Gay, Gluten Free and Proud; Meet Chef Vedam Clementi

A Kid In The Closet; A Story As Old As Time

I’ve known I was gay since childhood. I like to say that I came out of the womb and jumped into Mama’s pumps. As a young boy, Mama would dress me in girls’ clothing. I can’t remember if it was her idea or mine, but I do remember feeling right at home in that pink bucket hat and plaid jumper, carrying a red, patent-leather handbag in the crook of my arm.Little Chef Vedam

While Mama and I adored playing dress-up, my father, the patriarch of our conservative, southern family, carried a deep disdain for my love of women’s fashion. A neighbor told me she once saw my father burning a pile of girl’s clothing in the front yard. I don’t hold this memory, but the image of him standing in front of a shiny metallic garbage can, stoking a fire fueled by dainty gloves and elegant dresses, is forever etched into my mind.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I felt completely isolated because of my sexuality. I was not out of the closet and I refused to share my true identity with anyone.

PRIDE: The Beginning Of A Revolution

While I felt no one in the world could relate, there were so many people, throughout so many periods of time who understood the anguish I was experiencing. Dating back centuries, there have been LGBTQ+ individuals spanning all religions, races, and socio-economic classes. Like me, these people had felt forced to hide who they genuinely were; but as we know, you can only bend so long before you break.

On June 28, 1969, patrons of the popular Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, fought back against ongoing police raids at the bar. The protest, led by several prominent figures in the queer communicty, including Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, was the genesis of what we recognize today as PRIDE.

Their actions and the actions of those who followed in their footsteps paved the way for future generations of the LGBTQ+ community.

My First Career

Years before I became the gluten free and fabulous chef I am today, I worked full time as a hairstylist. I earned my cosmetology license in high school and shortly after moved to Richmond, VA to begin my career.

If you’re a male hairstylist, most people assume your gay. Obviously, that’s not a universal truth, however, in my case, it was. While it sounds wild, my first career kept me from continually having to discuss my sexuality each time I met someone new.

While I enjoyed my career as a hairstylist, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was meant to follow a different path. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were of me, Mama, and my Aunt Bet cooking together.

My first memory in the kitchen was standing on a wooden milk crate in front of a wood stove helping Mama and Aunt Bet fry chicken. To us, cooking meant love. I learned at an early age that a good meal has the power to nourish the soul, provide comfort, and make a bad day better, even if just a little bit.

Throughout the years, I would use my culinary talents to make others feel cared for. During my years as a hairstylist, I would host holidays, inviting a motley crew of misfits over for turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and all the fixings. We were all looking to belong, and together, we did.

From Cutting Hair To Cooking Classes

In 2013, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. At the time it was a tough pill to swallow, but it turned out to be the catalyst I needed to change my life and launch the career I had always dreamt of.

After my diagnosis, I turned to cooking. First I started blogging about my experience and sharing my recipes online. People loved it, and who would I be to deprive the people of what they want? Shortly after, I launched my career as a professional chef, wrote a book, Vedam’s Gluten Free & Fabulous – Recipes From A Southern Gay Househusband, and opened Vee Culinary, offering my gluten free personal chef services across the Southeast.

Opening a business is not for the faint of heart. There are unwritten rules I wish I would have known starting out, especially as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Chef-V-and-PrideMy biggest piece of advice for a business owner who is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community is to be authentic to who you are. Your business will not succeed until you are truly committed to being your authentic self, both in private and in the professional world.

Trying to hide who you are is the beginning of the end in this industry, (and I would venture to guess that applies to nearly every other industry as well). Your clients might not understand what you’re hiding, but they will feel like something is being hidden. This makes them cautious, putting their guard up, and searching to take their business elsewhere.

As a gay man living and Georgia, I have dealt with discrimination in the form of microagressions. Whether whispers behind my back (while conveniently in ear shot), or prolonged stares in the grocery store, I know what it’s like to feel like you aren’t wanted or like you don’t belong.

Because of this, I invite people of all colors, creeds, religions, abilities, and ethnicities into my kitchen. If you don’t want to work with me because of my sexual orientation or my cliente, or my inclusivity, I kindly invite you to kiss my ass.

The world can be a cold, dark, and unforgiving place. Times are changing, but there is still so much more that needs to be done in the fight for equality. This PRIDE month,  I invite you to do more than just post a photo in a rainbow t-shirt (although I do love seeing y’all sporting your best PRIDE gear)!

Donate to organizations supporting LGBTQ+ organizations, take a stand when you see our trans brothers and sisters being treated unfairly, and support small businesses owned by LGBTQ+ individuals.

Change requires action, and action requires pride; pride in your community, pride in the obstacles you’ve overcome, and pride in the beautifully authentic and unapologetic person you are.

2 Comments

  1. Angela M Prather

    Thanks for sharing your story Vedam. You are one of the most amazing people I know. I am proud to identity as an Ally to the LGBTQ+ community and even prouder to be my daughter’s mom who finally came out only recently….Love is love…and lord knows we need a ton of it right now…

    Reply
  2. Chef Vedam

    Angela, Thank you so much for your kind and heartfelt words! And knowing you, I am very honored and proud to have you as an ally, a business associate, a friend, and someone that shares my birthday! And yes, Love Love Love! 💟

    Reply

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