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Chefs to Throw Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table in NYC to Protest MS Law

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John Currence, Kelly English
John Currence, Kelly English
photo left; photo right

Chefs John Currence (City Grocery, Oxford, MS), Art Smith (Table Fifty-Two, Chicago, IL), and Kelly English (Restaurant Iris, Memphis, TN) are hosting a dinner in New York City called the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table in protest of controversial new law in Mississippi. As the New York Times writes, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act "allows businesses legal leeway in dealing with customers if doing so would put a substantial burden on their religious beliefs." Since the law, which takes effect in July, is very open-ended, the NYT notes that people including Currence "contend the law could lead to discrimination by businesses who don't want to serve gays and lesbians, Muslims or others."

The dinner will take place on June 13, on the eve of the 35th Annual Mississippi Picnic in Central Park. Chef Art Smith tells the NYT, "It's polite Southern activism with food, which is a magic way to bring people together." The chefs have paired up with Manhattan's City Grit, and according to its website, the dinner will feature a "unique menu of traditional – yet progressive, modern and open-minded – southern fare." Also participating in the event are chef and author Bill Smith, "Southern cooking personality" Virginia Willis, and Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff, the duo behind NYC's Big Gay Ice Cream.

The NYT notes that the chefs have invited Marlo Dorsey, the chief Marketing officer of the Mississippi Development authority, as well as Mississippi governor Phil Bryant, but "neither has agreed to attend." Chef Kelly English — who protested a similar bill in Tennessee — came up with the idea for the dinner. A pizzeria in Arizona, where there is a similar bill, did not hold a protest dinner but instead fought back by refusing service to state legislators. Proceeds from the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table will go to "gay and lesbian groups on college campuses" across Mississippi.

· Mississippi Chefs to Protest State Law on the Eve of Annual Picnic [NYT]
· John Currence, Kelly English and Art Smith Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table Dinner [City Grit]
· All Protest Coverage on Eater [-E-]