Four Years Before Stonewall, ‘The Gay Cookbook’ Showed a Never-Before-Seen Side of Queer Life
In 1965, four years before the Stonewall Uprising, a man named Lou Rand Hogan published The Gay Cookbook, a 280-page book “for that very special man in your life or for the jaded hostess whose soufflés no longer stand on their own.”
Since Hogan (real name Louis Randall) learned to cook on an international cruise line, his book included recipes from around the globe, presented in a humorous, campy style that encouraged gay men to call their local butchers “Butch” and to cook omelets for their one-night-stands.
Born in 1910, Hogan once had an unsuccessful career as a chorus boy in the San Francisco Theatre before becoming a cook on a Matson luxury cruise line, the 500-member steward staff of which had, by his count, 486 “actively gay” men. There, Hogan developed his cooking skills and his camp sensibility, which both appeared in The Gay Cookbook.
When the book came out, media commonly depicted homosexuals as unhappy, immoral outsiders who longed for privacy, hunting the streets for sexual prey or wanting to be cured of their gayness.
Meanwhile gay organizations like the Mattachine Society assured nervous heteros that gay people were indistinguishable from straight folk, shying away from “swish” effeminacy that got gay men labelled as “social deviants.”
The Gay Cookbook came out just after the judicial relaxing of federal obscenity laws that had once forbidden booksellers from shipping any texts promoting “sexual deviance” (including homosexuality). Eager to capitalize on a newly available gay audience, Hogan imagined a world in which gay men happily entertained friends in their own homes.
The book’s cover features a fey, blond man in a floral apron, handkerchief square and dress shoes, one hand dangling a spatula like a cigarette holder and the other holding a T-bone steak from a limp wrist like it was a filthy dishrag. On the backside is a hairy-chested man in a dress.
According to Stephen Vider, a professor who has written an academic study of the book, the cookbook presented French, American, Mexican, South Asian and Hawaiian dishes — “from meat loaf to beef bourguignon, Texas chili to Cantonese chicken, codfish cakes to Wiener schnitzel” — as well as humorous illustrations and lots of sexual innuendo.
The line drawings by the freelance artist David Costain further contributed to the camping (sometimes purely silly) tone of the book. In an illustration for French dressing, Costain depicted Hogan dancing with two men in European corsets and skirts. Next to a paragraph about choosing beef grades, Costain drew Hogan as a matador taming a wild bull. In another the chef literally netted a muscular man in a bathing suit…
The book also overflowed with double entendres and sexual innuendos: “seafood” (sailors), “quickie,” “frenching,” “browning,” “chicken queens,” “crabs,” and “loose ends.” He titled one chapter “what to do with a tough piece of meat,” and warned against soggy canapés: “As you all know too damn well, a limp delicacy is neither pretty nor tasty.”
The book also had its flaws: It purely targeted white gay consumers, presenting people of color as illustrated caricatures. Nevertheless, The Gay Cookbook received unprecedented publicity, was picked up by two mainstream publishers and sold an estimated 10,000–12,000 copies.
While Vider says The Gay Cookbook was the first “targeted to to gay men, presenting an image of what gay life might look like to a larger audience,” it certainly isn’t the only gay cookbook.
These days, there’s also The Men of Fire Island Present Hot Cookin (1994), featuring 250 recipes and “tasteful artistic” nude photos; Cooking With the Bears (2014), featuring 32 recipes and pics of large, hairy gay men; and The Gay Man’s Cookbook: It’s a Way of Life!!! (2011), which features such delicacies as “Boyhood Stew” and “Barebacked Avocado.” Yeesh.
And while not necessarily for gay men only, we can’t forget Natural Harvest: A Collection of Semen-Based Recipes, released nearly a decade ago.
What do you think of the history of The Gay Cookbook? Sound off in the comments.
This article was originally published on August 8, 2020. It has since been updated.