Chef Art Smith’s Never-ending Pride Parade

Bringing Pride to the World’s Fair, and Spreading a Message of Love One Meal at a Time

As told to Lukas Volger
Photo by Steve Viksjo

My husband Jesus Salgueiro and I are no strangers to Equality. We’ve hosted Equality Illinois, we’ve gone after Chick-fil-A, and when Barilla was nasty, I publicly denounced them and said that I’m not serving Barilla pasta in my restaurants. We hosted a big “Take Hate Off the Plate” party, which was very successful, and then Jesus had a come-to-Jesus conversation with Barilla Pasta owner Guido Barilla, who flew from Milan to meet with us secretly. They came to an understanding and today Barilla International has one of the most important corporate LGBT support networks in any international company — thanks to two great men, a Venezuelan and an Italian who diplomatically agreed that love is love is love.

In 2013, I started throwing the Big Gay Ice Cream Social at South Beach Wine & Food Festival because SOBEWFF is one of the most media-driven food events in the world. It was the first LGBT event ever, ever in their history. And when Equality started moving along, I hosted 101 Gay Weddings there, a mass wedding ceremony for LGBT couples. Then I did 101 Gay Weddings Atlanta at my restaurant Southern Art, because Georgia and Alabama were having challenges. Then Equality was passed in the US, and the following year, 2015, the World’s Fair in Milan took place.

I was speaking to the James Beard Foundation, and I said that in this time for Marriage Equality, it’s really important that we, the United States, be a front-running ambassador for LGBT rights worldwide. Especially at a historic world event like the World’s Fair. So we reached out to the authorities, who had never, in their history, had any recognition of Pride. Mitchell Davis, executive vice president of the Beard Foundation, used his contacts in Milan to get them to recognize it. The State Department connected us with the US Embassy in Italy, and then we connected with the local Italian LGBT groups, who helped us pull off this event.

In this time for Marriage Equality, it’s really important that we, the United States, be a front-running ambassador for LGBT rights worldwide.

So my husband and my chefs and I went to Milan and threw this amazing party on the roof of the US Pavilion with all our flags and all our fabulous music. We brought Tracy Young to perform — she’s one of the foremost lesbian DJ’s in the world, she plays for Madonna. We flew in Ben Cohen, the famous rugby player. Ben’s not gay, but he’s beloved among the gay community for being such a supporter of LGBT people in the fight against bullying. We brought in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Broadway show, to perform, too.

I think we had about a thousand people. We had many, many nations from across the globe there, many from places that have not recognized Equality, but who still attended the party. It was fantastic. As we were celebrating Pride, we’d look over the side and there was Russia. Then we’d look over the other side there was Iran. All these nations who’ve not been able to join Equality.

There are a number of unique factors that allow my husband and me to be global ambassadors for LGBT equality, even in places where one might expect to find hostility or resistance. One, Ms. Winfrey is a beloved international star and I’ve had the privilege and honor to work for her all these years. She’s become a calling card for me. Second, being married to a man named Jesus. People have always been very fascinated with my husband’s name. I remember when we had our big showy wedding at the Lincoln Memorial, which was an act of God to just have it there, and the Park Service kept laughing my lawyer out the door, saying “Chef Art’s marrying Jesus, we don’t really understand that.” Lastly, when we adopted children, that put us on another plane. People love kids. We were the first same-sex couple in the history of the Chicago Diocese to have children baptized in the cathedral. Pope Francis, His Holiness, sent personal handwritten blessings to each child on their baptism. We’ve had the same reaction from the Mormon Church.

Between Oprah, Jesus’s name, children — and then fried chicken, of course — it adds up to “Y’all are welcome!” We don’t get turned down. And thanks to the Obama Administration, to Mrs. Clinton, to Mr. Kerry, and their support for LGBTQ rights worldwide, it’s enabled us to really make LGBT rights part of our diplomatic culinary partnership. From Milan we went to the Baltics to host a big fried chicken potluck for Euro Pride. We continue to work closely with Marielo Castro in her work bringing Equality and transgender rights to Havana. For our last trip we traveled to Azerbaijan, a country not known to be very friendly to LGBT people. And in all these instances, we went together as a gay couple.

Food is love. Food is diplomacy. Anytime we can cook for public figures and well-regarded people, is a tremendous opportunity.

Any world event where nations come together as one, such as the World’s Fair, we’ve got to be there. I always like to use food because I call it a “polite protest”: You feed ’em, they come. You feed ’em, they stay. You keep feeding ’em, and you’re changing things. Food is love. Food is diplomacy. Anytime we can cook for public figures and well-regarded people, is a tremendous opportunity.

Personally, I think that Jesus and I have been given a special and unique opportunity. In times that are tough and may seem not friendly, we’re able to go into places where others may feel afraid, and because of who we are, because we just read as one big family — one delicious one — it gets us into doors. Because of that, it’s important that Jesus and I, and our family, not stop. Even in times when things may seem a bit confusing, it’s up to us to continue.

I’ve taken my mother around the world, to places where others would not go because of their politics. And I’d say to my mother, “What do you see?” And she’d say, “I see beautiful, friendly people.” Exactly. The other stuff is separate. Government is what keeps us together and rules us, but it’s also what separates us. What’s most important is that our humanity join us. There’s not anyone in the world who doesn’t wish for the pursuit of happiness. When you get past all the bullshit, we all just want to be happy, and we all want our families to be happy and feel loved. Simple as that. ///

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Award-winning chef, restaurateur, and author Art Smith previously worked as Oprah’s personal chef. He founded the nonprofit Common Threads, which focuses on teaching children about different cultures through food and art, and Reunion, a non-profit charity that focuses on community renewal projects. He, his husband, and family split their time between Chicago and Miami.

This article appears in Jarry Issue 4: Journeys, shipping now. Click here for more info and to order your copy.