'Top Chef' Winner Melissa King Finds Creative Ways to Support the Queer Community
This story is part of "Queer As Food," a series that explores the role of food in LGBTQ+ communities.
As a chef, my goal in life is always to make people feel included. That's why I love hosting dinner parties. I love working in a restaurant because it is an environment that nurtures, it is a safe space. And food is really that one thing that brings everyone together. Food is that connector, it's always been. Whether you speak the same language or you don't, you can understand it. And you can eat it and taste it and understand what that person is feeling. When I cook, I always cook with the intentions of serving you a piece of me, and giving you my love on a plate. I want everyone to be welcome in that space, regardless what color skin you have or what your sexuality is; food has no boundaries.
I feel very passionate about who I am as an individual and I happen to be this sort of triple minority. I'm an Asian American, I'm a woman, and I'm gay. I try my best, as a chef that happens to be fortunate enough to have a platform, to use my voice to speak up for people that may not have that opportunity. And so if I can do that through my food, I will. It is an opportunity to be able to leverage that platform for other things that are very important to me beyond just cooking.
I try to do what I can for our community and, especially now during quarantine, I've been hosting a lot of these virtual cooking classes and virtual experiences. And being that it's Pride Month, I'm trying to find ways to support the queer community through these events. And I want my audience to be other LGBTQ+ members that want to learn how to cook better.
So I've tied in a lot of charitable components. I'm right now organizing a wonton event—like a wonton webinar—for this Saturday. And part of the proceeds will go towards an Asian American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+ specific group organization. I invited a lot of the members and gave them access to several free tickets because I know that the queer community sometimes doesn't have the money to be able to take a cooking class or be a part of these experiences. In that way, through using my platform and as ways to tie it together, it's evolved to become queer food for me. To build that community and build up the community.
I have merch on my website for Pride. $5 of each purchase will go towards the Trevor Project to support LGBTQ+ youth. I'm always thinking, "How can I tie this back to the people that I care about?" And then there was this other project that I did that actually was literally queer food. I did a partnership with Sidecar Doughnuts last year for Pride. Every month they do a chef doughnut. They did one with Brooke Williamson and Richard Blais, and everybody took a month. And then it got to me and they're like, "Which month do you want?" And I'm like, ‘I want June, of course. I want Pride month. And let's make a Pride doughnut and let's just make it super gay. It's going to look a rainbow and it's just going to be as gay as we can get it. And it's going to have sprinkles.’
So I developed and curated this very gay doughnut. And it's very challenging to make a rainbow doughnut, I'm not going to lie. We had so few prototypes to figure out how to make it? How do we incorporate all these colors, but still have it taste good? And all the proceeds of the sales went towards Brave Trails, which is helping to support LGBTQ youth members to go to summer camp, and to create a space and environment for them. So I was really proud of that project because, to me, it felt like the epitome of gay.
As told to Mary-Frances Heck, interview edited and condensed for clarity.