Lesbian Chef Deborah VanTrece On Navigating The Pandemic, Racism In Culinary Industry
Award-winning chef Deborah VanTrece is laying it all on the line. The highly-respected chef and owner of “Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours” in West Midtown has had to reinvent the model for her successful soul food restaurant more times than she could have ever imagined in 2020. But during times of uncertainty and stress, clarity is not often far behind–or in VanTrece’s case—the desire to no longer publicly sugarcoat the challenges brought on by the pandemic, and the racism that she and other Black colleagues have endured in professional kitchens long before the pandemic upended the restaurant industry.
VanTrece tells The Reckoning that she grew concerned as reports about a deadly virus impacting China in early 2020 made worldwide news, but she couldn’t imagine at the time the toll it would take on American lives and the industry that has provided her livelihood for over twenty years.
“The minute I heard back in January about issues with this problem in China, I knew then that this could be potentially bad, to the degree of how bad it was going to get, I was not prepared for that,” said VanTrece. “I did think that something could happen. I had no idea how bad it could get, though.”
VanTrece remained optimistic about her ability to keep “Twisted Soul” open during the early days of the pandemic. She got a head start on sanitation efforts by stocking up on essential items like disinfectants before they began flying off shelves, and met with staff to ensure them that the restaurant would adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols to safely remain open so they could continue to earn a paycheck.
“I told my staff at the end of February that I was going to do everything in my power to make sure we’d be okay, that they’d continue to work and that we’d be able to stay open,” said VanTrece. “That was the last week in February. The first week in March hits and that’s when Atlanta started getting hit a little bit. I started to see my reservations drop off severely for the upcoming weekend, and then I started to pay attention to all of the things we’d put in place,” she said.
“We’re cleaning [the restaurant] and being very deliberate so people would feel good about it [dining in]. I’d go in bathrooms after people and realize that my sink is dry, so you’re [customers] not washing your hands. I sat down at the end of a shift on a Sunday, the week after I told them I wouldn’t close, and told them that I can’t keep us safe now.”
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