Beyoncé or the perfect béchamel? Luxury means different things to different people. For those who prefer world-class dining over a world concert tour (or why not do both?), the Michelin Guide’s coveted stars provide a culinary road map.
Those who make the legendary guide’s cut signify the best of the best: high-end ingredients, innovative cooking techniques, meticulously designed dining rooms, and unparalleled service. In recent years, queer chefs have been rewriting the recipe for success. LGBTQ+ chefs in the restaurant world have become more prominent, causing a seismic shift in how those kitchens are run, making room for more diverse staffing and working environments that prefer mentorship over male toxicity.
Here’s a look at five queer chefs who have made their mark with Michelin-starred restaurants. With more than 30,000 establishments rated over 30 territories worldwide, they rank among the top, proving that queer visibility and fine dining make the perfect pairing.
Dominique Crenn, Atelier Crenn
“I walk the walk, and talk the talk,” Crenn said in a recent interview. “Atelier Crenn is my life and my emotions on the plate. I feel that we can’t truly be ourselves until we share our story.”
Twelve years after opening Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, the acclaimed chef shuttered the restaurant for a month to completely revamp her award-winning menu and dining room. The space now features natural woods, a 25-foot ceiling structure made from paper, and a California-inspired menu showcasing regional, vegetable-forward ingredients. (3 Michelin stars)
Next door at Bar Crenn, which evokes a Tokyo drinking lounge and is packed with albums and stereo equipment, a limited number of guests can experience an interactive meal hosted at the bar or one of the five tables for small bites and craft cocktails.
Rafael Cagali, Da Terra
Originally from São Paolo, Brazil, Cagali culinary pursuits have taken him around the world, from London to Italy and Spain. Cagali opened Da Terra in 2019, drawing inspiration from his heritage and culinary travels.
“It’s a hard industry because of how much you put into the job — it’s a lot of hours, it’s tough mentally, and it’s very masculine,” Cagali said in a recent interview. “There’s always the banter and the little jokes. I always had a tough skin and that helped me through difficult times, along with having the support of family and friends.”
Cagali’s tenacity has resulted in one of London’s most highly coveted reservations, described by The Evening Standard as “a parade of exhilarating dishes.” Served without a menu, 11 courses emerge over the course of three hours, offering a convergence of the chef’s experiences throughout South America and Europe. Past menus have included “humble chicken” with white truffle, Hereford short rib, and a riff on rum baba made with Brazilian cachaça. (2 Michelin stars)
Patrick O’Connell, The Inn at Little Washington
Patrick O’Connell’s career began with a modest catering business in 1974 when he brought French-inspired cuisine to northern Virginia. Four years later, The Inn at Little Washington opened its doors. Over time, O’Connell’s culinary viewpoint — as well as his design asthetic — has been further honed. The style, dubbed “fantality” (a blend of fantasy and reality), attracts worldwide visitors who descend upon the inn for O’Connell’s French-inspired menu and locally sourced farmers and suppliers, including its own farmer-in-residence.
Despite O’Connell’s passion, perfectionism, and critical raves, the openly gay chef and restaurateur faced homophobia in the small town of Washington, Virginia (approximately 90 minutes from DC), but his stalwart commitment has proven successful. Several expansions and countless accolades, including the 2019 James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award, have positioned O’Connell as one of the great American chefs of our generation. (3 Michelin stars)
Niki Nakayama, n/naka
n/naka is one of five elite Los Angeles restaurants that have earned two Michelin stars — and the only one overseen by a lesbian couple. Chef Niki Nakayama and wife/co-chef Carole Iida-Nakayama present kaiseki-style Japanese cuisine in a serene setting that evokes Nakayama’s three-year tour working throughout Japan.
The 13-course menu includes vegetables sourced from the restaurant’s private organic garden, seafood sourced from top purveyors, and a distinct wine and sake menu, featuring rare sakes only recently made available stateside.
Nakayama finds synergy between the authenticity of her cuisine and her life as a queer woman. “Growing up, I always knew I was different,” Nakayama said in an interview. “I often felt ashamed because I was different in a way society frowned upon. If being gay impacted me as a chef, it would have to be that it drove me to try my best to succeed. I always felt that though I cannot change what I am, I can decide who I become.” (2 Michelin stars)
Julia Sedefjian, Baieta
At 21 years old, Julia Sedefdjian became the youngest chef in France to earn a Michelin star at Les Fables de la Fontaine, but she desired even more autonomy and freedom to create dishes that often come to her while she sleeps.
Sedefdjian opened Baieta, located in the 5th arrondissement on Paris’s Left Bank, in January 2018, drawing from her experience growing up in southern France. The name, which means “kiss” in the Niçard dialect, is a love letter to the ingredients that inspire her, proving that an exceptional meal doesn’t need to be exceptionally priced.
“We wanted to create the place where we would want to go when the three of us go out,” Sedefdjian told the New York Times. “Where we can eat well for not too much money, and where we feel at ease, at home.” A four-course menu at 100€ is still a special occasion, but one that feels like a smart splurge. (1 Michelin star)