Category Archives: Gender

Ron Ben Israel, Queerest Chef of All

Ron cascade

Is there something gay about the wild visual and tactile fantasies at play in dessert-making?

“Of course, it’s a gay sensibility! We don’t say it in public anymore, but fuck them, of course it’s a gay sensibility!” said Ron Ben Israel, one of the most elite wedding-cake makers in America and the queerest queer to have ever starred in a TV food series.

You’ll remember him as the madman behind Sweet Genius, the Food Network pastry-competition show where he subjected patissiers to amusingly cruel tests like making a cake with duck fat and fusilli that somehow reflected the artistic inspiration of a diamond. The surrealism of Ben Israel’s tests seemed queer in itself: on the show, he made chefs confect chocolates out of Pop Rocks and beef jerky, inspired by a disco ball, and insisted on another occasion that they create a frozen dessert out of squid ink that also somehow got across the idea of butterflies. Continue reading

Sex and Italian Food

Hugo pizza

From my new review in in Gay City News: Hugo and Sons, Park Slope, Brooklyn.

The waitress welcomed us as though she had been waiting all her life just to ply us with glasses of nerello mascalese and plates of pasta à la chitarra with tuna, chilies, and mint.

That’s the kind of service I like. When you pay your hard-earned money to a restaurant, you should be treated as though you were making each staffer’s day just by sticking your foot in the door and exciting them for life just by placing your queenly butt in their chairs. Hugo and Sons, a convivial, three-month-old Italian restaurant in Park Slope, offers a much better experience than its delicious but snooty next-door neighbors, Talde and Applewood. The tiny portions and cool welcomes at those eminences should by rights direct diners to this happy, generous new kid on the block.

A lot of the food will make you smile as warmly as the waitstaff do. That chitarra pasta (square-edged, long, spaghetti-like strands made on a traditional, cut-by-hand device) was surprisingly voluptuous, a special one night with unctuous lumps of cooked tuna. Lovers of pearls and diving, come to Brooklyn: I haven’t had cooked tuna this lewd in decades. (American chefs have forgotten how to make anything in between a near-raw sear and dead-and-dry.)

My own pearl girl and I were eating in Hugo’s pizzeria annex, which serves everything on the regular menu except entrées, plus pizzas and specials. The pizza place’s outdoor seating on 11th Street turns out to be Hugo’s most romantic setting, amid abundant plants, Shabby Chic red metal chairs, leafy street trees, and the nearby outdoor diners from Applewood and their dinner plates to gawk at and compare. It was only a South Slope pizzeria, but we seemed to be dining in Paris.

I was in the mood for a girly drink: a prosecco cocktail with strawberry purée making glowy red shapes at the bottom like a lava lamp, which I had seen two women drinking at the bar inside ($12). (Yes, I do call myself a butch. So sue me. If we can’t subvert our identities whenever we want, why be queer?) The drink was indeed pretty and festive, but I couldn’t taste enough strawberry. My aggressive femme partner had a glass of the nerello ($17), an earthy, tannic, dark-colored Sicilian wine that we both adored with her pizza fiamma (sopressata, crushed red chilies, pesto, tomato, and fior di latte mozzarella, $16).

Karen loved her pizza, and I liked it (it would have benefited from a more generous hand with the chilies, but was perfectly satisfying anyhow, like a little Mack truck made of sausage, cheese and tomatoes). The same went for a kale salad enmeshed in a rich Parmesan dressing ($9), also enjoyable to the max but not anything that could make me fall in love. I was falling in love with the evening, though, especially by the time my pasta came. The lesbo-friendly hosts and waitress smiled and winked at our arm-grabbing and knee-knocking in the warm June sunlight, the wine was delicious, and I noticed that the table next to us had a nicoise salad dominated by meaty-looking, blood-red slices of seared tuna (I like those, too) that I wanted to grab and eat.

Then came the bill, with a surprise: they’d comped our drinks because we’d had to wait quite a while for our entrées. I’ve endured far longer waits in restaurants without anything resembling an apology, much less free prosecco.

On our next visit, we took a luxurious, red-banquetted table in the main section, which has a jolly, let’s-eat-and-drink-life-is-short vibe. I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the “assorted crostini” – stick a bunch of stuff on little pieces of toast for $9? – but the chefs proved that sticking some stuff on crisped bread can actually be a matter of talent and even profundity. One had what looked like guacamole (actually, an odd, delicious spread made of sweet peas) underneath thin slices of funky, salami-like Tuscan pecorino cheese. My favorite was the crust with buttery balls of burrata set off with lemon, chili, and marjoram.

Karen’s strozapreti genovese ($16), literally “priest-chokers,” were fat, long, phallic, thickly-braided twists, perfectly shaped to stick on and into the braised-brisket ragú and sublime ball of ricotta that accompanied them. Yes, they were as sexy as fuck. (The glistening brisket sauce and breast-like ricotta helped in this.)

My entrée, however, was the worst thing I’ve been served in a restaurant since 2013. Chicken milanese ($18) came as deep-fried, unpounded, repellently thick ships of chicken breast (the word”cutlet” cannot properly be applied here), that had strangely not been touched by salt, spice, or even lemon. I don’t know if it was a good or bad thing that they served me enough to feed a large family.

An odd thing happened just before my entrée appeared. A handsome, swaggery man in a white silk shirt was walking the room, checking on the needs of the tables – obviously a manager (or perhaps it was the chef, Andrea Taormina, who owns the restaurant with his wife, caterer Rebecca Tory). I asked him for coffee – preferably iced, or if that was unavailable, decaf americano or plain old cappuccino. I basically wanted coffee of any kind. The preening man regrettably thought there was no coffee, especially not iced, but began to flirt heavily with Karen and me. He would, ah, try and see what he could do, but could make no guarantees.

I was surprised when a truly delicious glass of iced coffee turned up. The manager explained that while iced coffee would not have been offered to most diners, he had wanted to make some for me (I was lucky, he said, that the place was beginning brunch service the next day and so some coffee happened to be on hand). I began to wonder if he had recognized me as a reviewer. Or perhaps the dude was just into flirting as a hosting strategy? Still, the vibe at the end – that he was doing a real favor for me and I would owe him – was borderline unpleasant. He was overbearing, yet we also sort of enjoyed him.

Whether Handsome Man was Taormina or not, come and eat at his restaurant. The chef, who was born in Sicily, has also worked as a sommelier, and many of the the wines are little-known finds from southern Europe. All of them are minimally processed. And the place is fun.

Hugo and Sons, 367 Seventh Avenue at 11th St., Park Slope, Brooklyn. The restaurant is one step up from the sidewalk, but a side door provides level though perhaps slightly narrow access. The restroom is wheelchair accessible.

To view this post on Gay City News’ site  and to see my other reviews there, go here.

The Queen’s Phallus

 

Wikipedia

Mut, an ancient Egyptian goddess.

 

You can think of this as a prose poem, or a “lyric essay,” or whatever you like. It was just published by my friends at City Lit Rag.

I first heard the phrase “The Phallic Mother” in college, and it made my heart and liver turn over. Into my hifalutin lit-crit classes it brought the specter of my own scary mother, who in psychic terms possessed the largest phallus on earth when I was a little girl and well into my adulthood.

Yet I also really appreciated hearing the phrase, and felt grateful to the psychoanalytic writers who’d come up with it, because the words “phallic mother” gave voice to a reality all too frequently ignored in our overly-literal culture: mothers could be phallic, women could possess scary (and appealing) authority, and although our culture was sexist to the bone, that did not mean that individual women did not sometimes exert power in a traditionally masculine way over some men, women and children.

In recent years, though, a slightly different phrase has been — appropriately enough — delighting and consuming me. That phrase is The Queen’s Phallus, and I am so occupied with it because I now have a Queen whose phallus is giant, warm and kind as a summer day is long.

They say that bitterness is easier to write about than fulfillment, starving hunger is more beckoning to a song than being satisfied and given-to:

But I will say: Her scepter deep inside me is the sign and emblem of God’s Grace, the register of enjoyment, entry of the lost lamb in the fold, the salmon leaping in the icy jet, the sweet recorder playing in dark wood, the ear of corn resplendent in the cave.

My Dream Man

Black bull

I’ve begun sweating hard on the upper chest and forehead several times a week. It’s only menopause, but I’m imagining I’ve become a transgender man and am suddenly staggering and shaking with the amp-force of testosterone. Women who have actually transitioned into men have said they felt like they were going through a second adolescence, and I feel like that, haggard, hamhanded and stapled into 780 volts of something electric I cannot understand.

Weird pustules popping out on my face. Itchy, literally and figuratively. Bursting out of my skin, like a werewolf. I dreamt I was at a conference and wound up having sex with my roommate at the conference hotel, a fictitious gay male friend. In the dream, he was a kind of gay man who is a sort of icon for me, bearded, curlyheaded, sexy, smart, activist. Teddy-bear-like, and smiling at me from the other queen-size bed. Fiendishly energetic and productive.

My roommate was also gregarious and kind, and our sex was friendly, funny (“Who’d ‘ve thought I’d wind up having sex with you! I haven’t seen a penis since 1980!”) and surprisingly fun.

“But I always knew sex with you would be really, really special.”

So who was this gay man? I was kind of frightened of the dream (I am a lesbian happily married to another woman) and spoke to my therapist about it. She said, “Do your dreams normally come true exactly literally the way it happens in the dream?”

“No.”

My therapist is gnomic — although she does not look like a gnome — she’s short, like me, but not masculine in the slightest, although she’s about 10 years older than me and therefore postmenopausal almost certainly. A crone, by the mythic definition at least. A little frilly —  she likes florals, wears hose — but not a femme fatale either, thank God, because that would terrify me in a psychotherapist.

“I like to think of every character in a dream as being part of the dreamer. Because who else would they be if not you?”

Who would they be?

“My lost brother.” The thought comes to me (I’ve never had a brother in the waking world), and at the same time the dream man looks just a little like my old editor H. who, balding, sweaty and fat but bearded and mustached, could burrow through any obstacle whatsoever with the sheer force of his energy. Let me be perfectly clear about this: I hate H. But when he was my editor I was telling him all the time that he was like a second father to me. (For all my hatred, it was true.) He never seemed particularly pleased to hear it. Still, the man was productive.

The dream man was far nicer and far cuter, but with a similar power as my mentor. The poet Denise Levertov wrote about him once without knowing that was what she was doing:

“the flowerlike
animal perfume
in the god’s curly hair”

My dream guy’s hair denoted animal powers — almost the “animal spirits” of the stock market — a sort of mammalian joy in what was possible, what could be done, in the work that could be accomplished. There was an “agricultural” sense to him, like a Wagyu that longs to plow the field. Brown and Taurean, beaming sweetly under his horns, able to give because so gay and empowered.

Able to love because of the enormous cord of muscle on his chest.

Stamping down the floor.

Tenacious. I have been tenacious but not in as entire a way as this man. Not in as direct a way as this man.

Just seeing my 48-year-old face in the mirror, trying to find a way not to see it simply as fat, exhausted, lined.

His face my face. Not so bloody different. I happen to be a Taurus, too. My hair is naturally brown. I make things I love, and I still love them after I have made them. I love to make love, and I still love my wife after I have made love to her.

“Power becomes you,” my first therapist once said to me. And, though I’m not transgender, I pretty much always have identified as a boy, but a weak boy. A boy of fluff, a boy not as confident as his actual powers would suggest, a boy afraid to use his core of fire. This man in my dream was different not so much by being male, but by being a man.

And indeed now I am faithful, as I never was. For I am not changeable anymore. I am myself all the way through — I know what I am, every piece good and bad, and I will not shatter or crack.

This has nothing to do with the blood no longer soaking my uterus every month, and everything to do with awakening from a delusion.

I find my Self inside me suddenly like a dragon of all genders, flexing its green limbs, coiling and uncoiling wings and legs and slow-raised eyelids, glancing softly at the world. Long eyelashes batting, webbed talons raking the black soil, look of love.

(c) Donna Minkowitz 2012