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A cowboy cookout



Chef Chris Trapani serves his best plate of Tex-Mex food with a finishing touch of #purelove for the transgender community

The first mention of the word ‘chef’ and you instantly picture a well-dressed gentleman in a white apron and hat dishing out delicious offerings from the kitchen. But Chef Chris Trapani is unlike any you’ve met. Going beyond the scope of the kitchen with his TransEmpowerment movement as a transgender role-model, the Texas-based culinary artiste is one to look up to for more reasons than what he’s putting on the plate.

Brought to the city by The LaLiT Ashok, Bangalore, as part of a community building initiative and an opportunity to dish out his signature Tex–Mex dishes, Trapani shared his message of #purelove to the city recently.

The first transgender chef to appear on the Food Network scene in the United States over a decade ago, the culinarian has gone beyond the scope of food to also become a beacon of hope to the transgender community.

While touring five cities across the country, in the Bengaluru leg, Trapani, along with The Lalit Food Truck Company Chefs, conducted a skill development workshop for members of the transgender community on how to set up and run a successful food truck and catering business.

“The workshop was awesome!” he exclaims. “I don’t have any more tears though. It’s hard for me to cry. But I felt a lot. There were young people attending. When I was on the Food Network, I never thought about kids watching the show. I had a nine-year-old contact me once. I remember the mother telling me her daughter wanted to transition so I said ‘he can talk to me’. I have had kids from all ages talking to me. If you have the opportunity to say something, you need to be careful what you say and, at the same time, make the most of it.”

Trapani adds: “Hence, the workshop was important so that those attending will know there are places where they will be given a job and be treated equally. There is nothing different about anyone at this table. With so many transgender people being oppressed, depressed and suicidal, I’m happy I could meet them and help them.”

It’s one thing being a chef, another being a role model for a cause. Trapani agrees: “The journey through food has been of tremendous help. Anything in the service industry with creativity, especially food and art, make it easy to channel feelings and emotions in what you do. So, it is no wonder that I found my calling in food.”

Ask him about his uber–cool tattoo on his arm that reads ‘Be Brave, Be Bold, Be Kind, Be Humble’ and the cuisiner replies: “This is how everyone should be. This is our company slogan at ‘Urban Cowboy’, a Southern fusion catering company and food truck in Austin, Texas. I’ve had this since 2012. It represents my character, my personality and I try to instil it in my employees too.”

So how did his journey in food begin? Trapani admits: “It was a bit of an accident since it happened to be my first summer job. Until then, I wanted to be a detective or a cop since I always wanted to help people. I liked the food job so much that I just continued doing it.” Looking back, he confesses he never thought it will bring him this far. “The food found me. In fact, here, everyone makes me feel like I’m Gordon Ramsay. It’s crazy!”

Although on his first visit to the country, the Tex Mex chef affirms he’s really comfortable in India. “I grew up in from New York so I have a lot of Indian friends and some in Texas too. I’ve read Gandhi and Mother Teresa and I’ve known a lot about this nation. It’s interesting to come and see for myself.”

He continues: “The food is an eye-opener. The dishes here are completely different from the same dishes in the US. I can’t wait to try out new recipes in every city. Fusion is starting in India and I noticed that trend picking up here.”

A champion for the cause of transgender equality and rights, the chef says getting along culturally in India is easy, because of growing up in New York. “In fact, I have more cultural friends than people in New York itself because of my travels and the diversity of people I meet. Being a minority in one sense, as a transgender, I relate a lot better. So I can go anywhere, fit in anywhere and feel comfortable anywhere.”

When it comes to his food, he hopes people takeaway that it doesn’t have to be traditional all the time. “It gets boring. You can have fried chicken and mashed potatoes anytime and it remains the same, no matter how differently you cook it. Why not highlight it some other way? Why can’t food be influenced too?” he questions.

Looking ahead, Trapani reveals that he is currently building a wedding venue right now in Texas. “We had a restaurant for a few months last year. I want to set that up permanently in the venue. I also hope to come back to India and help the community here.”

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