What the Great Gay Authors Ate


In many cases, gay authors are also aesthetes, and who’d be surprised to learn that they often take an enthusiastic interest in food? (Read about this week’s Big Gay Food Blog here.)

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Even by modern standards, Wilde was flamboyantly “out.” He toured America in velvet knee-breeches and purple frock coats, eating in the country’s finest restaurants, and quipping, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” American-born actress and proto-feminist Elizabeth Robins was a close friend of Wilde’s in London, and of him she noted: “Poke him and he would bleed absinthe and clotted truffles.”

At his homosexuality trial in London, there was testimony that he often partook of expensive meals at the Savoy Hotel, where he was accustomed to paying 16 shillings for a meal of roast chicken and salad for two delivered to his room — which produced an audible gasp from the judge, who could not imagine spending so much for a meal.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Brooklyn poet Walt Whitman would have been quite at home in the current foodie climate of his beloved borough. There was apparently nothing he liked better than rich, fatty meats, causing a friend, the naturalist John Burroughs, to be quite concerned. Apparently Whitman’s unvarying breakfast was a steak or other large cut of meat and a dozen or two oysters.

George Sand (1804-1876)

No one is quite sure of the sexual proclivities of French novelist Aurore Dupin, who courted the disapprobation of her peers by constantly dressing in men’s clothes, taking a male pseudonym (George Sand), and smoking fat stogies in public. She also insisted on living apart from her husband, the Baron Dudevant. She bore him two children, however, suggesting they must have been intimate at some point.

Years later, she famously nursed Frédéric Chopin back to health on the island of Majorca. He apparently detested olive oil, and the smell of pork nauseated him. Ergo, she exercised her culinary skills by preparing a diet of fortifying broths and hot chocolate.


Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

American essayist, poet, and humorist Gertrude Stein was known to be a fan of marijuana brownies. After Stein’s death in 1946, her lover Alice B. Toklas published a cookbook that included the infamous brownie recipe, which itself was quite strange, if you’re used to the packaged variety of brownies. It contained sugar, butter, black peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, dates, figs, almonds, peanuts, and … lots of finely crushed pot.

But Stein also had a dyspeptic side, as evidenced by her famous quote, “A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.”

James Baldwin (1924-1987)

Though often associated with Greenwich Village and Paris, novelist and civil rights activist James Baldwin grew up in Harlem. There he developed a hatred for the corned beef that was a staple of his diet. He later wrote, “My mother fried corned beef, she boiled it, she baked it, she put rice in it, she disguised it in corn bread, she boiled it in soup, she wrapped it in cloth, she beat it with a hammer, she banged it against the wall, she threw it into the ceiling.”

During the period in which he lived in Greenwich Village, before he moved to Paris, he particularly enjoyed dining in restaurants. One of his favorites was El Faro, an obscurely located Spanish tapas bar that still exists at 823 Greenwich Street.

Truman Capote (1924-1984)

Despite his diminutive size, Capote early on developed a reputation as a trencherman. It is said that he helped the chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York develop a recipe for chicken hash that included hollandaise sauce, sherry, and lots and lots of heavy cream — with no potatoes. A midnight buffet that he organized there in 1966 called “The Black and White Ball” featured that same hash, plus a spread of spaghetti Bolognese, scrambled eggs, sausages, pastry, and coffee.