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Meet the first transgender chef...

Chris Trapani talks about the beauty of transitioning, sexism in the food industry and hear him gossip about Trump!

brunch Updated: Apr 28, 2018 22:58 IST
Farhad J. Dadyburjor
Farhad J. Dadyburjor
Hindustan Times
Chris Tapani,Transgender chef,Chopped
Chris has served the likes of Whitney Houston and Michael J Fox among others

Growing up, Chris Trapani always knew something was not right. “When I was five or six years old, my mom wanted me to wear dresses and I would cry and flip out. As a mom, I guess, you have a little girl and you want to dress her and buy her stuff – and I didn’t want to do it. It just didn’t feel right. And I never wanted any girls’ toys – it was always cars and soldiers for me,” recalls Chris who grew up in Brooklyn.

“The difference, now that I think back, is that the kids today have the Internet, but at the time we didn’t so I didn’t know what was going on and I just thought I was ‘weird’ because I only wanted to play with boys.”

Man trouble

Chris says he became very introverted. “I didn’t want many friends. I just wanted to play with my dad mainly, because I wanted to feel that bond. I also didn’t feel right in school and that was throughout my schooling days.” In fact when he entered middle school, things became harder. “I got picked on more, had fewer friends, hated it more and skipped class. Also, I started to feel other things, like being attracted to girls, and I didn’t know why. I used to go to sleep at night crying because all the other male friends I had, I wasn’t interested in. So I would pray that when I woke up I would be a boy, because this just felt wrong. And I got really depressed because life sucked.”

“[As part of the restaurant business], I always watch how people talk to servers to evaluate them…”

It was only much later when his aunt, who was a lesbian, figured what was going on and sent him to an LGBT resource centre, that Chris’ world completely changed. “But I didn’t transition until I was 30,” he says. “At the time when I was 18 or 19, I started meeting some transpeople. But I still didn’t understand why someone would want to transition. I was always very angry as a person, depressed, because I couldn’t express my emotions… And I could never figure out why. I saw a psychiatrist, tried Zoloft, Prozac and all that stuff. Nothing worked. It was really when my wife (after watching a Cher show) told me ‘you’re a guy, you have no woman qualities’, did I realised what was going on.”

What was the first day like after transitioning? “When I got the surgery, I felt like crap from it but I also felt like a million bucks at the same time. ’Cause I’m lying in bed and I look down and I’m like, this is the best thing that has ever happened!” he laughs.

Chef Chris Trapani has served some high-end catering companies in New York

Behind the kitchen walls

Having worked at high-end catering companies in New York serving the likes of Whitney Houston, Michael J Fox and stars of Sex and the City, Chris also had the displeasure of dealing with Donald Trump. “We did three parties where Trump was invited. He was a jerk then and he’s a bigger jerk now. I always watch how people talk to servers to evaluate them, because that way you can tell if they’re an a**hole. And he was screaming at them, cursing them because one server forgot his Diet Coke. He is selfish and self-centred and I can’t wait until he is gone,” says Chris who moved to Austin, Texas, in 2012 and started his food truck company, Urban Cowboy.

With stories of sexism being rampant in the restaurant industry, has he faced any harassment as a transgender? “I have seen both sides of the spectrum – how men act and behave around women and I also notice how some women act around me – a little timid and submissive – till they get to know me as a person.”

Chris became world famous as the first transgender chef to appear on the Food Network in the show Chopped. How did that experience change his life? “It brought thousands of clicks to my website and more importantly, it got a lot of children to contact me, asking questions about transitioning and what life after it is like. I made them feel braver and encouraged them to be who they wanted to be. That, for me, was inspiring! At first, I was concerned the show ‘outing’ me may be an issue in Texas, but it, in fact, turned out to be beneficial.”

From HT Brunch, April 29, 2018

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First Published: Apr 28, 2018 20:56 IST