Features 2 minutes 21 June 2024

5 MICHELIN Guide Chefs on Pride and Being Themselves

These buzzy LGBTQIA+ chefs, sommeliers, and front-of-house staffers prove the power of individuality.

New York City by The MICHELIN Guide

See the New York City guide

When peeking into The MICHELIN Guide universe, it’s easy to see beautiful cuisine and meticulous interiors. However, take a closer look and you’ll uncover an eclectic community of people hailing from all walks of life. And in celebration of Pride Month, we wanted to highlight five members of the LGBTQIA+ community including chefs, sommeliers, and front-of-house staffers, all of whom bring their unique perspectives to the gastronomic landscape.

We spoke with five members of the LGBTQIA+ community in New York to discover how their personal challenges yielded professional triumphs: Chef Mary Attea of One MICHELIN Star The Musket Room and Raf’s; Chef Telly Justice and sommelier Camille Lindsley of HAGS; Chef Jeremy Salamon of MICHELIN Bib Gourmand Agi’s Counter; and sommelier Brendan Kimball of Three MICHELIN Star Le Bernardin

“My career and my identity kind of found themselves at the same time,” says Chef Mary Attea. “There was always this internal back and forth about who I was and who I wanted to be. When I began my journey through culinary school, I started to embrace this other, more vulnerable side of myself. It was really at that time I accepted myself, but also began to share that side of me with my family and friends.”

This discovery of self and career was shared amongst nearly all we spoke to; exploration of the culinary arts as a profession is a meticulous endeavor rooted in passion and precision. Rising through the ranks, itself a challenging process that’s nebulous and often filled with challenges, mirrors self-discovery and, sometimes, helps with sense of self. “For a while I struggled with identity as a trans-woman versus just being queer,” says Chef Telly Justice. “My acceptance and decision to transition coincided quite clearly with when I started to cook.” 

The intersection of queerness and the culinary industry appear intertwined for Chef Jeremy Salaman as well. “If you ask me, the restaurant industry itself was made for people who feel like they don’t fit in,” he says, adding, “it’s a place where all characters are welcome. With food and cooking, I felt I like I could be and do everything. That was my form of expression.”

Clay Williams / Chef Mary Attea
Clay Williams / Chef Mary Attea

While pop culture often portrays queer narratives through a scope of struggle, our group finds triumphs. Sommelier Brendan Kimball’s best piece of advice is to go where you are celebrated, not solely tolerated. “One of my very first jobs in the wine world was at a gay-owned vineyard,” he explains. “Witnessing that you can not only be gay, but also thrive in your industry, was a life-changing moment for me. I had a newfound sense of home.”

However, that sense of place takes a moment to build. “When we moved from being a pop-up to a solidified restaurant, we made the decision to be decidedly queer,” shares HAGS co-owner and sommelier Camille Lindsley. “For so long, I had this false idea that it didn’t matter who you are. This is a service and a business, and there's safety in protecting that. But the truth is, that doesn’t feel rewarding. Yes, it can be a challenge to celebrate yourself, but providing a space for others to work and eat that also honors who you and they are has been an electric experience.”

Mariia Duchesne / Brendan Kimball
Mariia Duchesne / Brendan Kimball
Morgan Levy (photographer) | Justine Sweetman (producer) / Camille Lindsley & Telly Justice
Morgan Levy (photographer) | Justine Sweetman (producer) / Camille Lindsley & Telly Justice

That’s on display at Salaman’s Bib Gourmand Agi’s Counter. “My partner and I believed that to be successful, we needed to foster a space where our staff felt comfortable, to talk to us and each other,” he says. To that end, Salaman employed an open windowed kitchen pulling double-duty creating a sense of openness, while allowing diners to see a show.

The one narrative thread throughout all the spots is a sense of love. Inherently romantic, restaurants (and kitchens) can often lead to deeper relationships, romantic and otherwise. “Working in the kitchen of Annisa was both a pivotal moment of my career, and also my life,” shares Attea. “Not only did I gain my confidence as a chef there, but it’s also where I met my girlfriend, Anita Lo.” 

And while Attea still uses the skills she learned in and out of the kitchen, sometimes the perfect pairing co-exists in the same spot. Salaman co-founded Agi’s counter with boyfriend Michael Herman, and Justice and Lindsley co-own HAGS. “It just clicked,” says Lindsley. “Our goal was never to own a restaurant together, but it was an undeniable synergy. We are quick to praise each other's strengths and see each other for the unique talents we both bring to the table. It just works.” 

As Kimball says, “Queerness is about otherness, and I think it’s important to take the lessons of being queer into the dining space. Sometimes you have to know all the rules, but also you have to know how to break them.” 

 Jeremy Salamon & Mike Herman
Jeremy Salamon & Mike Herman

Hero image: Ed Anderson / Jeremy Salamon & Mike Herman
Thumb image: Salvatore DiBenedetto 


Keep Exploring - Stories we think you will enjoy reading