Cooking is usually an isolated occupation. Save the Rachael Rays and Paula Deens of the TV world, most culinary endeavors involve a chef – possibly with their team – tucked away in a kitchen, dishing out plates to be enjoyed by diners whose faces they’ll never see.
Chef Stef doesn’t work that way.
Professionally trained to cook, but personally suited to entertain, she has combined her people skills with her love of a good meal to create Asiatic Acoustics, a mobile dinner theater that offers a high-end dining and entertainment experience – not just something to eat.
“What’s hot about me is wherever I’m at, when you walk in, you see me,” she says. “I’m in my chef attire, behind my chef station, and I’m starting to fire foods. I’m very visible – you can’t miss me.”
Her boisterous laugh and open demeanor suggest that even though you’ve never met, you’re already friends with Chef Stef. And you’ll see her everywhere: Asiatic Acoustics has performed (not cooked) at Affirmations, Club 9, Detroit’s Jazz Cafe, Hamtramck’s Composite Hall and many other locations in metro Detroit and beyond. She chefs weddings, fundraisers and events on request. Recently, she’s held shows at the Clark Lofts in Detroit for Mother’s Day and Memorial Day.
The shows are always all-encompassing and changing, ranging from a low-key night of jazz and Creole food to poetry readings, plays, independent films and music from every genre – all with a food and beverage pairing created uniquely to match the mood of the evening.
While most chefs have a specialty, Chef Stef’s uniqueness is in her ability to morph to a situation. A one-woman meal-maker, she concentrated on wellness and sustainability in culinary school – meaning she can cook a mean vegan meal. However, she describes herself as “carnivorous as hell,” and focuses on learning different cuisines in the regions they originated – meaning her Tex-Mex or her jambalaya are as authentic as taking a trip down south.
That mentality of trying and learning new cuisines, she says, is what makes her stand out. “Just like technologies developing, I think it’s really important for people to merge outside of their comfort zone,” she says. “When you become territorial, you’re not only losing money, but you’re also becoming secular in the only way you feel you’re good. For me, it’s hypocrisy to say I want diversity in my venue wherever I go, but then I’m still choosy about what I want to feed you.”
To Chef Stef, cooking is all about bringing people together from varied races, backgrounds and lifestyles. When she chefs at straight venues, she encourages her gay friends to attend. When she plays at gay venues, she tries to lure attendees out of their own comfort zones into experiencing new flavors, new dishes and, ultimately, new cultures.
“Asiatic acoustics is community-based. It’s not about me – it’s about we,” she explains. “I think because the economy is so tight, it’s imperative that we come together collectively – put aside all the isms, all the crap – and say, ‘How can we collectively shine?’ I’ve always believed in that.”
As such, Chef Stef has never been shy about her sexuality, even in a male-dominated industry with straight-dominated restaurants. She believes being out shows that gays can do anything just as well.
“A lot of us are still in the closet in our professions. I am not,” she emphasizes with a laugh. “I am so out, because it’s important to know that it’s not all about sex. I’m a human being, I’m very intelligent, I’m very educated and it’s indicative of the fact that we are a talented people.”
But though proving herself as a lesbian in her field has been crucial to her survival in a tough business, Chef Stef’s goal is to bring her skills back home to the LGBT community in a permanent location. “I’ve always wanted to be an executive chef working in the gay community,” she confesses. “Why? Because we don’t have enough spots that are high-end for us to go to. We have to make concessions to go to heterosexual venues.”
“We need a venue for us,” Chef Stef adds, and she is ready to make it happen.