LGBT Pride Profile: Top Chef and Juhu Beach Club’s Preeti Mistry

| June 20, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Preeti plating
Preeti plating photo courtesy of Albert Law

Our gay-friendly town is full of visitors. June means that the Bay Area and more specifically, San Francisco, fills to the brim with folks from all over the world to observe and celebrate the events, marches and festivities that culminate in SF LGBT Pride. Bay Area Bites is noting this 42nd annual come-as-you-are love fest by telling stories from the LBGT chefs, personalities and waiters who keep us sated 365 days of the year. We first talked with Palomino’s chef Adam Jones. Up second is chef Preeti Mistry, 35, who is readying to open her Juhu Beach Club, which will serve “Indian street food, snack food and a bit of home-style cooking” in the Mission and originated as a pop-up. Mistry was a Top Chef Contestant in 2009 and was executive chef for Google via Bon Appétit Management Company and was classically trained in London at Le Cordon Bleu. She was born in London, grew up in the United States and currently lives in Oakland. Bay Area Bites caught up with the chef recently via telephone and email interview.

How is Juhu Beach Club going?
The restaurant is moving along…slowly. We have been in the permitting process for eight months now. We are very close to being done with this part. I’m hoping once this is done that we can move much faster. I’m looking at opening by the end of the summer. The concept will be similar to the pop-up, with more choices and dinner options.

Our goal is to be open all day but I know that the location in the Mission will be much busier in the evenings. There will be several starters, or chaat. Those are items like my handmade samosas, as well as a Scotch egg with lamb mince, Vindaloo chicken wings with Bleu cheese raita and a seasonal bhel puri.

The heart of the menu will focus on the “pav,” which in Hindi means small bun or bread. It’s the portable holder that created the popularity of the vada pav, considered Mumbai’s number one street food snack. We will have a vada pav, but also eight to ten different choices of fillings for your pav. Many are popular sandwich fillings from the pop-up like the “holy cow” and the “chowpatty chicken.” There will also be baby potato & eggplant in a spicy peanut sauce and egg masala. We will most likely also have a few larger plates like fish and chips and a curry of the day.

The culinary world has often been portrayed as quite sexist… what is your perspective and experience with sexism and homophobia in the restaurant world?
The culinary world is a contradiction when it comes to both sexism and homophobia. On a basic level, there is a meritocracy in the kitchen. On this level it does not matter who you are or what you look like or what you do outside of the kitchen. If you carry your weight and then some, if you are a team player and work your ass off then you are “in.” Make great food and then nobody can mess with you. Starting out, this is what I loved about it. You walk into a kitchen full of guys. They have low expectations and you prove you can do the job and then you are part of the team. Also, as a queer woman, once you prove yourself you are just one of the guys. I suppose this may be more difficult for men… I don’t know.

For the next level, I think it only became more difficult when I moved up the chain. There is a change when you go from being in the trenches to being people’s boss. I think this is where homophobia (and sexism, and in my case racism as well) starts to really get in the way. When you don’t look like “the boss,” certain people don’t want to take orders from you.

Is there a difference between the front of the house (FOH) vs. the kitchen (back of the house or “BOH”) regarding this issue? A difference for men vs. women?
Yes of course, the FOH and BOH inhabit two totally different orbits. I suppose the typical stereotype is that there are more gay men in the FOH and more lesbians in the BOH. But it seems like with all the TV shows with gay characters, the political environment in general and changing attitudes of a younger generation, this is becoming less of an issue.

What is it like coming out as a chef? Has being an LGBT person affected your career in any particular way?
Well it’s very rare that I ever have to come out to people. I kinda wear it on my sleeve, but I suppose there is always someone who doesn’t get it. I don’t really bother with those people. They’ll figure it out.

Being queer has to affect everything I do because it is who I am. I think once I moved into a place in my career where I was applying for Executive Chef positions, my triple minority status has probably helped me from a diversity stand point. I also suppose it added to Bravo’s interest in me as a contestant on Top Chef. They want an interesting and diverse group of chefs.

Preeti and Ann Nadeau
Preeti & Ann Nadeau photo courtesy of Preeti Mistry

You’re in a relationship that’s lasted for over 16 years. How did you two meet?
Ann Nadeau and I actually moved to San Francisco together. We met at a bar in Ann Arbor. She works for a research consulting firm and used to work at Joie de Vivre in marketing.

Is there a gay subculture within the food world? In the Bay Area?
I think there are several that intersect with each other across styles of cuisine, restaurant groups, etc.

Since San Francisco is a gay mecca are there restaurants (as opposed to bars that serve food) that are know to cater to a mostly gay clientele? Are there places exclusively for LGBT women versus men?

Well there was Mecca. Which was awesome. I loved sitting at the bar and eating oysters. [Sigh.] So, of course the entire Castro… and now there are some great places like Frances. Honestly I don’t go to restaurants because they have gay clientele. I go for the great food and service. I suppose this is somewhat due to living in a “gay mecca” where we don’t have to make those distinctions as much because there are LGBT people everywhere. The Mission has so many great restaurants, and you are more likely to see more lesbians.

How do you celebrate Pride Month personally and professionally?
I used to work for the Frameline LGBT Film Festival before I went to culinary school so going to see some inspiring and fun queer films has always been a part of our Pride month activities. We will check out the Dyke March for a little while on Saturday. It’s always fun to run into people you have not seen in years. Then Sunday we have a tradition with friends to go see “Fun in Girl’s Shorts” at the Castro Theater followed by brunch at Zuni. It’s a great spot to watch everyone enjoying the festivities from the huge windows onto Market Street. The whole restaurant is usually super festive as well and it’s my favorite brunch spot in the city!

When the Juhu Beach Club is open, I hope to be able to get more involved with events around the city. Last year at the pop-up we had a Pride special lavender berry lassi that was very popular.

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About the Author ()

Mary Ladd is a freelance writer and event professional based in her hometown of San Francisco. Her writing has been featured in SF Weekly, Tasting Table, the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere. She has shuttled Anthony Bourdain around town and mastered the art of properly loading a catering van in a flash. Mary has eaten the world’s hottest burger and loves to cook and eat. Follow her at @mladdfood