bouska photo, we went to Alexander’s Steakhouse and still had the tattoos on. We were wearing suits and ties but couldn’t wash off the tattoos. We were having dinner and the waiter said, "What’s with the tattoos? Six or seven waitstaff came by and said, 'look at these two guys.' Robert and I always try to walk hand in hand, and just let people know we’re a couple and that it’s totally normal.
Bay Area Bites: What is your experience with regard to homophobia and LGBT acceptance within the culinary & media worlds that you work in?
Ridell: I think within the media world you would expect that it would be very open and very cool. But when I first started over 10 years ago, it was okay to make sexist and homophobic comments. Fat comments, too. This was in the workplace, from management on down. Those comments made a lot of people uncomfortable. Things have gotten a lot better. Here at Clear Channel, they are the sponsors of Pride and the stations show range and personalities. It’s very multicultural and management makes it really clear that they won’t put up with any discrimination in the workplace. You have to pay attention to advertisers.
For restaurants, I think of old guard French restaurants that were very male-centric places but not necessarily homophobic. Here in the Bay Area, think of how many restaurants have staff that are Latino, European, Asian-- we’re so multicultural.
Places who dub themselves as gay or lesbian before being a restaurant have more issues than the opposite. Take Arrows in Maine for example. Clark and Mark are amazing chefs. They were out on Top Chef Masters and on the forefront of many things. But they don’t have rainbow flags or rainbow chefs coats. Not that they are not proud but the clientele in that part of Maine can be a bit conservative. They are chefs and the restaurant is glorious and they just happen to be gay. Each of us needs to be as out as possible so we can be a united force against the hatred others feel. I have been fired for being gay and hired for being gay. It all depends upon the restaurant owner.
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?
Ridell: It was sort of de rigueur. I’m working on a food show. In my old company, people would make odd homophobic comments. Usually when folks would realize I had a longtime partner they would say things like, “I certainly think it’s okay you’re together, but don’t think you should get married.” It’s like a weird club, ‘because we’re straight, we’re allowed all this stuff, but you’re not allowed to have it,’ kind of thing.”
My parents are quite religious but they’ve always been inclusive of everyone. If you’re going to be homophobic, it’s not a Christian attitude. For me it’s always been a positive and inclusive situation. With my mom, she has always shown that if you’re a loving individual, why would anyone criticize that?
I did have a woman at work who would call me “princess Joel.” That’s not okay. I told her many times “You just called me ‘princess Joel’ in front of 17 people.” She’d say, “You know I’m joking.”
I couldn’t tell her, “Lady, this is not cool,” because she was in management.
Bay Area Bites: What are your favorite places to eat and drink?
Riddell: We go to Fleur de Lys every Christmas and have done so for 15 years. The only year we missed was the year they had the fire, and we went to the Ritz and Hubert and Marie Chantal Keller were there. We went to Fleur de Lys when we signed our mortgage papers—-you need to celebrate things like that.
I love Acquerello.
If we’re looking for seafood, we go to Hayes Street Grill.
At Namu Gaji, the Lee brothers are smart and they know what they’re doing.
Bay Area Bites: You were a guest on KQED's Check, Please! Bay Area. What was that experience like?
Ridell: Completely wickedly fun. Leslie is fun. Tina Salter is so smart and she’s got it down, and told us, ‘I don’t want you to talk about the restaurants to each other. Keep that to yourselves.’ I loved it. My experience was really exciting because I felt they respected and cared about my choices and they really want people to have their own opinion. I chose Farallon because I feel we should recognize those places that have worked so hard to keep themselves relevant and interesting.
One of the other guests chose Angkor Borei and there was an LGBT angle there. At the table near us, one man was Cambodian and the other Thai. They gave us suggestions and we had a fun time. The staff on the show really respected what we had to say about our experiences and that is an important aspect to the program; it’s totally driven by the people on the panel.
Bay Area Bites: How do you celebrate Pride Month? Personally? Professionally?
Riddell: Last year Robert and I walked the parade with Google. I did a Dining Around show the day before. It’s a celebration.
I’ll be there 10am to 1pm broadcasting then I’ll be with my team, volunteering. I’m there because I think it’s really super important and our city gets benefits. We tend to hang out with friends. We’ll do a fundraising event next Thursday for the Academy of Friends.