Chef Roshara Sanders is working her way up as a culinary instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, from which she graduated in 2014. Chef Rowe teaches with her philosophy that love comes through cooking. The Bridgeport, Connecticut, native says she is the school’s first black culinary arts teacher, having previously served in the military and worked in a number of kitchens in New York City. In the latest edition of Voices In Food, she talks about what three strikes against her feels like in the kitchen, why representation matters, and how what happens here and abroad can have a chilling effect on those who go into the hospitality business.
I tell people I have three strikes against me in the kitchen: I’m a woman, and I’m black and queer. I definitely suffered from sexism. And since I “came out” in part of a piece on the network during Black History Month in 2017, when I was 28—I definitely felt a change in the kitchen after it aired.
For those people who ask why someone’s sexual orientation matters: As chefs, we don’t walk around and say, “Hey, I’m gay.” But once the information is released, there is definitely a shift in the situation. Most restaurants are run by men. As a woman presenting a male show, I’ve seen that chefs are starting to treat me differently. They took a step back from me. I think men can be intimidated by my appearance. Of course, no one will ever say, “I don’t like you because you’re gay.”
The kitchen is meant to be a place of camaraderie and a sense of family. You can feel a change in the energy in the kitchen when people are not working together as a team, when there is homophobia. And it comes from both the men and women of the industry. I’ve brought partners to work gatherings and all of a sudden I’m not hanging out with people I used to hang out with. You don’t have to read between the lines to know what has changed. Nothing else has changed about me or my talent.
“We have to ask ourselves how we can’t be hospitable to people when we’re in the hospitality industry.”
– Roshara Sanders
Restaurants have always been known as places where people get a second chance. Traditionally, there has been love for people who had a rough start. But there is also a certain kind of talking that is allowed in kitchens. I think kitchens need to evolve to include the LGBTQ community in that welcoming space.
Unfortunately, I know people who have gone through the proper channels to have homophobic incidents reported to their bosses and they fall on deaf ears. You should have a manager behind you. How not to lead by example? We are in the industry to serve happiness. If you treat me bad, how am I going to cook? My philosophy is that you cook with love, and that comes from our food. We have to ask ourselves how we can not be hospitable to people when we are in the hospitality industry. If you don’t have a happy staff, you don’t have anything.
I think the people who suffer the most are in front of the house; They are the public face of a restaurant. I recently went out with some friends and our server was a trans woman. The table next to mine didn’t want that server because she was a trans woman, and they asked for a different server. The guests were told the server would not be switched and left because it “didn’t fit their beliefs and they didn’t want to upset their children”. Then the server was told why the guests were leaving, which I’m sure was a devastating feeling. This trans woman waited at our table and was so happy that people would accept her and let her do her thing.
“When you choose to be authentically yourself, that can be excruciating.”
In the kitchen, as a woman presenting a male show, I’m not seen (unless it’s an open kitchen), so I’m safe there for the most part. Up front, there is no seat cushion. Someone could have become more angry and aggressive towards the trans woman, just because of who she is and not for doing her job. I’ve seen this happen with guys who present more feminine. Think of those bar staff with toxic masculinity. People do not need to approve of other people’s choices, but they do need to treat them with respect and love.
Being LGBTQ is still taboo in many places. When you look at what is happening in countries like Uganda, where there is a death penalty for gays, and then the laws that are being passed in this country, you know that there are people who are not able to live their truth because they fear for their lives. spirits. I’m a veteran who served during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era, so I know a thing about living the hidden life. When you choose to be authentically yourself, it can be painful.
It shouldn’t matter what I do at home when it comes to how I do my work. I feel a lot of support at the Culinary Institute of America. We’ve practiced asking people to share their pronouns, trans students can go by their chosen names, and there was a raffle show on campus last year during Pride month. I hope other schools in hospitality will do this, and ask, “What can we do to support you?” I don’t want to work in a place where my community rejects me. I think this will start to discourage restaurant workers from working in certain states. This is why representation is so important.