Take the Last Bite is a direct counter to the Midwest Nice mentality— highlighting advocacy & activism by queer/trans communities in the Midwest region. Each episode unearths the often disregarded and unacknowledged contributions of queer & trans folks to social change through interviews, casual conversations and reflections on Midwest queer time, space, and place.
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Host: R.B. Brooks, they/them, director of programs for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality & Gender Diversity
Cover Art: Adrienne McCormick
Hey hi hello y’all, this is R.B., your fluent midwestian, welcoming you to Take the Last Bite, a show where we take Midwest Nice, drop it off at a remote campsite with no cell phone service and let this year’s seagull sized mosquitoes descend like a thick blanket of pin needles… I’m itchy just thinking about it.
On today’s episode we talk about the favorite pastime of gay folks everywhere— brunch. But before we order off the secret menu, I’d actually like to share a bit about my own cooking journey. When I think about emerging into both my queerness and my relationship with food and being a vegetarian, there’s some key similarities that are easy to map into the trajectory of my whole life:
People thought I was faking it or that it was just a phase I would grow out of ( my dad insists to this day that watching the documentary SuperSize Me in middle school health class turned kids my age into vegetarians)
It can feel uncomfortable or unwelcome when these aspects of me are not considered or cared about
I had to navigate learning more about these aspects of me entirely on my own until I finally found connections with people who shared similar interests
The way this showed up for me in high school when I first became a vegetarian was literally prompted by making sure I had something to eat. If I wanted to have something besides mashed potatoes or salads for dinner, I had to learn how to cook things for myself. Being a vegetarian in the early 2000s was tricky— there weren't a lot of already-meatless options at most restaurant menus and only one or two brands of plant-based burgers.
This need for variety and truly vegetarian options (I cannot tell you how many times I bought cans of vegetable soup just to realize it contained meat juices) sparked a creative exploration for me to expand my food possibilities and nowadays I have a wide repertoire of home cooked recipes myself and my carnivorous partner both enjoy.
One food dream I have combines my love of queer community and a tasty meal— a queer and trans food expo that combines survival skills, health and wellness, an homage to the not always openly gay folks who’ve made huge marks on the food industry like James Beard who was infamous for throwing a dinner party like no other.
Today’s guest knows the importance of sitting down for a plate of food surrounded by incredible friends and chosen family— and they also know how to make that plate of food pretty damn delicious.
Chef Catie Randazzo and I talk about Taco Bell Pizza Hut crossovers on a Stick, feeding filthy biscuits to Dan Levy, and their food dream of opening an affirming space for trans and nonbinary youth to play with food.
Sink your teeth into this episode of Take the Last Bite
[INTRO MUSIC PLAYING]
Why can't we be in space with hundreds of other queer and trans folks and having these necessary conversations?
When it comes to dynamics around privilege and oppression, and around identity. Well intentioned isn’t actually good enough.
How far is too far to drive for a drag show? I don’t know, we’re in Duluth right now, I would straight up go to Nebraska, probably,
If you are not vibing, or something’s not right, or also like there’s an irreparable rupture, you have absolutely every right to walk away.
Definitely going to talk about Midwest Nice and if that's as real as it wants to think it is.
Midwest nice is white aggression. That's what it is.
I am so, so stoked about this. Like in a fan slash. Just fam, nerding type of way, super excited about this. So let's just get right into it. I'm just so sure that this conversation will go in five million places. We've got some goal posts, we'll get there. Let's see what happens. So why don't we start with a quick introduction, right? Who are you? And if you can add in that intro, what is your relationship to the Midwest?
My name is Catie Randazzo. My pronouns are they them? Formally, I was born and raised in Columbus. OH, and now I live in Los Angeles, CA, and I would say my connection to the Midwest is up. It's where I'm from.
It's like it's where.
I'm from and it's just so. Inheritance only a part. Of me, of my personality, of my hospital. 40 It's just, it's so many. It's so many things, it's.
Really hard to like.
Narrow that down into a nutshell. But I love being from the Midwest and I'm. Very proud to be from.
Ohio feel that I feel, though, like you can't really explain the Midwest to anyone who's not in the Midwest. But we ask this question of everybody who comes on and like everybody's. Answer is just so different in such a great way, but I also know exactly.
What you what?
You just said about just like it is kind of the the guiding light of all things just it means something to be from the Midwest, which is also a lot about what? This podcast is for. Because that's not. What they said that. You know, it's really special to be from the.
Midwest like I. Think people kind of give it a. Little bit of a. Knock. Yeah, but there's. So much personality. There's so much character. There's so much hospitality, great manners, you know. But there's also the ********. You know the people that.
Bad thing is.
You don't wanna associate yourself with so.
But when you land in the right pocket.
You're in a really good place, yes.
Yeah, let's talk. Let's talk about your kind of like emergence into food. Did it start or did it? Kind of, yeah, let's have it.
I'm trying to figure out how to like. Put this into Cliff notes if you will.
My mom was like 1.
Of those people who was ahead. Of her times with.
You know, I'm a product of the 80s and. Like most kids. Around me in the 80s were eating like Chef 40 and like not delivered and like not to like, not nachos, Doritos and like, you know, ship from a can. Process stuff like that. Yeah, but my mom, we had a garden. We grew, like, mostly all grown vegetables. Everything was whole wheat organic.
All that stuff.
So and then we were she was always putting. Fun and different and unique. Food in front of us. And so as a child of the 80s, you know, I was ****** and I couldn't. Have little debbies and I can choose.
You know, and I couldn't trade my lunch with.
Anybody and when my.
Friends would come.
Over they would pack like like Apocalypse bags of like goodies, you know, and when my cousins would come over there, my aunt would send them with like, a grab bag as well, because everyone, what the **** is this ****, you know? And it it I was grumpy and frustrated. Yeah, because I wanted those other things, but. Like you know, and then so. Keep that in mind and then? I my first job was at at Dairy Queen when I was 15 or 15 or 16 years old and. I was hooked. Was just. I loved making the Tony dogs. I love making the blizzards I love the active. Service I love. Watching people get instantly happy when I handed. It something that they were craving. It was also one of the first places as a weird person. Although I didn't know I was queer. Well, I knew. But I was raised Pentecostal, and so it. Was a little.
So it took a little.
Bit of time but like.
Holding on to that secret and being in an environment where, like people didn't care who you were, they just wanted to show up and do a good job. So it was kind of one of the first places that I could start to get comfortable and get comfortable in my own skin and start that process of coming out. And then I just never looked back. I've been in restaurants. I was 16 years old and as I. As I moved from Chain to chain restaurant because Columbus is actually the fast food chain capital, I didn't know. If you knew that.
Oh no, contact, OK.
Fast casual fast food test market for the country.
So they're everywhere and then?
As I progress through.
All of those, and then finally start making it into more like from scratch fine dining the way that I was brought up it all kind of clicked. It and so that's where. I you know, even though. I was angry and grumpy with my mother. At the time. I'm very grateful to. Her for introducing and putting all these things in my life now as an adult and as. A chef I like know, recognize know how to work with and familiar with so I can turn I like. To turn my food from. Classy to trashy, from trashy to classy. I take all the junk food that I wanted when. I was a kid. And then I use the ingredients that my mom raised me with and turn it into. Something that's a little bit more health conscious.
I love that. Do you? Do you ever watch? What's it fast? Oh, highly recommend so. It's Justin Sutherland and Kristen Fish.
If you love Justin Sutherland song.
So both of those two together as a majestic, and I can't remember the chefs name of the top of my head, but the. Premise there is they bring in like a a guest. And then the guest had, like, you know, talks about their favorite fast food and then they have to replicate it as one part of like their self-proclaimed challenge. And then the second set, I know this is like right up your alley. The second set is that they kind of like make a high end version that is reminiscent of the taste of whatever the fast food item is. Done like Taco Bell. Or maybe it was done?
Want Taco Bell so hard?
I don't remember. Yeah, no, I see that. In your bio and I'm just like we. Are the same person? I yeah, they're. Building a Taco Bell.
It's the healthiest.
It's the healthiest fast food y'all I'm telling you it like fish.
As a vegetarian. I got so many more options I can, you know, I can eat a veggie burger any day. Hook me up with every type. Of Bean wrapped in every type of tortilla you can. Ohh yeah, Jen would recommend fast foodies, but I I think that I think that like in itself is such a Midwest thing, right like. Any like anywhere you go any like exit you go off of if it's got that sign that says it has McDonald's and Taco Bell and probably a Dairy Queen like you that's that's yes, yes. That is the like. You're gonna find the same collective of those same places everywhere you go in the Midwest, regardless of where you're. At and that is, that is the food, and so. And I like the idea of just, not necessarily, you know, sticking our noses up at the fast food. Like there's ways to. Transcended into something healthier or health conscious, or just enjoy the like indulgence? Of the Taco Bell. Because I do that maybe three times a week.
Indulgence like pee, I think fast food gets such.
A bad rap? But like if it's minimized and you're. You know you're not doing it like. All the time you should be able to enjoy that.
Also like coming. Up in fast food as.
It taught me consistency. It taught me speed. It taught me accuracy, and that's like a manager and A and an owner. It taught me systems and processes and like it shouldn't get not as hard as it does. Like I'm grateful that might come up with through fast food. When I worked in New York. My workmates gave me a. Lot of grief about it because I. Had a lot of crazy stories from when I worked at Joes Crab Shack, but. What are you looking for like per say and all these like super fancy restaurants and? I'm like, yeah. I've spent six years at Joe scratching that so.
Totally on the same level. Just money question. I like the idea. Too, not, I mean, I guess I don't like the idea because it's kind of a a catch 22, but like you named and I've seen that you named this in other kind of. Articles and interviews too. Right. Like that fast food slash food. Service was a place where you felt a sense of belonging, and then as you emerged and came into an understanding of clearness. Like that was a place where you were held in that fullness in a way that sounds like it was very affirming and comfortable for you. Can you talk a little about? That and just like when the. Light bulb went. Like being in the food industry, kind of like nestled that for you. Like, what was that like?
Door. Yeah, I mean.
I guess I.
I you know, I came out as bisexual first because I feel like almost everybody does, right.
It's this step.
Like I was like I'm gonna.
It's a step.
Put my toe in the water and see how my people around me react. And I remember I was working at Joes Crab Shack at the time, and I came out to my workmates and they're like, yeah, we don't care. Just run this food over to table 20, watch out that kids' spitter. So like that? Like and they're. Like, yeah, we don't. We don't *******. We love you. We don't care like. There's queer people all around us, you know, and I think it was. I'm trying to find my. Words the the, the, the beautiful. The thing that.
I find the most.
Beautiful about working in. Restaurants is the family that gets created. And the and it's dysfunctional and it's messy. But like at the end of the day, everyone's there for each other, and that's what that's what happened for me in this environment when I came out as bisexual first for like 3 days. And I was like, I'm full blown lesbian. You know it it it took me a little bit more time to get to the non binary. Just because of. My of my religious upbringing and I. Was terrified of. Of my mom, just like. Not being able to understand or accept. Or hurting her. Yeah, I don't know. Does that answer your question, I guess?
Like I'm getting a little bit lost.
And maybe after my talk. To my therapist after this, but sorry.
Well, that's OK.
I felt this automatic sense of belonging. There was no judgement. People did not care. They just wanted to see me happy and they wanted me to show up and do my job and I was still part. Of the family. So it made that. Process of coming out to my family a lot easier.
Because I already.
Had support in another way. And when I told by. My step, my bonus mom. She was like, yeah, we know that you're fine. Like, why do you think we always have the gay pride parade on TV? Because I have. This very dynamic where my. Mother is she doesn't like to say she doesn't like the word religious. She doesn't like the word Pentecostal. She doesn't like the word spiritual, but she. Has a very close connection with. God in ways where. In in very close connection with God that. We can get into another time and my dad and my bonus mom are very liberal. So I was like right, I I had this other view into the world but it, but they were also very respectful at the same time of honoring the way my mom wanted to raise us. Was, you know, they wouldn't.
Sell things in my face, but.
They would like have the gay. Pride parade on TV in the background, they're. Just like subliminally there. You know, and my dad was like, you know, well, it's not what I would do but. You know I'm. Not you and my mom fasted for 40 days, so. And my siblings were very, very supportive and still are very supportive to this day. So and Mom is great. It took a lot of. A lot of work. And a lot of communication. A lot of hard conversations. But but we got there.
That was a.
Very long winded answer. To your question.
I mean, not there. There's no point in time. I think a queer person is gonna get asked, like how they emerge in their queerness, and it's gonna be a simple, easy story. So I think that you're kind of. Little like the spokes. Of all the things kind of compounding you know, and that it sounds like kind of as you. Were, you know, working Dairy Queen and like Joe's Crab Shack and everywhere else, you've kind of. Popped around in food like kind of warmed you up to figuring out, like, how do I deliver this information or how I do have this conversation or like what are folks like just kind of? Getting that initial reaction from other people not to necessarily desensitized, but just to kind of get that first first hit of like, what does it look like when I when I say this to other people like what is gonna be the experience that maybe then warmed up to being able to to navigate having a conversation with conversation with parents. I am someone who like didn't have that opportunity. I had a maternal birth giver who decided she was just going to Google what I was up to in Kansas City when I left. In college, and she didn't like. What she found? I wasn't doing anything ridiculous. So I like I didn't have like I didn't have control over exactly how that information was delivered and and things have transpired and gotten weirder since then. But like you know having at. Yeah, you know, you know.
What problem, but did we?
It's probably just the best way.
Always have chosen family, you know, so.
And I think the the ways in which we find the. You know, are so multiplicitous right for you like food spaces. I know for me, going to college was kind of the first time I felt like like I've known other gay people. It was mostly gay men. When I still lived in St. And so then moving away. From college I was. Like, oh, I'm not being monitored or watched or the people I'm associating with aren't necessarily being as closely watched because I have. Family and you know, at home and just changed everything for me.
No, no, no, no, you got it.
Tangent thing away I was reminded to we I think it was in our first season of the. So we brought a few queer folks who work in like the micro brewery like industry, most all of which were based in Minneapolis. And I just very much remember and appreciated being in conversation with them about how like there's so much. Even though like. From us a safety perspective, right, you have to take the the item you're creating very seriously. There's a lot of play and malleability and like just newness and freshness and that there's a lot of queer folks who gravitate towards hospitality A because there's just so many job opportunities. But like, we are very highly saturated in those fields, but maybe not. Always seen in that way. Right. Like we don't. You know, we're not getting the primetime TV slot shows necessarily. And I I definitely want to get to that point about representation eventually too, but I I'm kind of connecting to the conversation with those microbrewer folks of just how different it feels to kind of have some level of control and comfort in their workspace. That doesn't always. Come with you know your standard corporate nine to five job. So making some connections there for sure.
100%. So we're at Joes Crab Shack circa some time of year. What are some of the, you know? We'll get there.
Maybe. Yeah, that's yeah.
You know, and I came, I came. Bisexual and then. Like 2 days later, I was like I'm. Full blown gay. And I had. I had always known. That there was something different about me. And when I came out as lesbian, God, I think I came out before I think I came out to some friends before Joe's, but really came out like at like at Joe's. But I always knew there was something more, but I didn't know what it was. Yeah, it wasn't visible and I didn't see it anywhere else. You know that. There's only, like, super Butch women. Or superfan women? There was nothing in that like little in between, or there was or you know, only or trans. And I didn't feel like I was necessarily trans, but I didn't feel like I was necessarily a lesbian. And I, for a very long time. I just hung out in this space, so like well, it just has to be good enough because I don't know what my other options are, so I'm just going to, which that's like a lot of self hate, a lot, a lot of self deprecation, a lot of self medication. Like I like to call them the selves came and it wasn't until. I was on. I was on a dating app and I met this girl named Hannah, and she and I are incredible friends and.
And she is.
A she was a surgeon for the queer and trans surgeon for the queer and trans community, and she was a doctor for the queer and trans community. She's amazing and we just kind of started talking and she just naturally started using they them pronouns with me. And I was like, oh, this feels. So good and I've like. Been thinking about it for. A while and kind of been. Exploring what non binary man I was like. Hope this feels right. This feels good this. Feels like what? I am so it wasn't until my 40s, actually, that I came out as non binary, so not not. That long ago. Just never too late to. Figure out who you are.
No, it's not. No, it's not. And then just, you know, I think a lot of our focus with like the work we do for Midwest queer and trans you. Through the institute. You know, we we are very mindful of. Like our rural. Queer communities, right? Not to say that those always have a dearth of, like, access and resources, but they're not always paid attention to with. Like political lobbying monies or certain types of access and. And the the variety of access and resources maybe aren't always as substantive, substantive. And so we talk a lot about, like possibility models and how folks are able to even see what all their options are. You know where I live? It's technically a city, but it is just surrounded by rural, rural Ness, and I encounter a. Lot of students. Like doing the work that I do, where they kind of come in and they have this very prescribed understanding of like being trans or queer as necessarily supposed to mean. And so I find that a lot of my labor really revolves. Not discouraging them, but kind of getting them to to slow down. Just a scosche to kind of look at, like, where have you current? Like, where have you collected your information up to this point to be able to make informed decisions that make sense for you? So like truly. Looking at the menu and not thinking that there's like this Amazon wish list or checklist of Ways of. Things that they need to like work through. To then achieve their, you know, personal image of what they want to be as a trans person. And that gets tricky because it's usually rooted in they've only ever seen they, you know, they've read a couple things or they've seen a couple of things and there's plenty of information on the Internet. That's a great, you know, a great thing that probably didn't. Exist in quite the way it did.
You know, 30-40 years ago and. It still means that they don't necessarily get to, like metabolize that information with someone, they just kind of have to to figure out what that means for them. And that's still a really unfortunate. Complicated experience for folks because.
Yeah, I think.
A lot of people think where you either have to be option ABC or D, right? Like you have, then they're hard cut out. And this is exactly what it is. And this is what? You have to. Look like and this is. How you have? To act. Yeah, this. Have to be, but they don't realize like hey. You can mix. A with F you. Can mix C with B, right? Like you don't. Have to be this idea of this cookie cutter. And like, explore your feelings. And don't be afraid of your feelings and talk about. Them and talk to other. People and do the research. And figure out because you don't have to just be put into one. Box necessarily like. We worked so hard to get out of. Those boxes let's let's explore them more. Let's like dig into it, you know.
Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, it's all related all related. This is called. Take the last bite. We're talking about food and. And fairness at the same time. There was a thought that I had and it went away and I went. No, that's not you. Ohh, it was another connection, I think talking to the gurus. Once Upon a time is we kind of talked about, like how hospitality culture also having its limitations because things are very gendered. And I guess I'm curious like, what has been your experience? You know merging into your non binary identity and kind of being in spaces where the professionalization of food service can sometimes impose like, yes, Sir, no ma'am, etcetera. And like how that has shaped up for you.
Well, I will say.
That's a very good question. I fortunately have been in environments where I've been able to control that narrative, so like I used to have I. Opened my own. Restaurant in 2018 called Ambrose and Eve sadly did not make it through. But one of the things we worked with our front House staff on and this is before I came out as non binary, but I had been misgendered in my entire life. And there was an instance when I was my former business partner and I were in Washington, DC, where I got no, we were in New York and I got misgendered pretty hard. And even after I corrected the bartender, he continued to misgender me and was pretty aggressive and and so. In that moment, we decided that. But we would not use pronouns in our restaurant for our guests. Someone came with the tables. How is everyone doing today? How are y'all and so that no one would ever unintentionally feel uncomfortable? Everyone would always feel welcome, and that's something that I, you know, have tried to do. In the places that I've worked since as executive chef and as managers, because I think it's really important because you know.
We don't have.
I I think like we.
Kind of have a responsibility to change a narrative for ourselves, right? And like there's ways that you can talk about it and educate people without being aggressive to make them feel comfortable as well because it's this is equally uncomfortable for others as it is for us sometimes. And sometimes too, I'll. Just go and when I introduce myself, I start a new job. Name is Katie. Are they them? If you have any questions, please let me know. I'm open to talking about it and since moving to California. It's been pretty. Easy too, because. It's like a more liberal, more. Liberal space, yeah, so. I personally haven't had too many run INS with it and I just do my best to educate and to change the narrative in the moments when I have.
And I think that's super valuable and like on one hand, it really. That's when we kind of have to, like, take on the additional role of, like, educating in spaces where like, oh, I'm just trying to come. And and eat my meal like everybody else or get my drink like everyone else. And it's sometimes not that simple. And we pick that battle. If we're like the customer at that point, right. So I think there's so much value and kind of folks being proactive and thinking about like, how does the experience of being in this restaurant or being at this bar or being at this truck like food like where wherever you're. Like interacting with people like what is that experience gonna be? Because I, you know, I've had plenty of instances where the server thought they were doing nothing obscene and they came back after running all of our cards for our, you know. You know, and is reading off people's names off of debit cards, trying to, like, give them back. I'm like.
No, like you just like.
Said a name that I hate because I have it legally changed it to this whole table of people. And you you were on the wiser right? So just like it's often innocent. Innocent, unaware, you know things. But it makes such a huge difference because that person will not think twice about that interaction. I will remember that for the rest of the day and decide if I ever go back to. That restaurant, I think this is.
A larger conversation.
There, along restaurant tours and and chefs and owners should be having too, like.
Because some of their.
Like some like. I had a really good. Like two things. One, like people will be like.
Well, what do I?
Do when I walk up to the table.
With people that. Are eating like hi, my name is so. And so I'll be your server today. What are all your pronouns right? You'd be like. A little like. Awkward and uncomfortable. Like, do you think? The narrative is just like. Training and and. And not training but. Pivoting to just not using gender pronouns when you're greeting people because.
You never know.
It it's funny too, because at the last job I had as an executive chef, I also was like, very it was a little cafe and I was very interactive with a lot of the customer base. And I know that I. I'm pretty androgynous and can be a little confusing to people sometimes and a gentleman. I heard my name, Katie and called me ma'am. And I was like, actually, my friends, are they them? I just like. Well, for whatever reason in that moment wanted to have the conversation. When he was in. I don't wanna judge him, but it was like a SIS white guy. There was a gentleman and he just seemed a little. Like, I don't wanna judge, but. And he was.
Like hey them.
What's that? Ohh my.
Well, I'm non binary, you know. He goes are a lot.
Of people doing that these days.
Yes. In fact there are.
I was like, I was like oh more. Than you think.
And we ended.
Up having a really great like 15 minute conversation about gender and pronouns and not assuming. And he was very receptive and appreciated that I took the time to have a conversation with him and to educate him to correct him. So I think again, coming back like. As long as we're. It well, it sucks that we.
Have to be.
Sometimes you don't want to be. I think having educated. Calm conversations with people in order to make change is really important and I think restaurant tours and managers and owners should be pivoting towards not using gender and greetings and also change the size of your ******* bathrooms.
Hey there it is.
It's so awkward for me, like I've been physically pulled out of restrooms before. I've been told I'm in the. Wrong place like.
I've gone into many a silly conversation. I know more about bathroom like building codes than any normal person should. Who doesn't work with like plumbing? There's there's a. Whole lot that goes into like especially on like college campuses or other large buildings around like what legally is required for. The literal holes, like the plumbing holes that exist in bathrooms and like that in and of itself, is its own big, monstrous, silly thing that gets in the way of being able to do something as simple as switch signs. I do see a lot of restaurants, coffee shops, other types of establishments that have. Figured it out and like done whatever they needed to do to make that work and that's highly appreciated and it's, you know, it's still not where it needs to be and it's just one of those things that folks don't think about. And I think that, you know, when it comes to like food service, you know, especially the you know. Caricature, if you will, of high like high fine dining, right? Is that like it'd be a huge culture shift to kind of like, move away from this very, like, crimp and proper, you know? No ma'am type greeting or just kind of a certain level of hospitality. And and I see plenty.
Let's take that **** up, then.
I'm saying I'm seeing plenty of people, you know, shake that up. I read a lot of memoirs by chefs, and I'm always really just, like, taken aback by just how casually they talk about kind of just this really rigorous. Kind of like vitriolic environment in kitchens and I'm just like, you're not making it sound appealing like this.
It's definitely changing. Yeah, yeah.
And I just think it's that rigor that kind of just makes it like how you know it's it's such this interesting contradiction of just like folks. Definitely queer and trans folks being so saturated in foodservice and other like service industry roles, and then kind of what is the highlighted like mainstream version of what we understand right like. Who is pedestaled and who kind of has the the microphone at this moment and how it does need to shift or that's why I love folks like Justin Sutherland and Kristen Kirsch. And you know, some of these like emerging. Kind of non traditional if you will. Chefs who are kind of. I think being very public with like we don't have to do things the way they've always been done. We need to be. Inviting by pop chefs and food makers, we need to be professionalizing. Crane trans makers. So I. Feel like we're headed in a really good direction.
I do too and and you know, I I think there's been a lot of great shifts and there's been a lot of great. Things happening and like honestly it's. Think COVID kind of like shook. A lot of things up. We like we. Really stepped back and like re examined the way restaurants were running and the way things are being done and who to highlight and. Ship share victories not share victories, but like. To promote and the highlight. And the way the culture was and mental health and restaurants and all the things that you had mentioned as well. Even though COVID. Destroyed a lot of places, I think. It opened up a lot of conversations on how the restaurant industry needs to. Change for the better. Because it was like, yeah, it just. It was a mess.
But I think.
Yeah, there is.
No complacency in COVID anymore. Like you cannot coast. On it for sure.
No, and I think people are being more vocal and speaking out and talking about those changes and it's really a beautiful thing. See and I like I like and I hope that I can be, you know, at the table and a part of those. Conversations as well.
But it seems like you already doing.
So let's talk about the this you know, casual little thing you did called the big hosted by the one and only like gay icon Dan Levy. Like hello again. So great, I texted you this, but just I'll name it again for the folks listening like truly the most wholesome competition show, especially cooking competition show I've ever seen and. It's it's on HBO Max folks absolutely need to watch it, but let's let's talk a little about that. A couple of things for free. To get into it that let's just like let's talk about. Why you even ended up there? And what some of your like highlight real experiences were.
It was wow, man, I didn't want cooking competition show. Like I think like 10 years ago, it was one episode. Was cut throat. Kitchen. You can you? Yeah. Yes, yeah, the episode is called the truck stops here. But and I. Was like, yeah, I'm good. I don't really. Need to do that again it was fine. And then a friend of mine sent the application to me in Facebook Messenger. OK. And I her name is. Brooke, by the way, little Brooke, if you're listening. And I was like and I I. Was like, no, I'm good. I like red about, you know, who was behind it.
With, the concept was.
That it was about giving back, it was about community and it. Wasn't just like about. A cutthroat competition and I was like, sure.
I'll give it a shot.
I I applied. I went through a pretty rigorous what? What, what do you?
Call like not tryout but. Like there was a lot. Of steps to. Get to the finale, right? Do a lot of processes and I just kept making it the next round, making the next round and then eventually I got the call and they're. Like, hey, you're going to be. Yeah, we're going to be there in a week to fill your hometown. Sorry, I was like, what the yeah, yeah. So, and it all happened very quickly. And they came. They filmed filmed my hometown story. Like 2 days later, I flew to. LA, where we quarantined in hotel rooms for five days. And during that quarantine, we went out to leave.
Because, you know, it was still like COVID.
I mean, let's be honest. COVID is still a thing. But COVID was like more so a thing.
Yeah, it was like it's yeah.
You couldn't if you tested. You weren't on the show. So we were quarantined during that quarantine. The fire alarm in the hotel went. Off and I'm like.
Ohh do I leave? Do I stay? Do I leave? Stay what do? I just stayed in my room.
But I know some of the other castmates.
I'm not missing Mr.
Ohh so I just stayed in my room. And then you know and then we we start filming. And it was a. Wild crazy ride.
So I'm really stuck on the fire and just imagining you just like like I will not be moving.
That was crazy. I was.
I wouldn't have gone either.
I said, what do I do? I'm not supposed to thinking what if I get COVID? I was like, well, if it's a real emergency, I'll know. So I'm just. Gonna like I'm. Like, hang out for a minute and see what happens.
So there's a couple of things about the show that I think we could pick out. One thing I want to start at start at is that so like. Each chef testing. Right. Like kind of was asked or kind of the storyline around through the through the episodes was kind of you had this big, big dream idea and that the winner of the show would get money towards kind of actualizing that idea. And your big idea. Was Geneva house. And so I definitely want to talk a bit about that because I'm in love with it and I know your website currently says it's in progress, which is kind of. How all projects go? So I'm just curious like talking about the idea behind that kind of how that like manifested in your head and like what you know, where is it at or what what is it turning into?
Well, you know, ever since I was 16, like I always had this idea of creating a safe place for kids because I like. I don't want to say I never felt safe, but like I never felt safe if that. Makes sense, right?
Yep it does.
Like a super loving home. But I always felt like I was different or I. Would get found out, yeah. And so I wanted, like, ever since I was a little kid and that little bit like a. Young teenager I wanted to. Of an environment where kids at felt like. Me could go so. It's always been in the back of my mind and I wanted to call the Geneva House after my grandmother, my mom's mom, who ironically always was trying to put me in dresses. But.
It's a fairly petty nod to someone you appreciate.
Penny, I I think if she was still with us, she would. She would be on board.
But what I want that you know it.
It evolved in different stages over time.
But what I.
What I envision it now being and what I have envisioned it being for for a very long time now, is a place for whole body nourishment. For focusing primarily on queer and trans kids, everybody's welcome, but primarily focusing on queer and trans kids. And it's again, it's whole body nourishment. That has a little deli attached to it where they can have a job, they can be in a safe place, they can learn a skill set and then they can take that and they can go someplace else with it or they continue to work inside this space as well. But then also offering, like, hey this. Is the best binder. To use right and this.
Is how you.
Like appropriately bind yourself if this is something. You want to do these. Are doctors who? Are gonna refer to your genitalia, the. Way that you want your privates. You are comfortable. They're gonna ask you first, right? Not gonna assume. And then also bring in doctors, teachers, lawyers, people in the community and educate them. As well, yeah. Because I think it's just having hard, somewhat uncomfortable, awkward conversations with people to get them to really understand. What it feels like to potentially be in the body that you don't like, you're supposed to be in or to feel like you don't belong, or just not.
Who the **** you are, you know?
And so I want to create this environment. To not only nourish with. Food, but to also nourish the mind as well.
I you know.
So where it's at right now, it's. Still an idea? You know, I had a really big life change. I moved to new. I moved to Los. Angeles and still trying to get my my footing and my bearings here and make connections. But I do think it's something. That can happen and will happen. It just you know, it just hasn't yet.
You know, I think the inherent complexity of doing. Doing things that center and prioritize queer and trans folks is that it crops up in such untraditional ways, right? The pathways that are available for kind of anyone else to like start a small business or kind of start some kind of like quasi center space, right? Like it's not as simple as someone who. Wants to I think. About where I live, there's been probably. One or two breweries open every single year that I've been here and for six years consecutively, and not any affordable housing or there's certainly not LGBTQ center where I live. Right and just the. Inherent clearness of kind of just creating space where it doesn't already exist, or where you kind of have to like, push, push in and make that happen, and then also have the bandwidth and the capacity mentally and physically yourself to kind of like fulfill and like complete something that would have so many significant implications, right? Like there's a lot of weight. In the responsibility of creating space for queer and trans people right as a conference planner and. A podcaster and an educator myself, right? Just like there's stress there because ultimately you're never going to satisfy everybody because our communities are just so expansive, like it's not really a community, it's a multifaceted cluster of them.
Well, it's expensive and it's also divided, which really.
Bums me out it. Really bums me out. Like on some spectrum of queer, right?
Why can't we all just, like, get along? You know what I mean?
But yeah, you're right. But yeah, I I definitely know that that I'm going to get there. I'm just not sure when and I'm taking baby steps by volunteering at nonprofits for currently volunteering and teaching some cooking lessons at a organization in Los Angeles called Safe Place for Youth. Just getting the the foundation, the foundation going, that's where I'm at right now and I got to make some connections out here. I have a really hard time. I didn't have a hard time moving. To Los Angeles, it was a very.
Easy place but.
I but I struggled with. Not I, I mourned. The idea and the loss of not opening up to me the House, but not potentially opening up in Columbus where it would be so. Not saying that it wouldn't happen there, but just like not right now, you.
Know what I mean? Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But yeah, that's kind of where it's at. Getting my my foot in here. I have people that I am. Being with as potential board members and. We're just kind. Of like planning.
And as long as. I think you know the priority at that point I think is making yourself happy, right? I've been planning this conference for as an example, right? Like a you know, an additional space that tries to gather clear and. Trans youth together. To be affirmed and comfortable and learn. A thing or two and be in. Connection with each other like I. So I totally get and just so and like vibe and align so much with kind of that idea of just bringing them in to be. In such an important space, because there's even though the film much has progressed like there's still such a lack of. Just like again, those spaces that center and prioritize queer and trans knowledge and skill and life so explicitly is that like it's always going to feel personal.
Doing this work because it's so attached to a significant piece of who we are as people like it all feels personal, even if the actual issues boil down to kind of the average things that come with running a business or running a large event or, you know, planning something with a group of people. Communication, difference of opinion, navigating conflict like those are all kind of the. Like baseline things, but it always. This feels so much more amplified and big deal and personal because it is a representation of who we are, not just something that like we're interested in or you know what job that we have to do and. That feels so different.
Both with her and so many people oftentimes try to tell us that like we, you're not allowed to or you can't or that's not possible. And so then it's more personal because you've already. Been told no no. So many times or you're not allowed or you can't. So it becomes, yeah, it becomes personal pretty quickly. But if we can. Set the personal side and look at the grander and the larger picture of like, hey, we're all. Just trying to come together to.
Figure this out for everybody and you know, and I think something like that requires the. Time and attention. It needs to be be the right moment and the right thing. It needs to be at the time, right? Like an idea like. That is obviously very needed and necessary. And because of all the struggles that queer insurance folks have to go. Through with creating things. Finding the capital for things, finding the right people at the right time to make something happen. You know everything takes longer for us. I feel like just based on it's it's its own kind of like trans tax on time of just like how long it's going to take to create something I've you know, I have so many trans can who are like I feel like I should be at a different.
Place by now with this benchmarking against like straight people and that is unfortunately just not a benchmark. That is going to make sense for us because we have to convince people about things differently. And you know, I need no convincing. I think Geneva have sounds bomb as **** and needs to exist and there needs to be one in every every Midwest town or whatever. Just like it, there's just so much to that that I think is so necessary, especially I think the focus on like. Equipping young folks with like information around food and informed choices around food, I think a lot about like my own. You know, narrative if. You will around like my like food. My cooking, like experiences and gender and sexuality experiences like I had to teach myself everything. I became a vegetarian in high school and nobody thought that that. Was going to stick. I'm almost 20 years later. I'm still a vegetarian earlier, so I had to learn a lot like I had to teach myself a whole whole lot. If I wanted to eat something more than mashed potatoes and salads at home and so like that feels like such an extended metaphor for. How I had to like, seek out and find. Possibility models myself or like end up at college. Like I said, away from home and kind of figure out like everything was DIY. Everything was figuring it out myself. Food and friends and community and connections. So like I know that's a big deal. I think for young folks who especially like maybe on their own earlier than, you know, SIS, straight children who may be moving out of their house. There because they need to, because they want to. It's just not a vibe, right? Just like that's such an important skill set, and it's so important to teach people.
And and yeah, no 100% on the head and like, you know, I envisioned there being like. The class is too like. Oh, this is what we get from the pantry this week. This is how I'm going to show you turned into like. 15 different meals, yes. And then once you cook this, we're going to show you how to turn this into leftovers so you can eat the. Same thing twice. But in a different. Way so you're not bored and classes and education in that way. I think it's really important and. If I had the funding today, I would be doing it. Today, but like. You said it takes us all a little bit. Longer to get there so.
But it will emerge at the time it needs to happen for the people it needs to happen too. I think it's it.
Yeah. I so yeah.
You know, it gets really it gets really. You get so restless cause like this. Is such a good idea? Why is it not? Because society because capitalism, it always comes. Back to capitalism. Like that's why.
Yeah, it just it's just going to take a.
Little longer and. I need to be. A little bit louder and. But I really. Feel in my soul that it's something that's going to come to fruition so.
And I guess also just like. Hopefully powerful and important it was to be able to kind of speak to that and speak to the need for that on a on a. Television show right or streaming show? I guess we're not calling it television shows anymore, right? Just like being able to kind of put that into the a like in space with what was also one of the queerest, like casts of people on a reality show. I think I've seen just like, so much queerness about.
There's three of us. There's 3/3.
Queer contestants and then you know, Dan, and then that. But like, there are so many poor people around us on set too. And it just. The production company just did and Dan cause I know. Dan had so much. To do with all that, but just made it. Such a safe space. For everyone, not just the people on the show that are queer and lesbian, but for everyone, and I think.
That to his benefit.
Is what made us kind of like relax and. Is what? Why you got what you got from us? Because we all felt comfortable to be 100% totally ourselves. We felt supported out. And all of the castmates you know, every single person that competed on that show gave back to the community, and it was inheritance. Ya good person. So like.
You know it was.
We were competing, but at the same time we were like becoming this beautiful family and loving each other and accepting each other and helping each other. And it's because of the environment that was created for us to play in, and it was really beautifully done and I'm so appreciative to Dan and Sola and to will and to the, to the entire HBO Max family and the and the boardwalk pictures. For giving us that moment and those moments cause, like really seriously ******* changed my life.
Like, like I've said, it is so wholesome. It was so wholesome to watch right from the viewer perspective. Like all of that translated and came through every time I watched an episode, I kept forgetting it was a competition, and I was like, wait, no, someone to leave. That like, no, stop it. Yeah, just and just to to know that like. That was that was the same experience from like the chef testing perspective, I think is so important.
It's real fit. It was real fit. Like what you saw was like, not was not an act. We all love them.
They're like I text with those guys almost every single day. Like, yeah, like Jay sent me a voice memo today. Like, I checked in on Roman, cause he's working on Grant for his place right now, like. Yeah, like I I e-mail I write. Letters and postcards to them sometimes, so they get like. Snail mail and stuff like we *******. Love each other. We love each other.
Just this like precious little like brunch cohort, I feel like was created and just that's just so cute. I I saw too. I know it was probably a couple months ago now, but you and Danielle had done a was it like a live stream? Of your filthy biscuits. Which was the most hilarious filthy biscuits is now my favorite. My favorite thing.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, that. Was really fun.
I want to do another one with her. I call her Danielle my onion, and she knows this. But the first day we all like the first day. We weren't allowed to talk to each other. There's like bit of time because they wanted to capture.
In real time and they wanted to capture all of us, like interacting for the first time in real. Time and you know you're kind. Of sizing everybody up because.
You don't know.
What this competition is going to be?
You know what's?
You know, it's gonna be something different and fun, but like, you don't know yet. And I saw Danielle. And she knows it's. Really judged her. I did the thing that people do to. Me and I feel really ****** about it but. Like each day that I spent with her, she just kept getting more and more awesome. And I was like, I color my onion because she has so many amazing, beautiful layers to her. And she is one of my most favorite humans and I love her to death.
He's about if I want every day.
He's a *******.
Like her business savvy and what she's been able to do with the exposure. And you know what she was able to like. She lost her job and then she, like, turned this like side hustle to this, like, crazy business. That's delicious, thoughtful. Gives back to the community. She treats her employees so incredibly well. She's a ******* ******. Like she's a ******.
I love her.
Yeah, I was rooting for everybody on that show. Again. I was just like, nobody can be eliminated. This is too. Like, this is too. Everybody's too connected. Everybody's just, like, building off each other's energy.
A big brunch energy.
Big brunch energy. I love that. What was your favorite like? What was your favorite moment either, like on screen or off screen with the show? That you're allowed to talk about.
Think I have a top.
Three, making family meal together.
That we've got. To think Stanley meal together, it really it changed the dynamic in the group for the better. It's they started to like merge and become one because we were we were cooking for each other, you know we were treating. Each other we. Are caring for each other in this. Way that we weren't getting. And then obviously when Dan freaked out over the filthy biscuits, I mean come. On love them. And wasn't my favorite moment at the time, but it is turned into something very valuable for me that I hold close to my heart is my moment. When I was self deprecating and the judges room. And he was like, hey, ******* stop that and gave me this really beautiful lesson that really changed my perspective on. A lot of things in a lot of ways.
That's so solid. Yeah, I remember all of those. Filthy biscuits and yeah, that was a significant moment. Remember, I remember I was like I vibe with your humor so much, right? Just like, very like, sassy, sarcastic. Like, that is that is it for sure. And I was. Like, Oh my God, if anybody ever. Called me out like that. I just like crumble and especially. Thing Dan levy. I was just like, I don't even know what you're doing right now in your head. Like, I can't even imagine.
Yeah, it was. It was a hard. It was hard because.
You know what they what they know a lot.
About the contestants and and, you know, a lot of things that happened to them and their back stories, but like I came off of like a really hard two years. I lost my rent. I had a huge falling out with my business partner who was my best. Friend at the time, and we don't speak anymore. There was a family situation that happened that was really difficult. My partner had broken up with me all within a very short period of time. And I was incredibly depressed. I was suicidal. I still had not come out as non binary, which I'm sure was a huge part of. The issue because I was holding all this stuff in.
Yeah, just building up, yeah.
And building up and like when I had gotten on the show, a lot of my confidence had come back, but not all my confidence had come. Back and I was still working. Do a lot of things. And there was. Something that had happened. That I don't like carry the vote that. Showed me that day. And I was off. I was just like off my game, and so I was more self deprecating than usual so it was hard. It was really hard to hear it. What I needed to hear it because. And it was so factual. Like like I am good at my job. I like I did deserve to be there. My food was delicious. Like I needed to believe in my. Myself, in order for others to believe in me as.
Well, yeah, and it.
Hit home super hard and I'm glad. Like it sucked. It was a little embarrassing, but like, I'm glad. I'm glad that it happened and. Coming off that as well, a lot of people have messaged me saying how that moment helped them too. And so like, that's just a really great blessing also.
I mean, it's a big ******* deal, you know? And I every person has self doubts. Every person is going to. Have that negative feedback loop. Like that, you know, it's a relatively common experience in general. Queen insurance people like. We we do not want to give ourselves like the grace and the flowers that we. Because we're so. Used to being pushed on and pushed out and pushed back on.
He didn't run and yeah.
Oh, so it's. Just like, well, I guess if everyone else is. Going to do.
Yeah, maybe like we'll worth anything and. Then there's and there's self doubt.
So I'm going to beat you to it and I'll just rag on myself. First, Yep, I get that.
Going to meet her. So you can't do it and then. I don't feel really as. Bad about it, but like we are beautiful. And we do deserve a seat at the table and we do deserve.
To be seen.
And so like I'm. So grateful that I was able to have that opportunity to like show up and be visible for other non binary trans. They're like, haven't seen anybody like themselves before. Yeah, someone who wasn't willing to be vulnerable while where they went and where they are now. And I take that. I take that as a very large responsibility and. It means a lot to me. It would not.
Have hit the same if like there was a straight person on that like judging panel. Who would have said that to you? Because I have like you. Know what you're talking about for someone in community. Right for Dan. Levy to say. Someone who has probably gone through those same types of loops of just. Like as a. Queer person like XYZ has happened and so I'm gonna put myself down. Like I it hits so different for that because it was you know. It was public. And it was on screen and it was there for everyone to see. And that moment was just between 2 queer people and would only is only going to make sense to a certain level of depth. I think to other queer people, it will mean something for a lot of people, and there's a level of depth to that that I think just really means something because queer. People will need to. You know, lift each other up in that way because we're so accustomed just being like I don't deserve this or I'm not as good at this and that that I think just added a whole another. For next, for an excellent moment.
What was it? So, so many times. We don't, we don't get the.
We don't get the thanks, right.
We don't get the things so.
Much because of.
Our gender or sexuality, how we present and who we are, and so. Yeah, it it it. It hit it hit. Hard but like.
It made me. More confident in a way it. Made me like. More vocal it. It it it did a lot of things for. Me like I. I gave me the. Courage to move to Los Angeles. That's a big deal. Very special lady, but.
Is there anything else you? Want to know about the show? Was just like. Those were your highlights, I know, but the.
Those were the highlights. I mean do.
You have any questions about the show?
So let's see there. Was one challenge that unfortunately you did not get to do. You kind of spoiled that like you didn't get all the way through the the challenges, unfortunately. But there's one I was curious about just for funzies to kind of like head us towards. Maybe wrap up? There's a crossover challenge, and so they brought in like, create the creator of the Crona croissant slash doughnut and then wanted folks to kind of create their own kind of crossover, you know, mishmash situation and was curious if you had any thoughts about either one that you'd want to create or one that you maybe want to see just.
You think that someone maybe if it's not you needs to create this. Thing this crossover.
You ******* idea. Ohh I when?
I watched that.
Challenge on TV I was like. Man, I would been ****** like. I I really. I I don't know what I would have done. I you know, I was very much playing into the Midwestern food, which is definitely like my style. So I probably would have. Figured out a way. To mesh like a Taco Bell, play with a. Pizza Hut play in some way, shape or form. And deep fried.
It Yep, that's and maybe put it on a stick. Like just like put on a.
Stick and like I.
Called it some sort of like. Carnival Fair food I. Oh, actually, no, it's not a bad idea. Maybe some sort of like? Now I'm thinking about it. Some sort of like corn. Doggy type thing, yeah.
But yeah, I I would have I I.
I would have been ******.
It's a dope challenge and I sat there wondering like I wouldn't even know because I was like, huh?
Do that challenge. You know, cause the first thing everybody made like it was a flop and so.
Yeah, they did have to redo it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Yeah, some playing it safe, I think were some of the comments there. Yeah, my my brain was like because, you know, I like to play along. And my brain, I was like maybe like a crepe slash waffle. But then I was like, I think. That would just be a Waffle House. Waffles because their waffles are very thin, but. I want to. Buck up a Waffle House waffle any day.
Too similar to like a crepe and a like a. Crepe and a waffle or? Very like it's just a difference in batter really.
It was like I'd roll it up and eat it, but that's definitely a Waffle House waffle at that point.
Something rolled stuffed with cheese on a stick, deep fried Midwestern subway.
Yes, I I definitely love and appreciate it knew that I was just like we are, we are very aligned. Just like cause. Then you do like a McDonald's play like a diva.
Yeah, it didn't. It didn't work.
And I know now why it didn't. Work, you know, but when you're in. Those moments you're like. And it's crazy.
Well, it's not your own kitchen and everything's different, yeah.
Nerves going on are you? Gonna go home 1st and. So yeah, I try to do a McDonald's. Hash brown and. I can do them. And I've done them before, but I just like put it in the fridge instead of putting it. In the freezer. Had I put it in the freezer, it would. Have molded and it. Would have been fine. Like a dish that I called 80s mom vibe. I did a. Corn beef hash. I don't think they showed.
Yeah, yeah, I remember.
This very just across the board. I I like to call it fat kid food. Anything that's like any of that, that was all fat kid food, very much reminiscent of like anything you'd get in the Midwest. I was like Yep, that I know exactly where you're not exactly because I didn't grow up in a Pentecostal household with a garden in the back. But I generally knew exactly where all that food was coming from and. I was like, yes, yes and yes.
10 out of 10.
Well friend, I could do this for hours, so I don't really have like a big bright brilliant like end of conversation question, but just kind of gonna leave space for you to like add any or name anything or share. Anything that you? Might want to add before we end this recruiting.
Well, if you find yourself in Los Angeles, I would highly recommend that you come visit me at. All day, baby. In Silver Lake, I've just recently accepted the chef position there and. We leave, so I did. Ohh it's it's me. It's like like it's so me. It's like super queer friendly, there's. A lot of. Queer trans non binary folks working there. The food is like super comfort food. They've got phenomenal biscuits. There's like banana cream pie, peanut butter pie like brunch, like a brunch vibe. We're going to. Work on the dinner program a little bit right now. They're doing a Vietnamese pop up, but I think we're going to shift into something that I'm. There's more in my wheelhouse, so you should definitely check it out. The owners are really great. They give back a lot to the community as well, totally aligned. They're really pumped about. And then if you ever find yourself wanting to donate to an organization similar to the Geneva House until I get. Mine up and running. Do a lot of work with safe place for. Youth, which is a. Nonprofit for kids who have aged out of. The foster system. Or are on house mostly focusing on Bipac queer and trans kids. So I do do cooking lessons for them right now so. I'm really, really pumped about it.
Well, this has been splendid. So glad we're able to chat, yes.
Thank you so much.
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