We never forget the ones who got away. Here at QNY, we will occasionally issue a siren’s call to a man or woman who has left the city for other streets, other pleasures, other dreams.
Our first subject is Stephen Roberts who is the fascinating, handsome and legendary Kitchenbeard. The Baad Lamb and I caught up with him a few months ago in San Francisco. Following the interview are some very NSFW (you've been warned) and gorgeous photo portraits of Stephen that clarify only one reason why QNY says “Come home, Kitchenbeard.”
QNY: Tell our QueerNewYork readers about yourself in 100 words. You don't need to count the prepositions.
I get described as intense, intimidating, confounding, handsome and occasionally a sweetie. I often am amazed at how I appear to others because in my head I’m a neurotic clingy mess. As Kitchenbeard, I try to live creatively without boundaries but that is actually more work than it might seem. I’ve reinvented myself many times and will do so again any minute now. In 2002 I went to culinary school and have taught myself some photography skills and am now trying to get away from the boredom of the corporate world and merge my love of food and images. These days I’m trying to learn to love and trust more.
(More, and photos after the jump)
QNY: When did you live in New York City, what neighborhood? What did it feel like to leave?
I moved to NY to be an actor in 1993 and about 10 minutes later realized there were 40 other guys who looked just like me but could sing and dance better than me, so I became a stage manager instead. I lived all over the island of Manhattan from Murray Hill to Avenue D to London Terrace to 109 and Broadway. The twelve years I spent there were the best of my life in many ways and the worst at the same time. By the time I made the choice to leave, I had made so many bad decisions I had painted myself into a corner financially, emotionally and physically. I left excited to start over and rebuild, which I’m happy to say I have.
QNY: How did your stint in culinary school go?
I loved culinary school. Loved it. The immersion in the techniques and the competitive atmosphere was right up my alley. I went through a basic culinary certificate program at the Institute of Culinary Education and the focus was on basic skills and French techniques to get you a job as a line cook. I had my eye on running my own private chef business and often that led me to occasionally having to stand firm in my choices to not work in restaurants after graduation. I ended up working for myself here and there and did work for other catering companies also. But the debts racked up faster than I could have anticipated. Soon I found myself buried under tax and credit card bills totally over $14,000. When I landed in SF I had every intention of continuing to work in food, but there were no jobs at the time that would have helped lessen my debt load. So now I find myself working in a very drab corporate environment while taking pictures of food and throwing elaborate dinner parties in my free time.
QNY: Got a favorite recipe you want to share with QNY?
I sort of made this up as I went along a few months ago, but it came out really good. Keep in mind measurements are approximate at best. If you make this, taste as you go, adjust as needed, make it your own. (Images for this can be found at http://kitchenbeard.livejournal.com/645711.html#cutid1)
The night before, soak 2 cups dry black turtle beans in water.
In the morning, drain beans and add to fresh water and boil for 1 hour.
Drain beans again. Place in bowl of food processor and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400.
Peel and roughly chop 1 large shallot and 4 cloves of garlic. Add to small skillet with two sprigs of thyme and 1 sprig rosemary and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Lightly brown in olive oil.
When just fragrant, wrap in foil (I wrapped the entire pan as matter of convenience but not everyone has a 4' cast iron pan like I do, so do what you need to).
Roast for 20 minutes or until fully fragrant.
Add 1/4 cup fully mixed tahini paste to beans. Juice 1/2 lemon. Add approximately 1/4 cup scallions that have been roughly chopped. Puree till it forms a dry paste.
When the garlic and shallots are done, add to the food processor with two tablespoons of sesame oil and puree again until fully incorporated.
Taste and adjust salt as needed. Goes great with toast and vegetables and on chicken. I've also used it as a garnish in plain old tomato soup.
QNY: Your photography is fascinating and sometimes fearless. Tell us about turning the camera on yourself.
Many years ago I was dating a man who came home one day with nude photos he had posed for. I was mildly threatened by them, wondering why he would need them if he was dating me, and said maybe I should pose for some as well. He flatly forbade it which rather irked me. I marched right out and responded to an AOL ad looking for models and found that I was thrilled by the feeling of exhibitionism and desire I could elicit in other people merely by taking my clothes off. Sometimes they were artistic and other times they were rather blatantly prurient.
Here we are years later and I’m usually on the other side of the camera. After the above mentioned rough patch that lead to my leaving NY, I find it safer to be taking the photos rather than being the subject of them. But I am not comfortable as yet with my own skills in asking others to pose nude for me. Somehow there’s a level of trust and expectation in my head about it. Yet I have no problem achieving my creative goals by taking off my clothes and jumping in front of the camera (often literally jumping to make it into frame for the timer to go off). I am my own best model some times. I’m right there when the idea comes to me and I’m not dealing with anyone else’s personality but my own. I don’t have to worry about feeling like I’m taking advantage of any one’s sexuality because while many of my self portraits are about sex, genitals, erections and cum, I’m the subject and therefore safe to explore it with myself. Do I get a cheap thrill from the photos? Absolutely. Part of me loves posting sexy pictures of myself for others to see. I also have to admit that part of it is I live with two other guys and there’s a cheap thrill of getting caught jerking off in my studio/dining room. Yet I’m also wanting more creatively from myself than your standard Manhunt JO pics. I want to push my own boundaries using my body and my camera as the tool. I'm also enjoying creating a record of my body over the years as I've go through varying levels of physical fitness. Sure, I’d love to find a model to do that exploration with so I can focus on the technical aspect of the shoot, but for now, I’m enjoying being my own model.
What do you miss about NYC? Where do you live now? How does it compare?
What do I miss? Where do I begin? I miss people who walk quickly and with purpose. I miss people showing up on time. I miss the arts scene. I miss the fashion industry. I miss being able to hear 6 languages walking down the sidewalk. I miss people with driving ambition. I miss the pleasure of walking around the city outside in May and June before it gets beastly hot. I miss walking around the city period. I miss real bagels. I miss a reliable public transportation system that has options. I miss foot ball sized egg rolls. I miss Fire Island and Ptown being a couple of hours away. I miss the vibrancy of the city lifting me up and making me feel tall. Now I live in the lower Haight neighborhood. It’s gentrifying slowly and it’s turning into a nice place to live. I had a choice a couple of years ago to live in the Tenderloin for its urban grittiness and I said no because I had that for 12 years in NYC and wanted something different. This blog’s readers would cry if they saw the size of my apartment, my view and then found out what I pay. I’m lucky even by SF standards. I am happier here for many reasons but I am often frustrated by the difference in how things get done here and how I’ve learned to do things in NY. I cannot tell you how tired I am of being told I’m intense and intimidating. I have to say, I’ve worked hard to just create a better quality of life here than I had in NY. I’ve done that and I’ve cleaned up a litany of messes I had created in my last years in NYC. I'm healthier, more financially secure, and I've got some close circles of friends I cherish. For all of that I am grateful. That being said, I do sometimes look at job and apartment listings in NY… just in case.
QNY: Thank you, Stephen. You can tie me up with your cordon bleu and take a picture any day of the week.