By Chef Jay Kill | Photo H.N. James
This month, Chef Jay Kill sits down with fellow chef Steph McKay of Sunflower Café. Have questions related to anything and everything Food+Drink? Email them to QAChefJay@focusmidtenn.com.
Has being gay affected your choice to be in the hospitality industry?
Absolutely not! During my training in auto mechanics, I realized it was just “paying to go to school.” I fell in love with cooking and changed to culinary studies, and could not be happier.
What makes you smile at work?
The people. Mainly from the staff. I do not get much interaction with the guests, although when I do, what makes me smile the most is having that connection and the reward hearing that the food makes them happy.
Have you ever felt passed over or held back in your career because of your sexuality?
No. I have (been held back) because of women but not necessarily for being gay. I have tried to stay in small “mom and pop” style restaurants, which may have contributed to that. But the fact is, if anything, (this industry) is more accepting.
What advice can you give to young people wanting to pursue a culinary profession?
Become a doctor! (laughing hard) My advice would be, do it for a while, do not go to a culinary school right out of the gate. Do not spend a lot of money to have someone teach you, go out there and get in the game. It does not matter if it is McDonald’s or the bar around the corner, go out there and cook. If you can do this for 3 years and still love it — and even love it enough to want to learn more -— then go to school.
What do you think your coworkers would say about you as a leader at work?
Hilarious, particular, understanding but strict, for sure. I would like think loving, at the end of the day. I really try to (delve) into each person to find what style (of leadership) motivates them.
Has any work opportunities opened up due to your sexuality?
(Laughing very hard) I got the promotion way before I started dating the owner.
At what point do you say, “I made it!”?
I feel that (it’s) all the little accomplishments, like coming off doing one third more Thanksgiving orders than last
What has been an embarrassing moment during your professional career?
During my first kitchen job, I was standing behind a guy who was using a deep fryer. He dropped the basket into the fryer and hot oil splashed all over me. I ripped off my pants and went running through kitchen. Lately, I had a large shelf of condiments collapse on me and one of my employees found me outside behind the restaurant hosing off my chef pants, while I was standing there only with my shirt and apron on. Guess I have a pants issue.
How do you manage negative comments in the workplace due to being gay?
I am very lucky I am in a gay-friendly place — but frankly, with life, I have grown a bit numb to it. Growing up gay in the south, we kind of get used to those harsh terms that none of
Anything else would you like to share?
I go to bed at night exhausted, sometimes stressed out. But at the end of the day, I have fallen in love with what I do. You cannot find more gratitude in life than that, and more over, I am lucky enough to be in a situation where my entire staff is accepting of me and my other gay staff. I can walk in at work and kiss my girlfriend and no one bats an eye.
There is no better feeling than loving what you do, and getting to go do it and being in love with who you get to look up at every day.
MORE ABOUT SUNFLOWER CAFE
Type of food: Homemade, locally sourced vegetarian dishes.
Address: 2834 Azalea Pl, Nashville, TN 37204
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Order: chownow.com, doordash.com
Phone: (615) 457-2568