Small town has big city outlookPublished 11:29am Thursday, July 3, 2014
For the second year in a row, I was invited to attend the Whirlpool PRIDE Network’s annual Celebration and fundraiser at the World of Whirlpool in downtown Chicago. For those of you unfamiliar with the corporation’s extensive outreach programs, I am really proud to say that as a native of Southwestern Michigan, Whirlpool Corporation has been named one of the Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality for 10 years in a row. This is an amazing accomplishment for any company, especially one from a small, historically conservative community like ours.
The Pride Celebration benefits the Out Center in Benton Harbor, which is committed to provide support and advocacy for respect, understanding, and nondiscrimination to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied persons and their families in Berrien County, Michigan. This year the PRIDE Network event raised a record $40,000 for the Center!
It’s no surprise this party was such a lucrative endeavor. The World of Whirlpool is a gorgeous space on the top floor of a historic building overlooking the Chicago River. I’ve been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time there shooting cooking videos for eHow.com.
You step out of the elevators to walls of windows with Chicago skyline views, top-of-the-line test kitchens to your right and left as far as you can see. The walls are lined with shelves for rare stand mixers and small kitchen appliances cooks dream of.
At this particular event, they fill the test kitchens with celebrity chefs, designer cocktails and KitchenAid swag silent auction items. They set up a live band on the roof deck, and people from all over come together for the love of food, festivities and equality.
A personal highlight each year is the vegan drag queen Honey LaBronx. Honey has made a name for herself as a vegan chef by using online TV and radio shows to make healthy cooking light, sexy and fun. Her sassy approach is not only memorable but engaging.
Also, her recipes are incredible! The first dish she made us was a gluten free mac and cheese with a cheese sauce made from scratch in minutes. She used coconut milk to evoke the rich and creamy flavor essential to a good mac while keeping it clean.
Honey also shares stories of growing up in a Milwaukee family known for its baking prowess. Like most of us Midwesterners, she grew up watching the women of the family buzz around the kitchen and has close ties to food. It was really fun for me to hear her present the plant-based principles in such a relatable and lighthearted way.
Oh, and the dishes she created were smash hits. I highly encourage you to check out vegandragqueen.com and bigfatveganradio.com for a sample of Honey’s flavor and recipes.
During one of her demos, I looked around at the crowd in this packed luxury space and a huge smile spread across my face. A vegan drag queen doing a cooking demo at a swanky corporate party? It really doesn’t get much more all-encompassing than that.
KitchenAid and Whirlpool have also been so supportive of me in helping to promote veganism, but it is even more touching to see such a large corporation can devote so much time and energy to making all types of people feel welcome. Their support of the Out Center, the LGBT workplace outreach, the alternative lifestyle of veganism, and all of it helps all those who might otherwise feel like complete outsiders have a community to turn to.
It can be hard to come into your own identity in a tight knit community, so thank you to all of you out there who work daily to break down boundaries and expand horizons.
Kat Barry, a St. Joseph, Michigan native, is owner of Kat’s Hot Cakes vegan catering, and co author of “The New Chicago Diner Cookbook: Meat Free Recipes from America’s Veggie Diner.” She also develops recipes for eHow.com, where you can find over 30 of her vegan instructional cooking videos. She is also a certified yoga instructor. Kat currently resides in Chicago, and in her free time she enjoys practicing yoga, sampling local spirits, listening to live music, and getting outdoors. Follow @katshotcakes on twitter. Kat can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.