By David-Elijah Nahmod, August 2018 Issue.
The kitchen is an intimate place and sharing a meal with someone – whether it’s a family member or a guest from abroad – is said to be a key component to social relationships and cultural rituals.
With most shared meals comes conversation and connections, which is precisely what filmmaker Michael Chernak is tapping into with “Home, A Queer Cooking Series.”
According to the series’ website, homequeercooking.com, “Home is inclusive. Home is about real food. It’s about coming together, taking care of each other and sharing our stories. It seeks to create loving, human and honest images of queer people through something we all do each day. Food brings people together, it’s personal and creates intimacy.”
In one installment we meet Jess, a queer woman of color, a mother and a nurse who lives in Binghamton, N.Y. Jess talks about LadyFest, a community-based, not-for-profit global music and arts festival for feminist and women artists that she’s responsible for bringing more diversity to. Jess then proceeds to her kitchen to make a vegan dish – a loaded sweet potato with vegetable stir fry and tahini sauce – which she says was inspired by a girl she dated recently. In just under five minutes, the episode is over.
In another episode we meet Georgeous Michael, a London-based drag king whose act is inspired by the late George Michael. Michael is then seen in their kitchen, where they share that they also volunteer with and help run Fringe, queer film and arts festival as they bake bread from scratch for a dish called “Boiled eggs and Soldiers,” which reminds them of their dad. This episode lasts just under six minutes.
If there is any criticism of “Home: A Queer Cooking Series,” it’s that episodes are too short. These are only two examples of Chernak leaving his audience hungry for more. Viewers may want to know more about LadyFest and its performers or they may want to see Michael performing on stage. Both subjects, who come across as likable, interesting individuals, are seen all too briefly and give out too little information about themselves and the dishes they create.
And yet, “Home: A Queer Cooking Series” is still enjoyable due to the friendly and welcoming nature of Chernak’s subjects as they invite us into their homes. There’s an intimacy to each episode and a relatable nature to the subjects he’s chosen; these are people who could become our friends.
According to Chernak, that’s precisely his intention for the series.
“I rarely see honest and intimate images of queer people in the media,” Chernak said. “I wish to create honest and intimate images of queer people as a filmmaker documenting the LGBTQ community. Cooking is a very intimate act to do for someone. For me food is always surrounded with memories of friends and loved ones and togetherness.”
Now living in London, the native New Yorker recalled his younger years living upstate with his ex-boyfriend.
“We put on potlucks and dinner parties for our queer hippie friends,” he said. “There weren’t many gay bars or groups in upstate New York to connect with people, so we created a space where we could invite our queer friends, and anyone else we knew, to come and enjoy a meal. The way someone cooks is very telling of a person, whether it’s intentional or not. I always had the most productive and loving conversations with people about queer politics, relationships and love at these dinners.”
Chernak does not appear on camera in the episodes – the subject of each episode is the only person the audience sees – though he says that he has thought of conducting on-camera interviews. He does, however, get to sample the mouth-watering meals his interviewees create.
“I actually sit down and have a meal with the queer people in the episodes,” he said. “We get to know each other throughout this intimate process. A lot of people in the episodes I can now call my friends.”
Additionally, Chernak pointed out, each episode is a collaborative effort between him and his subject.
“We talk about the structure of the narrative for the episode while we are cooking,” he explained. “Everything I edit is seen by the person in the episode before it is posted, so they have freedom to give edits and have freedom to take control of how they are represented in the episodes.”
And when we asked for seconds, Chernak addressed the shortness of the episodes.
“At some point they will become longer, and the new episodes will get a little more in depth with the participants,” he said. “The series is constantly expanding. I try and reach out to people at local events in London. I reach out to people on social media with photos, videos, spotlights of the people who are participating in the episodes. People have helped to lift my project up and get more people to see it. The queer community is very supportive that way.”
“Home, A Queer Cooking Series” is now streaming on Revry, the first-ever global queer streaming service. For more information, episodes and recipes, visit homequeercooking.com.