Bravo's New Queer Cast Goes 'Around the World in 80 Plates'
When Bravo premieres its appetizing new culinary competition, Around the World in 80 Plates, there will be not just two gay cheftestants but also a lesbian host. Around the World follows 12 chefs as they race across 10 countries — Argentina, Uruguay, China, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Thailand, the United States, and England — in just over 40 days, sampling local customs and cuisine and then re-creating local delicacies in their own team eateries.
“The show concept was dynamite,” says host (and Iron Chef winner) Cat Cora of what some are calling Bravo’s most ambitious production to date. “Also the opportunity to work with Bravo and [the Emmy-winning production company] Magical Elves was a big draw for me.”
The show premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific, with a pub-crawl around London, and Cora is joined by co-host Curtis Stone and guest Nigella Lawson. Each week a a rotating cast of visiting celebrity chefs, such as Lawson, Wolfgang Puck, JosĂ© AndrĂ©s, Narda Lepes, and Alvin Leung, will serve as “food ambassadors” to help the contestants understand local cuisine.
After 40 days you’d expect Cora, a super-busy lesbian mom and chef, to be exhausted. Not so, she says. “I was actually rejuvenated. It was the best production I've ever worked on and definitely one of the most exciting as well.”
We caught up with the two out gay chefs — Nicole Lou and Gary Walker — to get their take on Cora’s favorite part of Around the World (“The travel and people!” she says) to see what’s it’s like on the other side of the judge’s apron. Read Gary Walker’s interview on Advocate.
Nicole Lou, a 33-year-old lesbian and San Jose, Calif., native, comes from a Vietnamese family where life centers around food, but she spent years in a corporate cubicle before heading to the California Culinary Academy for a career change. She apprenticed at the world-famous Nobu in New York City and later returned to the Bay Area where she worked her way up to sous-chef for Robbie Lewis at Bacar, then to Perbacco (where she helped Stefan Terje win the 2010 Cochon 555), and now her extensive Asian and Mediterraean cuisine experience is played out as the current sous-chef at at Bushi-Tei in San Francisco.
How do you describe your culinary style?
Lou: My style is very Californian, with the philosophy of local sustainability, farm-to-table concept. And the Bay Area has many concentrated pockets of culture, thus allowing for combinations of various cuisines.
What was the hardest part of doing the show?
The elimination round. The decision to vote off one your talented peers was tough, since everyone brought a specific set of skills to the table.
You had some really demanding judges; did anyone intimidate you?
Intimidate me? No. Disappointed that they may have not liked something I made? Yes.
Simon Doonan's tongue-in-cheek book says straight food is heavy and gay food is lighter and more decorative. What do you think? Is there really gay food?
I had to Google Simon Doonan. I guess the food is only as gay as the person who's eating it.
What was the worst experience you ever had with food?
I tried eating durian fruit as a kid once. It had the texture of mush and rot in my mouth. I tried it again several years ago and had the same reaction. I don't think we'll ever get along.
Was there any question of whether or not to be out on the show?
It's a really important part of who I am and have no reservations or qualms about it.
You’re sous chef at Bushi-Tei, a restaurant I love for its sort of modern-meets-tradition take on Asian cuisine. How much does it reflect your experience?
Making French-Japanese cuisine is challenging, as they are deeply rooted in tradition. But we are fortunate to have diners with very open palates and minds. With the accessibility to such beautiful ingredients, we are able to create familiar dishes with modern concepts.
You left a corporate cubicle to become a chef. What inspired you?
I don't like being bored or complacent in a job, and with the need for constant movement, I thought this hobby could turn into something. I spent a lot of time in my own kitchen cooking for my loved ones, so this felt like a natural transition.
How did your parents take the news?
My parents definitely wanted me to have a more comfortable life but are proud of their food-slinging daughter.
Vietnamese food was a big part of your childhood, but you haven’t spent much time as a chef creating it. Why?
I grew up eating Vietnamese food, and through my experience from eating at home and in restaurants, I find the bigger the institution, the more washed-out the flavors. So instead of learning from well-seasoned chefs, I'm taking lessons from many generations of home cooks. It's therapy for the food soul.