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A Californian conquers the kitchens of ‘MasterChef Spain’

Michael Salazar rejected by his mother because he is gay



Michael Salazar, gay news, Washington Blade
Michael Salazar (Photo courtesy of RTVE)

A chill went through Michael Salazar’s body when, at 16, his mother asked him, without the slightest bit of shame whether he was a “faggot” — not gay or homosexual, but “faggot” — with all the contemptuous charge that this word can contain. The question caught him off guard and he felt himself dying of shame and fear.

“I froze,” Salazar says, 35 years after it happened. “I don’t know where I got courage from and I answered yes. It was then when she told me that I had to leave the house, and that’s it. She didn’t want to have a faggot under her roof.”

This bitter anecdote was heard for the first time by those who follow Spain’s version of MasterChef, a talent show about culinary skills, which began its eighth season this year. Salazar is the first American contestant on the show that airs every Monday on Spanish television. 

Salazar, 51, was born in Costa Rica and moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 7. He grew up in Long Beach, Calif., a city he calls his “hometown.”

An English teacher who is a fan of culinary arts, Salazar decided to try his luck in one of the most popular television competitions in Spain, where he has lived for eight years. He currently lives in Barcelona, close to the sea, with his husband, Fernando. The Blade spoke with him about his past, which is full of discriminatory events, and his present in which he has become a kind of celebrity who motivates many LGBTQ youth every time he appears on screen.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How do you remember life with your family in the U.S.?

SALAZAR: My family life, if you can call it that, was not very loving. Sometimes, I try to remember something fun or something that makes me feel nostalgic and it only comes to mind when the Costa Rican team arrived in Los Angeles to play a soccer game. My mother threw a party with her friends to celebrate, but I don’t remember if she won or who she played against. As a child, I imagined that I was adopted and that someday my real parents would come to take me. I saw the families of my friends as if they were on TV, both love and affection, and made me want to stay and live with them. In those years, my mother did not like the fact that I was such an effeminate child. It was a cultural and religious issue of the time. She once told me that I was the ‘family’s disrepute’. I didn’t know what the phrase meant at the time, but I knew it wasn’t good. I was about 8 or 9 years old, but it stuck with me.

BLADE: What happened after that episode where his mom kicked him out of the home for being gay?

SALAZAR: I will start by reminding you that in the 1980s we were in the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the entire gay community was in a panic. They began to organize very quickly, testing for AIDS, giving psychological help and offering shelters for those who had been kicked out of their homes. Gay and Latino youth experienced more discrimination because our families were very religious and traditional. My friends and I joined a support group organized by the MCC (Metropolitan Community Church) in Long Beach and we were helping to raise funds for people who had lost everything to AIDS. They sent me a ticket with a party invitation and my mom read it. When I arrived home from school, she told me that there was a Christian church that turned “faggots and dykes” into “normal” people, and that they had sent me a letter. She asked me why. At the time, I didn’t really understand what was going on and I didn’t even associate it with the MCC. A chill went through my body. I felt myself dying of shame and fear, because I did not know where the thing was going. I replied that I didn’t know anything about that and it was when she asked me if I was a faggot. I froze, but I don’t know where I got courage from and I answered yes. It was then when she told me that I had to leave the house, and that’s it. She did not want to have a faggot under her roof. So, I asked permission to call my sister to see if she would let me stay at her house. She said yes, but to call her quickly. My sister told me to go (to her) home and that I could stay as long as necessary, but … in a few days she was going to Costa Rica to visit relatives and she didn’t know how long she was going to stay. I promised her that as soon as I found a place to stay, I would leave.

BLADE: How did feeling discriminated against by your own family affect you?

SALAZAR: For many years, I felt guilty and I shouldn’t say that I was gay. But I met such good people who helped me understand that it wasn’t my fault and taught me to love myself. Today, I am a happily married man and I see life with optimism. I know there are things that I will not be able to change, but I do my part to be a better person every day.

BLADE: How much has your life changed since then?

SALAZAR: Having gone through that situation has made me more sensitive to other people who experience any form of discrimination. As a teacher, I instill respect in my students. I understand that there are situations that we cannot change, but what we can do is have a more optimistic view of things. I am a living example that everything can improve in life if you give it a chance. I wish that no other person goes through what I went through, but at the same time, I recognize that it is not so easy. Today, through Instagram, many young people contact me telling me that they identify with my story and that makes me very sad, because I know how bad they have it. I try to encourage them and be patient, everything will improve. Many parents also speak to me, asking how they can help their children who have admitted their orientation. I always tell them that there are support groups, both in person and online, and I encourage them to get in touch with them. I can only advise them from my experiences, however, in these associations they have groups of qualified experts who will help them better than I do.

BLADE: You said that when your mother kicked him out of the house, the California government placed you with a gay father. How different was everything from there?

SALAZAR: The Department of Human Services together with the Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles formed a group called Pink Project, which works to place homeless gay and lesbian youth with gay or lesbian parents because other families almost never understood us. I had to live in Burbank, Calif. The one who welcomed me was one of those angels in my life who treated me with great respect and affection, and although I only stayed at his house for a few months, he left such a positive mark on my life that I dare to say that I am who I am, thanks to him.

BLADE: Have you ever felt discriminated against again?

SALAZAR: Unfortunately, yes. In my case, I have been discriminated against on many occasions for three reasons: For being Hispanic, gay and dark, everything that racists hate. I was very sad at first, because I felt it was the never-ending story. Afterwards I developed a thicker skin and I didn’t let it affect me so much. I am happy with who I am and I have people who love me just the same.

BLADE: And how did you end up living in Spain?

SALAZAR: I was working for a great phone company in Victorville, Calif. I made a lot of money, but at the same time it was very hard and I had a lot of stress. I had no life, I was not happy there, I wanted a change. I started traveling within the continent (North America) and nothing. So, I decided to seek out Europe. I went to London, to Paris and when I got to Madrid I said, “Oh! This is it!” I had an immediate connection to Spain and decided to come live here. That was in 2010 and, by the end of 2012, I was already living here in Barcelona.

BLADE: Why do you like life in Spain?

SALAZAR: Living in Spain is very pleasant. As a Hispanic-American I find many similarities with our culture, but here the history is more preserved and can be seen in its palaces, in its castles, in its streets … in short, in everything around it. Unlike what happened to me in the United States, where I lived to work, here I feel that I work to live, and I live very well. I have a new family and some friends who are like my family too. It is incredible that a country as small as Spain has so much cultural diversity, such as the Basques, the Catalans, the Galicians, the Andalusians … Wherever you go you find something interesting. Also, the people in Spain are very nice and welcoming. It is impossible not to fall in love with this country.

BLADE: However, you also fell in love with your current husband …

SALAZAR: Fernando and I met online. I had already planned to go to Barcelona and, once there, we met. That was at the end of 2012 and since then we started seeing each other almost every day. It was very nice. After a few months, we moved in together. On Aug. 4, 2017, we got legally married here in Barcelona. We have been a couple for eight years and married for three years.

BLADE: Do you feel part of the LGBTQ community in Spain?

SALAZAR: I am openly gay and although I am not involved in LGBTQ organizations today, when I lived in Victorville we founded the High Desert Equality, a group for socio-cultural activities, in February 2009 with some friends. Here in Spain, especially due to lack of time, I do not belong to any organization, but I do not rule out doing it soon.

BLADE: Where does your passion for cooking come from?

SALAZAR: I always liked cooking, but before I only did it more out of necessity than pleasure. For about 15 years now I started to try out new recipes and cook with different mixtures of flavor and textures, but always focusing on the traditional. In my travels — I love to travel — I have learned a lot from different gastronomic cultures and I have always tried to capture them in my dishes. This has given me more breadth when it comes to cooking. I love that my friends enjoy something that I have cooked.

BLADE: Why did you decide to join “MasterChef”?

SALAZAR: The first time I saw “MasterChef” was in 2014 and I liked it, but I couldn’t follow it due to schedule issues. In 2015, I changed my work schedule so I could watch it in full. I was so impressed that I started looking for the recipes they made and practiced them at home. I remember at first I told Fernando that someday I was going to become part of that program. I was very excited just thinking about everything I would learn. Last year, while we were watching the edition of MasterChef Celebrity I saw that they announced MasterChef was still looking for new contestants. I opened the computer and filled out the application. And after a tough selection process, here I am!

BLADE: How have you felt so far in the contest?

SALAZAR: The talent show is very difficult, but I love it. If you ask me if I recommend it, I say 1,000 times yes. Not only because of what you learn, but also because of how all the people on the show treat me: The jury, the production workers, the cameras, the makeup artists, the hair stylists … It has been a wonderful experience.

BLADE: What have been your most difficult moments so far on the show?

SALAZAR: I think that the most difficult thing for me is living with my colleagues. I’ve never been in an environment with people so different from me, and look, I’m from Los Angeles!

BLADE: Do you think that being a foreigner and gay has put you in a different position in relation to your peers?

SALAZAR: Before they selected me among the last 50 contestants, my friends said I would have more opportunities because I was gay and Latino. I almost believed it, but when I saw that in the last tryout the LGBTQ community was already very well represented, I thought, “Will I be selected for being a foreigner?” But they also called other people from different countries like Cuba, Belgium, China, Morocco, so I don’t think being a foreigner or gay had anything to do with it, it was my kitchen. 

Shine Iberia, the production company that produces “MasterChef Spain” and that is part of the international Endemol Shine Group, told the Blade that the inclusion of LGBTQ people in their productions is unequivocal. Successful programs in Spain, such as “MasterChef”or “Maestros de la Costura” in episode after episode promote the visibility and normalization of all groups and of course the LGBTQ community, showing through their talent shows what people are like regardless of their origin or option.

“It is worth noting the recent presence of Michael in this eighth season of MasterChef, a season in which Saray, a transgender Roma woman who has shared kitchens with Michael and the other 15 applicants, has also taken part,” said Shine Iberia.

BLADE: What has the program taught you so far, professionally and personally?

SALAZAR: Thanks to “MasterChef” I am perfecting myself in the things I already did. I am also learning techniques that alone would have been very difficult. Personally, I tell you that now I appreciate more time with my partner and my friends, details that before did not give much importance, now I value them more.

BLADE: How much of its roots are in your dishes?

SALAZAR: A lot. We in California are lucky to have a lot of Mexican influence, which at the same time has a lot to do with Spanish food. In the United States, we grow with a wide variety of foods from all over the world. All that influence has helped me to improvise faster than the rest of my teammates in the different tests.

BLADE: How about the relationship with the judges and the rest of the teammates?

SALAZAR: When we are not taping, you have the opportunity to chat with the judges and for me they are very close and charming people. I personally have gotten along very well with all three, but I must admit that Samantha Vallejo-Nágera has left the best impression on me. As for my colleagues; I have more relationship with Teresa, Adrienne, Sito and Mónica.

BLADE: How do you feel during the taping? What feelings do you experience?

SALAZAR: There is a whirlwind of emotions on and off the set. It is a combination of stress, nerves and adrenaline. I have a better time during the tapings. Everyone treats us very well, from the cleaners to the managers. It is another world! I love it.

Michael Salazar (Photo courtesy of RTVE)

BLADE: How has the Spanish public received it?

SALAZAR: Very good. On social media networks, they do not stop supporting me. Since I came to Spain for the first time as a tourist and until now I have felt at home. The people here are very welcoming and make you feel like one of them. They make me feel very loved.

BLADE: What are your biggest aspirations in the culinary world?

SALAZAR: I have always dreamed of having my own business related to cooking. I thought about setting up a small restaurant that would only be open in the evening. But already with the experience I have I know that the best thing for me would be a catering service. In fact, I am in contact with my colleague Teresa to, in the not too distant future, will be able to start something here in Barcelona. Who knows if in the future it can open a subsidiary in Los Angeles or in Washington, D.C.

BLADE: What would it mean for you to get the “MasterChef Spain” trophy?

SALAZAR: Winning the title of “MasterChef Spain” not only represents money or fame, it is also having achieved one more of my goals. The opportunity to study at the Basque Culinary Center is something you would never have imagined. Everything you could learn and the experience you would gain … it would be great.

BLADE: Have you returned to the United States?

SALAZAR: Yes. Last summer, Fernando and I went for a walk and visited my family and friends. We were in Orlando, San Francisco, Long Beach (of course), Hollywood, Las Vegas, and other cities. We were there for three weeks and, of course, we didn’t have enough time to see everything we wanted. We are thinking of taking another trip through places that we do not know, such as New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Cleveland or New York and many others.

BLADE: What ties do you have with California and the U.S.?

SALAZAR: I have many friends in California with whom we maintain contact and also my host father. In Long Beach, I have an aunt who I love very much. And in Florida I have my sister who I adore. America will always be my home. I am and will continue to be American. I have spoken to my husband that in the future, when we are retired, we could go live in Cocoa Beach. (Fla.).

From right: Michael Salazar with his husband, Fernando Frias, in Los Angeles (Photo courtesy of Michael Salazar)
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Melissa Etheridge shares Q&A in advance of April 26 Tysons tour stop

Rock pioneer finds inspiration in the past — from revisiting old demos to reconnecting with celeb pals like Ellen



Melissa Etheridge brings her ‘One Way Out Tour’ to the D.C. region next week with a show at the new Capital One Hall in Tysons. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

Melissa Etheridge
‘One Way Out Tour’
Tuesday, April 26
Capital One Hall
7750 Capital One Tower Rd.
Tysons, VA
7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55

We caught up with rock legend Melissa Etheridge on April 8 by phone from Snoqualmie, Wash. — it’s about 26 miles east of Seattle —where she was playing the Snoqualmie Casino on her “One Way Out Tour,” which plays our region on Tuesday, April 26. 

It’s named after her latest album, released last fall, which found Etheridge, who’s been out since ’93, revisiting demos from early in her career.

Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: “One Way Out” sounds like such a cool project. Was it all re-recorded stuff of old songs or were some of those vintage takes on the record as well?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: The last two songs, the live songs, were from where? From 2002? OK, but the other songs were newly recorded. 

BLADE: And how many of them did you remember?

ETHERIDGE: You know, when I found them again, they all came back very clearly. And I was like, “Oh, this is — why did I throw that away? That’s weird.” And I really enjoyed, you know, hearing them, they were just old demos. I’d never done full-blown recordings. So I thought, “This is great, I want to do these songs.”

BLADE: We have a relatively new venue you’re going to be playing, Capital One Hall. I’ve only been there once. You excited?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s always fun. I love the D.C.-area crowd. It’s just really, really nice.

BLADE: And how do you decide where you’ll be? Or do you have any say in it? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, it’s not necessarily me. I do have a say in it, in what I want the whole tour to look like. But it is really up to William Morris, my agent, to find the right venue that understands what we need and the kind of atmosphere we’re looking for that and the amount of people and, you know, that sort of thing.

BLADE: Tell me about Etheridge TV. I just wonder, when we were in that acute phase of the pandemic, wasn’t it even remotely tempting to you to just take a break?

ETHERIDGE: No, because since I was 12 years old, I sang all the time for people, like five days a week and it’s just been what I do. And so when it was like, I was looking at a massive, cavernous amount of time that I was going to be home, I still needed a way to pay the bills, so we put our heads together — I’ve got one of the greatest television minds with me, you know, my wife (TV producer Linda Wallem), so I had the space and I had the equipment, and I was like, “Let’s do it.” And it was really fun to learn new things. It was fun to learn about computers and sound and streaming and lights and cameras and all these things that I didn’t know. … I feel a little smarter.

BLADE: When did you start back on the road?

ETHERIDGE: We went out last fall. We went out September, October, right around there. And you know, it was a little different, Now things are things are loosening up … but some places still require masks. But people are starting to get back out and it feels good. It’s not the overwhelming thing that it was a few months ago.

BLADE: And what was it like being on ‘Ellen’ again for her final season?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, I love her. She’s such an old friend. You know, I say that about myself, too. (chuckles) But, you know, she’s just a relationship in my life that I have treasured. We’ve watched each other grow and the changes we’ve made and the successes and what we’ve gone through and I love that she had me on and just it was just a really — she’s a dear friend. And she showed an old photo there, and we both said, “Oh, that was before we were so busy.”

BLADE: Do you talk to her often?

ETHERIDGE: I would say we see each other socially once or twice a year. It just seemed like once we started having children, all my friends from my 20s and 30s when we were not as busy — it just gets harder to stay in touch and life got crazy. 

BLADE: So when you were hanging out back in the day with Ellen and Rosie and everybody, how was it that Brad Pitt was in that group too? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, my girlfriend (Julie Cypher) had been married to Lou Diamond Phillips and we were all very good friends with Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener and Catherine Keener did a movie with Brad, like a movie nobody saw, like Johnny Dangerously or something (1991’s “Johnny Suede”), some really weird movie. So I met Brad before he was terribly famous. He was a part of that group. There was a whole group of all of us that just hung out, and we were all totally different. We were just like young, hungry Hollywood and we’d talk about, “Oh, I had this audition,” or “I went and did this,” and we were just all trying to make it in that town. So we’d get together and have fun. 

BLADE: I was so terribly sorry to hear about Beckett (Etheridge’s son, who died in 2020 at age 21 after struggling with opioid addiction). How are you and the rest of the family, especially (Beckett’s twin) Bailey, dealing with it now?

ETHERIDGE: There are many, many families like us that deal with a loss like that. It just blows a family sideways. But we have a deep love and connection, all of us. We all knew he had a problem and it’s a problem that starts way before he actually passes, so it was not a surprise. So now we’re just living with the missing aspect. You try not to think about what could have been and you try to think about him in a happier place and that he’s out of pain, so that helps us.

BLADE: Had he and Bailey been as close in recent years?

ETHERIDGE: They were very close, but in the last couple of years as he made worse and worse choices, we couldn’t support that, so they were less close, but of course in her heart, it was her brother, he was very dear to her. 

BLADE: Did you watch the Grammys?  Was there anybody you were particularly rooting for?

ETHERIDGE: I watched bits and pieces of it. I had a show that night, so I didn’t get to see the main thing, but I have seen pieces and I just love the crazy diversity and you know, the TikTok people winning stuff, it’s like, “Wow, this is so not the Grammys I remember from the ’80s,” but that was what, 30 years ago? So it’s all good.

BLADE: You were such a perennial favorite back in the day in the best rock female category. Were you pissed when they eliminated it? 

ETHERIDGE: It’s sad because I felt like the criteria they were using to judge what is female rock, they just really dropped the ball. I still think there are some amazing musicians that could be considered, you know, rock, but it feels like we’re having a hard time even defining what rock and roll is now anyway. There’s a whole bunch of strong women out there playing, rocking, you know, playing guitar, being excellent musicians and songwriters. If you can’t call it best rock female, OK, call it something else. 

BLADE: I remember so vividly when you were on the Grammys in 2005, in the midst of chemo, when you sang “Piece of My Heart.” I remember you saying you were wondering how people would react to seeing you bald. Having been through that, any thoughts on the Will/Jada Oscars situation since her baldness, too, was due to a medical condition? 

ETHERIDGE: You know, it’s funny, I did feel a little remembrance of (thinking), “I just hope people don’t make fun of me.” That was kind of the first thing because to go out there bald, that was so different for me as an artist whose hair had kind of defined her. I was thinking, “How am I gonna rock without my hair?” I thought people might make fun of me, but I got over that. I just thought, “Well, if somebody makes fun of me, that just makes them look bad.” So I just walked through it. And you know, it’s hard to draw the line between what’s funny and what’s painful and how to look at something. I feel for all parties involved. 

BLADE: When you go on these cruises, do fans give you some space or do they swarm around the minute you walk out? Is it even enjoyable for you? 

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it is. You know, we did our last one, now we’re doing Etheridge Island, we now have a destination in Mexico, outside of Cancun, it’s just this island that we’re going to that is really fantastic. But I do I make myself available, I don’t run away. When I have to be somewhere, I have a great company we work with called Sixthman that knows how to get me from point A to point B without being bogged down. But I do my make myself available. Everyone gets a picture with me. It’s my work, but I love it. I try to make myself available but also have some time just for myself too.

Melissa Etheridge says slowing down wasn’t an option for her when the pandemic hit. She’s glad to be back on the road now, she says. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

BLADE: You Tweeted a few nights ago about having a tight curfew of just 90 minutes at a casino but then it worked out and you got to do a full set. Why are the curfews so tight at casinos?  

ETHERIDGE: Why do you think? They want people at the tables. Like for tonight, we we settled on 100 minutes. They’re giving me 10 extra minutes. I don’t like it, but in some areas, the only really good venue is a casino, so if you want to reach your folks there, you kind of have to meet them half way. 

BLADE: Yeah, but it seems like in concert halls, the curfews can sometimes be really tight too. Even Madonna got her lights shut off a couple years ago. Of course, she’s notoriously late, but why are they so strict with these things nowadays? 

ETHERIDGE: There are all different situations — concert halls often have union crews that will absolutely shut you down if you go one second over. There are also sound curfews, noise curfews, mostly with outdoor venues, but sometimes indoor as well. They have an agreement with the neighborhood. So you have people in the neighborhood standing by with their phones ready to pounce the minute it goes over one minute, they’re gonna call the police. As a performer, you just realize, “OK, it’s not just about me.” When I don’t have a curfew, I usually land at about two hours and some change. That seems comfortable to everyone. Any longer and I think I’m wearing my audience out. When I’m at a place with a shorter show, I just do my best. 

BLADE: I know you’re a big Chiefs fan. Did you watch that game back in January all the way to the end? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, at the end of it, I was on the floor. My wife was like, “Honey, honey, there’s still 13 seconds,” and I was moaning and sort of getting my feet on the floor and, you know, laying down and throwing a fit. And she’s like, “No, there’s still 13 seconds.” I dragged myself back to the television. And I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wait a minute. Did we just win?” You know, just really crazy, really crazy stuff. … When you’re a fan like that, it’s a ride you can’t fully explain.

BLADE: Are you in a cordial or good place with your exes? Does it get easier when the kids are starting to grow up?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you realize that it’s best for the kids if you can really get along and that any sort of conflict that can’t get resolved, that gets emotional, does no good for anyone. And absolutely, I have, I’ve gotten better at that as the years have gone by.

BLADE: Do you have the slightest inkling yet what the next studio album might be like?

ETHERIDGE: Well, I’ve got some interesting projects that I’m not ready to talk about just yet. But they have to do with my life story. There’s a lot of digging up of my past and really telling the story. So I imagine the next series of music you’ll get from me is going to be very focused on my journey. 

Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)
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New Cranes sommelier brings spirit to wine and sake program

Stewart-Woodruff curates eclectic list for Michelin-starred restaurant



‘I bring my whole self to work,’ says Eric Stewart-Woodruff. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Outfitted in a blue damask dinner jacket with satin lapels and an energetic smile, Eric Stewart-Woodruff carves an impressive figure when chatting about his favorite vintages. Stewart-Woodruff, who’s gay, is the new sommelier at Michelin-starred Cranes in Penn Quarter.

Stewart-Woodruff curates an eclectic wine – and sake – program focusing on pairings with celebrated Chef Pepe Moncayo’s innovative, global flavors. Cranes, which explores intersections of Spanish and Japanese cuisine, opened just before the pandemic, and received a coveted Michelin star in 2021.

Stewart-Woodruff did not start off in the wine industry. In fact, he does not have any formal training in wine. Instead, after a career as a professional photographer, he pivoted to the restaurant industry, where he developed his love of wine. While working for a distributor, he connected with D.C.’s own District Winery. This opportunity allowed him to express his truest self, as a lead tour guide, wine ambassador and sommelier. He credits his identity and personality as his reason for thriving.

“I bring my whole self to work,” he says, “offering a level of humanity and approachability.” 

After the pandemic temporarily shuttered District Winery, Stewart-Woodruff found himself interviewing at Cranes, enamored with Moncayo’s “creative vision,” he says – and was sold. He began in late summer of 2021.

Through his work in hospitality, Stewart-Woodruff notes that the industry can be hetero-male dominated. He has been able to break through by not holding back on his identity.

“I tend to play with expectations of what a sommelier may look or act like,” he says. “I move away from what one may stereotypically look like, but still present like one.”

For him, that means talking about wine and wine education “as if it were gossip,” he says. “I like to view wine like we are at brunch. Wine has personality, it’s performative, and it has stereotypes.” He is seeking to break molds of specific likes and dislikes, exploring the depth that wine has to offer, in the context of the Spanish-Japanese Cranes menu. In fact, he says, Moncayo is supportive of his innovative, certification-less angle. “I become more relatable,” he says.

He also presents original events. He paired with local guest sommelier Andrew Stover (also a gay man) on Tuesday, March 29 for a springtime showcase of specialty rosé wines paired with Moncayo’s dishes. The duo poured tastes of specialty, small-batch wines from Brazil, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Maryland.

Leaning into the innovative spirit, the wine-by-glass list is not split by color. Instead, it is divided into evocative categories. For example, both a chardonnay and a pinot noir fall into the “Elegant, round, and mellow” category.

As a Spanish-Japanese restaurant, Cranes not only possesses an extensive wine cellar, but has consistently expanded its sake program. Sakes by the glass are split into the same exact categories. The very same “Elegant, round, and mellow” list includes Ginjo Nama Genshu and junmai daiginjo.

Stewart-Woodruff explains that wine and sake should be attended to similarly. “Sake is something you can think about like a beer in terms of production but treat like a wine,” he says. Sake is a fermented polished-rice beverage, dating back more than two millennia in Japan.

“Sake has aromatics, texture, body, and finish.” He takes pride in discussing customers’ palate preferences, and turning them onto a specific sake, for their qualities of earthiness, acidity, or others.

“Many people don’t experience sake outside of college or bars. Now, I can be a sommelier for sake, and for the marriage of Eastern and Western cuisine and beverage.” He expresses excitement at being innovative in his sake beverage pairings, occupying a niche space. When discussing both wine and sake, he aims to bring an artistic flair and tour-guide enthusiasm to the table.

Woodruff credits his identity and background for his success. He aims to bring a level of humanity and approachability to what has been a formal, stuffy area. He has high ambitions to portray sake as sophisticated as wine in the customer’s mind, “but it pairs well with Moncayo’s conceptually ambitious menu,” he says.

“Wine and sake are as eclectic as humanity. I want people to accept experiencing wine like the world has accepted me.”

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Legalization trend continues as Nat’l Cannabis Festival kicks off

D.C.’s 420 Week runs April 16-24



National Cannabis Festival (Photo by Doug Van Sant; courtesy NCF)

The sixth annual National Cannabis Festival kicks off in D.C. on April 16 as the nation continues to see advances in legalizing cannabis, particularly for medical uses. 

Just this week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed HB 933 and SB 671, to provide numerous operational improvements to the state’s medical cannabis program, including eliminating the requirement that patients register with the Board of Pharmacy after receiving their written certification from a registered practitioner. 

“These legislative improvements will bring great relief to the thousands of Virginians waiting to access the medical cannabis program,” said JM Pedini, NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML. “We hear from dozens of Virginians each week who are struggling with the registration process and frustrated by the 60-day wait to receive their approval from the Board of Pharmacy,” Pedini added.

There are more than 47,000 program registrants, with an estimated 8,000 applicants still awaiting approval. 

The new laws will take effect July 1. Until that time, patients will still be required to register with the Board of Pharmacy in order to shop at one of the state’s ten operational dispensaries. After July 1, patients who would like to receive a physical card will still have the option to request one by registering with the Board of Pharmacy.

The changes in Virginia law reflect growing support nationwide for reforming marijuana laws. Most Americans favor the enactment of a broad array of legal reforms specific to marijuana policy, according to new nationwide polling data provided by

Specifically, six-in-10 Americans say that “marijuana should be made legal in the United States.” Majorities of Democrats (72 percent) and independents (60 percent) back legalization, while most Republicans (46 percent) do not.

Last week, members of the United States House of Representatives voted 220 to 204 in favor of The MORE Act, which removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act thereby allowing states to legalize cannabis markets free from federal interference. Most Democrats (217) voted for the bill while all but three Republicans voted against it.

A majority of Americans also support amending federal law so that banks and other financial institutions can explicitly partner with state-licensed marijuana businesses. Support for the policy change is strongest among Democrats (66 percent) and weakest among Republicans (38 percent).

Under existing federal law, financial institutions are discouraged from partnering with state-licensed cannabis businesses. According to the most recent financial information provided by the US Treasury Department, only about ten percent of all banks and only about four percent of all credit unions provide services to licensed cannabis-related businesses.

House members have voted on six separate occasions to pass federal legislation (The SAFE Banking Act) to reform this policy, but Senators have never taken any action to advance it in the Upper Chamber. Most recently, House members voted in February to include SAFE Banking provisions in HR 4521: the America COMPETES Act. Senators failed to include similar language in their version of the bill. (Courtesy NORML)

420 Week arrives in D.C.

D.C. is gearing up for a blazing 420 Week, featuring several days of exciting panels, art and community-building events and parties culminating in the National Cannabis Festival on April 23, featuring Wiz Khalifa, Lettuce, Ghostface Killah, Backyard Band, DuPont Brass, Shamans of Sound, Cramer, and more. 

This year, the sixth annual National Cannabis Festival, which celebrates progress on cannabis legalization, is expanding to a full weekend of epic cannabis-related events, including the National Cannabis Policy Summit April 22 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and the National Cannabis Championship, presented by Gentleman Toker and slated for April 24 at Echostage with Slick Rick. The weekend is the capstone of 420 Week, hosted by the National Cannabis Festival organizers in partnership with the Eaton Hotel and DC Brau. The week kicks off on Saturday, April 16, with movie screenings, evening parties, a beer launch and more. Read on for the week’s highlights, courtesy of Festival organizers:

420 Week

Saturday, April 16 – Sunday, April 24 

Eaton Hotel + DC Brau

From the Hemp and Hops Panel and launch of NCF Legalize It! Lager at DC Brau (3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE) on April 16 to the 4/20 Kickback Party featuring Khalifa Kush and panel with artists discussing cannabis’s role in their practice at the Eaton Hotel (1201 K St, NW), 420 Week promises something for everyone with an interest in cannabis culture. Take a tour with Luckie Chucky tours, participate in a “Plantwave Soundbath” and more. Nearly all events are free; RSVP required. Visit for details. 

National Cannabis Policy Summit

Friday, April 22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Join a who’s who of activists, industry pioneers, government leaders, journalists and more for an electric and illuminating day looking at the era’s most pressing cannabis policy challenges and opportunities. U.S. Senate candidate and Civil Rights activist Gary Chambers; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Portland Cannabis Program Manager Dasheeda Dawson; Aamra Ahmad, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and many others will be on hand to discuss environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation, banking legislation, decriminalization and more. Afterward, stay for a reception sponsored by Weedmaps. All events are free; registration is strongly recommended. Visit for details. 

National Cannabis Festival

Saturday, April 23, 12 p.m. 

RFK Festival Grounds

2400 East Capitol St., NE, Lot 8

 The highlight of 420 Week events is the East Coast’s largest ticketed cannabis gathering, which returns to Washington’s RFK Campus with performances from Wiz Khalifa Lettuce, Ghostface Killah and many others. Also on tap: a wide range of exhibitors, five pavilions on topics from wellness to agriculture to education, and a brand-new culinary pavilion featuring top chefs from Maydan, Maketto, Moon Rabbit, as well as the Munchies Zone, with 75 of the region’s most popular food trucks including Peruvian Brothers, Jerk at Nite, Reba’s Funnel Cakes and more. (Note: No THC infused foods are permitted to be sold or sampled at NCF; festival-goers must be 21 and up.) Tickets range from $75-$375 for one or two-day admission to the festival and National Cannabis Championship. Visit

National Cannabis Championship Presented by Gentleman Toker

Sunday, April 24, 12 p.m.

2135 Queens Chapel Rd., NE

Slick Rick and DJ Footwerk are giving festival-goers a sendoff to remember on the final day of 420 Week and the festival weekend, at the National Cannabis Championship at Echostage, new this year. Presented by Gentleman Toker, this awards show and bash celebrates the incredible cannabis cultivation taking place in the Washington area and across the Mid-Atlantic. Expect exhibitors, comedy, munchies, drinks and a chance to chill with some of the biggest names and brands in cannabis cultivation. Tickets are $55. Visit

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