03Mar2015

The Sweet Taste of Equality

By Salvador Montalvo, Chef

One of my greatest passions in life is the culinary arts. I’m a chef with more than a decade of experience and the thing I enjoy the most about cooking is the possibility to mix flavors, styles and cultures. With food, the diversity of flavors enriches our palates. Just like in our community, and in our labor force, diversity offers us great strength and benefits.

For this reason, I have always made an effort in my professional life about creating an inclusive environment for all employees, including those that identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

Aside from having many friends and family members who are part of the LGBT community, I’ve also had the pleasure of working with many people from the community. In Puerto Rico, 30% of my employees identify as LGBT, and in the four years that I have been supervising them I’ve never had a bad experience. It’s actually been the opposite; they are the most dedicated people to their work, responsible and highly talented.

It’s a shame that in many parts of Florida, a person can be fired just because they are gay. I think that’s wrong, because we are all humans and we should have the same opportunities to grow and better ourselves.

And I don’t think that not treating people fairly is solely an injustice, but it’s also a bad for business. When a person feels that they should hide who they truly are just to keep from being fired, it means not bringing their whole, authentic self to the workplace. This builds negativity that could affect the work environment, and stretched across all workplaces, would also have a huge effect on the local and state economy as well. On top of that, starting a business in a place that doesn’t value all of the labor force equally makes it extremely difficult for employers to find qualified employees.

For these reasons, I’ve always wanted to offer an equal space for all talented people. Right now I’m starting a new project as head chef at La Pata Negra, a Spanish tapas restaurant that will open next month in St. Petersburg, and with this new project I hope to not only offer exciting flavors and fine dining, but also a tolerant and respectful place.
Florida is a state that has transformed a lot due to its diversity and the culinary world is an example of that. And while Hillsborough County recently added protections for LGBT people, in Florida, as with many other states, there are no statewide protections for LGBT people against being fired.

I hope that the sweet taste of equality and respect comes soon to all the corners of our state.

Salvador Montalvo is Puerto Rican, he attended the School of Culinary Arts in Manhattan, New York and is the owner of Puerto Rican food truck, La Guagüita, which has been featured on the Cooking Channel and the Food Network. Soon he will be working as the head chef at La Patanegra restaurant located at 200 Central Ave St. Petersburg, FL, which will open its doors next month.

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