June 18, 2021
7 LGBTQ Chefs Cooking Up Pride From the Heartland
Kelsy Chauvin READ TIME: 5 MIN.
Sometimes there's a misconception that America's top chefs reside mainly on the coasts. In reality, chefs across the Midwest, Great Plains, and other heartland states are rocking the culinary arts in their hometowns and beyond. Here are seven stellar LGBTQ chefs who are making unforgettable food in non-coastal, ever-delicious cities.
It starts with organic ingredients sourced from sustainable farms. From there, Chef Zoe Schor of Split-Rail dazzles with some of Chicago's best down-home cooking – featuring crispy fried chicken and decadent sides rivaled only by the killer cocktail program.
Schor and her business partner Michelle Szot have anchored their spacious, vintage-rustic restaurant on a prime corner in Ukrainian Village. Along with the classics Schor perfected working with Tom Colicchio, Todd English, and Thomas Keller, the restaurant proudly serves a menu flexible enough to suit guests' unique dietary requests (including "vegan fried chicken" made with seitan). And as soon as the pandemic-recovery timing allows, they'll reopen their cozy, queer-friendly subterranean cocktail lounge, Dorothy. Stay tuned!
Bulrush, St. Louis
Few restaurants exalt Midwestern ingredients like Bulrush. James Beard-nominated Chef Rob Connoley celebrates the unexplored realm of 19th century "Ozark cuisine" via a contemporary tasting menu ($100, tax and gratuity included). Even more intriguing, the St. Louis native sources many ingredients – all organic and locally grown – through foraging, farming, and hunting, running a zero-waste kitchen. Connoley and his husband of 20 years, Tyler, stay closely involved with the local community, including helping immigrants and hosting pop-ups to raise money for LGBTQ health services at Planned Parenthood.
The Kitchen, Columbus, OH
Since 2013, The Kitchen has served one of the most unique dining experiences for foodies in Columbus, Ohio: Cook it yourself. The concept is The Kitchen's signature "participatory dining events," where guests collaborate with Chef Jen Lindsey, her cooking partner Anne Boninsegna, and other in-house pros to create their own meals. Don't worry if you're a cooking amateur, because the team welcomes all guests to contribute according to their comfort level.
Lexington Betty BBQ, Chicago
Who better to rule the Chicago barbeque scene than a hometown chef? Chef Dominique Leach grew up in a large Chi-town family, cooking big meals as a way to spend quality time together. These days, Leach is carrying on the tradition of big flavor and satisfying food with Lexington Betty Smoke House.
Named for her grandmother, Lexington Betty started as a catering company before manifesting as a food truck in Chicago's Galewood neighborhood (north of Oak Park). Leach has grown the concept to two more locations, one inside One Eleven Food Hall; the other in the Hyatt House Chicago - Medical / University District. When you're in Chicago, don't miss Leach's daily smoke house specials, and always available (until they sell out!) saucy rib tips, pulled pork and brisket platters with sides of "candy yams," macaroni, and cornbread.
Tulsa is getting more attention for its vibrant LGBTQ community lately, and one of its culinary stars is earning accolades for her literal farm-fresh flavors. Chef Lisa Becklund helms FarmBar, a culinary extension of Living Kitchen Farm and Dairy, where guests dine on tasting courses created with ingredients grown on their farm or nearby farms. Becklund and her partner Linda Ford call it "agricultural cuisine of Oklahoma," and they complete the dining experience by serving guests at one long table on the back porch of a log cabin tucked away in an oak forest. On the one hand, it's amazing to dine on cuisine from a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist and winner of many local restaurant awards; on the other hand, the real reward is enjoying the absolute freshest food made by a local ace.
There's a reason why Amilinda sparkles among Milwaukee's top-ranking restaurants: Chef Gregory León, the local master of Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. Born in Tulsa and raised in Venezuela, León made his bones cooking in San Francisco and Madrid. By the mid-2010s, he arrived in Milwaukee and opened Amilinda to critical acclaim, offering a romantic, old-world vibe with design touches that complement authentic Iberian cuisine.
León uses his restaurant for community endeavors, too, hosting benefits for LGBTQ organizations such as Courage MKE and the Human Rights Campaign. Amilinda is also a leading host of Tables Across Borders, a pop-up dining series that highlights the cooking of local refugee chefs.
Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.