Chefs, Politics and Good Writing: John Currence and the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table
Walk into most fine dining restaurants, especially in the South, and you'll find two distinct camps. The staff is made up of blue-collar workers, underpaid men and women who push through longer work weeks than customers care to imagine. And chefs, sometimes a bit better heeled, they tend toward the artistic temperament, creative people, prone to high highs and low lows. Both are, in many cases, the opposite of their clientele. In the South, those able to afford fine dining with any regularity often come from the same class that has run this region since well before the Civil War - big business people, lawyers, property owners, etc. That's to say, in many ways, more conservative than your average dishwasher.
In my experience, while restaurant culture can foment racism and sexism, there's still a liberal undercurrent in most kitchens. Those out front slurping oysters are, to some degree, of a different sort. I notice this especially in my town of Athens, where our populace is worldly and cosmopolitan, but not often endowed enough to eat housemade charcuterie. It's the Chamber of Commerce types who can frequently unfold white napkins.
Fine dining is buoyed by the greater business community - those bankers, lawyers, CEOs and politicians - who aren't often found at picket lines for any lefty cause. So when a chef stands up against any right wing, conservative tide, I'm surprised. Perhaps it's different for chefs in Chicago or New York or Los Angeles. But in the deep South, what chef John Currence has done from his culinary base in Mississippi is astounding.
Some may bite the hand that feeds them, but Currence slapped the hand that pays him. He didn't do it out of ego; he did it because he stood up for what he felt was right.
Currence's very-public stance against Mississippi's anti-LGBTQ "religious liberty" laws was told fully and deftly this week by Atlanta-based writer Wyatt Williams on Buzzfeed.
Please carve out a few minutes to tackle the whole thing, but here's the piece is a few words:
Currence cooks every year for a pro-Mississippi biz party in NYC. Only this year he also held a counter-protest over the Governor's anti-LGBTQ law that just went into effect this week. He ruffled some feathers. Williams story isn't just about the counter-protest; it's a classic example of great magazine writing that discusses what it means to be a chef from the South, from a maligned state, and what power this generation of celebrity chefs can actually wield.