How would you describe the state of queer representation in the restaurant world?
I would say it's still severely lacking. It still doesn't feel like a very safe industry to be out in, especially for trans and nonbinary folks who continuously face harassment, are trivialized and misgendered, or are passed up for opportunities, hiring, or promotions. The restaurant industry is still a very cis-hetero, male-dominated world and queer people tend to have to concede or hide parts of themselves, and in doing so, end up undervaluing themselves, their work, their capabilities and potential. But the reality is that this new generation of queer creatives coming up now is the answer. They are the future of food.
What do you think can be done to give queer chefs more opportunities and visibility in the industry?
Advocating for, amplifying, spending your money on their food. Creating the demand for representation. Those are the easiest and most accessible ways for most people to help create space and opportunity. NYC and Brooklyn have a very vibrant scene of pop-ups hosted by queer chefs throughout the year. So when you see that a new pop-up is coming up, or a new queer-owned restaurant is opening, amplify it! Tell your friends! Give them your money! Demand coverage from your local media to help get the word out. If you're not in a city like NYC, advocate for your local restaurant community to support these kinds of opportunities for queer chefs to take up space and accelerate their businesses and careers.
Also, hold media networks accountable for the way they represent our community so that it doesn't continue to stifle us. The big tv networks seem to be content with casting a "palatable" gay character as a contestant on competition shows for comedic value or entertainment, but there is little to no representation of trans and non binary folks on these shows. There is little to no representation of queer people in any paid role as a judge or a host of these shows and definitely not as the role of anyone who should be taken seriously in a competition. We can't move the needle forward for ourselves until we start being valued and seen as whole.
Any advice for up-and-coming LGBTQIA+ chefs?
My advice for any aspiring chef is to not be afraid of asking for help, to not be afraid to ask questions. I could have saved myself so much money, time and energy if I had put aside pride and ego, not been afraid of judgement by looking weak or incapable (in my mind) and had just asked for advice. I still constantly ask my friends in the industry for help and advice. We routinely give share information and insight that helps us all succeed, or helps protect us from being taken advantage of.
Stepping back, how did you first fall in love with food, and what effect do those early influences have on the cuisine at Ursula?
I can’t really retrace the moment I fell in love with food. I have moments that I remember being integral to certain decisions I made for myself…like being fired from Applebee’s when I was 19 and going to work at my first fine dining restaurant. That had to be one of the most unconsciously important events in my career and where I am now. I remember being enamored by the pastry chef at the next fine dining restaurant I worked at and all the insane desserts she used to make. That was the jumping off point for my 10 years of pastry work here in NYC. Obviously Ursula is a reflection of my childhood and my family’s heritage. My mom’s side of the family has been in New Mexico for hundreds of years and that lineage is the main influence of what I cook now.
But, in totality food and hospitality has been in my veins my whole life. It started when I was 11 working as a server on the weekends at a little airport diner. My dad managed the airport and I would go to work with him and be the sole server. Just me and the chef taking care of a dozen or so pilots coming through this tiny airport every weekend. But, I’ve never had a time in my working life where I wasn’t in hospitality in some form. I’ve been a dishwasher, a line cook, a server, a hotel manager, a bartender, a pastry chef and I’m comfortable in every one.
When you see that a new pop-up is coming up, or a new queer-owned restaurant is opening, amplify it! Tell your friends! Give them your money! Demand coverage from your local media to help get the word out. If you're not in a city like NYC, advocate for your local restaurant community to support these kinds of opportunities for queer chefs to take up space and accelerate their businesses and careers.
Ursula is such a genuine expression of who you are, as a chef and a human being. What would you say draws Ursula and The Standard together in such a compatible way?
Well, on a surface layer…. I love glamour. But deeper, I’m a very sex-positive person and appreciate the intersection of food and sex. I live for the intersections of music, art and food. The Standard is a sexy brand. It’s glamorous. They embody and support all of these intersections and it couldn’t feel like a more comfortable place to celebrate that and to be myself wholeheartedly.
Final question: If you could host a Pride dinner party with three guests (from any era), who would you invite…and what’s on the menu?
Listen, if I'm throwing a Pride dinner party, it will be far more than 3 people. That is not a dinner party. I want to celebrate Pride in community. So it would be with my queer NYC food friends, chefs and besties. We gas each other up, we have rich conversations and we have fun. They're all so talented and inspiring. It would be a potluck because I can never decide on a menu and because this way it would be as beautiful and representative of the mosaic that is the queer food community we have in this city with dishes repping Tawainese to Filipino to Ukrainian to Mexican and Peruvian cuisines. That's why I have two of my best girlies joining me for the Pride Brunch at NO BAR. It just doesn't feel right to throw a Pride Brunch by yourself.
(but also, I would die to share a meal with Toni Braxton, Ciara and Monica all at the same table)