Los Angeles-based Nia Lee was raised on the East Coast, primarily in Boston, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC. The Black and Queer culinary artist has always been an ardent student of Black food culture, especially with parents who always flexed their culinary skills when she was growing up. Lee’s father merged his Black southern indigenous cooking with West African foodways, often creating something new and exciting. Whereas their mother was a masterful genius at transmuting Southern soul food cooking into vegan-friendly options. 

In addition to Lee’s family, the Black Food Futurist is also a student of the late culinary anthropologist Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor who penned the book, “Vibration Cooking”. Lee explained, “It’s the idea that when we listen to our intuition, when we listen to plants, when we listen to our ingredients, when listen to the light tap on our shoulder from our ancestral knowing when we’re in the kitchen; we can create food that nourishes not just our body, but our soul, too. Vibration cooking asks us to pay less attention to technique and recipe and more attention to trusting and knowing.”

Nia Lee, founder of Stormé Supper Club (Photo Credit: Maddi Rose Media)
Nia Lee, founder of Stormé Supper Club (Photo Credit: Maddi Rose Media)

Lee’s family and Smart-Grosvenor’s teachings all had a profound effect in sparking their interest in food. “I think that [passion for food] was definitely always there,” they said. “I also think that care is at the root of my work as an artist, organizer, and chef. Care through Black fem, predominantly, domestic labor. That’s how I show out. That’s how I show love.”

And now, Lee spreads that care and love as the founder of the Stormé Supper Club, a safe space specifically for Black Queer nonbinary folx and women. We sat down with them to talk about food, building Queer community in LA, and the lesbian icon who inspired the name of the unique gathering.

Kwin Mosby: When and why did you decide to start the Stormé Supper Club? 

Nia Lee: Honestly, I started it because I didn’t even know where we were at. I didn’t. I was lonely. I moved to LA from the East Coast. And on the East Coast, I feel like I could just stumble into queer community. You know what I mean? Like, I’d be on a train in New York, meet somebody on the train, and end up at their apartment. And then from there, go to a rave. You know what I mean? Like, that’s just how things operate because everything is so squished together.
 I was overwhelmed by the expanse of Los Angeles. It’s huge. Everything is so spread out. And when I would go to West Hollywood – places that are marketed as queer spaces – I would be shocked to find that oftentimes I would be the only Black person there, the only fem there. No shade to our white cis gay friends and community, but I wasn’t finding something that was reflective of my own experience and a place for me to fully exhale. 

So one day, I was like, okay. I don’t know. I’m going to build a table in my yard, and I’m going to make some brunch, and I don’t know, and see if I could find black queer folks. I figured if nobody showed up, well, at least I’d have breakfast for the week. I’ll freeze it and that would be fine. To my surprise though my house was packed with people. Folks were sitting on my floor; folks were spilling out onto my porch and into my side yard. 
 As I looked around, I realized that this was the first time in Los Angeles that I had seen a community that was directly reflective of my own experience. And I remember sort of, like, wrapping on a glass and being like, “Thank you all for coming. Should I keep doing this?” And everyone was like, “Yeah.” That was about four or five years ago.

How many people showed up for the brunch?

I need to let you know… my house is like a tiny 100-year-old bungalow in the middle of the city. It’s tiny, tiny, tiny. And there must have been 25 or 30 people in my little ass house? 

That’s a nice size group for the first gathering.

Yeah… a very nice size. But I expected, like, three people. People were fighting over pancakes and everything else. From there, I just kept it kept it going.

Do you have a specific theme for each Stormé Supper Club event? How often do you have these events?

I offer them quarterly which is great. I think one of the ones that I’m really excited about happened last year and that was a Black Queer Stormé Supper Club wine tasting that was called “Wine and Wonder.” Each of the events, I really pay attention to what’s being asked of me from the community, like, what’s happening in astrology. I know for me and Black Queer world and millennial world here in Los Angeles – Astrology is like another language. They’re like, “Oh, the moon is in Sagittarius. So we need to do this, this, and this.” So, I’m also entrenched in that world and that’s playing a role in how I think about these events. 

I had one that was called “The Ground and Gather” during tourist season. So, what does it mean to ground down into the earth, ground into ourselves, and ground in the community? For “Wine and Wonder,” what does it mean to expand? What does it mean to be curious? What does it mean to think about what’s possible, like, when we engage with the earth in new ways? So, each theme is very specific to what’s being asked of me and the community and then also very specific to the energy that I want to bring to the community overall. 

For people who may not know, can you tell us a little about Stormé DeLarverie and why you decided to name the supper club after the lesbian icon? 

So, when I learned of Stormé, I was just in shock and awe, and in just true admiration of this trailblazer. I wanted to continue to speak her name and bring her name into the current zeitgeist because she played such an important role in Queer history. And unfortunately, a lot of the times, marginalized histories are often lost or just passed down by word-of-mouth, and people and names are forgotten, and I want to make sure that we don’t forget her. 

Something else that I really love about her is how unbelievably expansive she was in her life. So expanding into her gender identity. Like being this badass, drag king who was touring the country with drag queens, like, that is iconic! She was also a fierce protector of the Queer community in New York City. All of those things are definitely energies that I want to bring to the supper club, and I also want to make sure that we continue to speak her name and honor her legacy.

In creating the supper club, you wanted to make sure it was a safe space for Black Queer nonbinary people and or women. So why was that important?  
I feel like there are a lot of spaces for the cisgender gay community here in Los Angeles. So, I just wanted to make sure that there was also a little bit more intention with, specifically the intersection of Black, Queer, gender expansive, femme, and the cis woman community here as well. But that is to say too that I don’t host these events with an iron fist. Folks who come to the community, folks who come to dinners – everybody is welcome!

Are there any specific LGBTQ+-friendly restaurants that you’d recommend Black Queer folx add to their itinerary when visiting LA?

Yeah. I love Obet & Del’s Coffee, a black-owned coffee shop and community center. I really love them. I recommend the Thai Town Latte and my special drink, which is a hot, oat milk, vanilla, latte, with extra vanilla, and half calf because I can’t do whole calf. So that’s what I recommend there. I also love Ubuntu Cafe on Melrose. A friend of mine, Shenarri Freeman, just opened that restaurant… fantastic! It’s a vegan and West African fusion restaurant that has been racking up awards left and right. It’s great! Yeah, those two are special to me.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you like to mention for our LGBTQ+ audience?

I will say that we are looking for collaborators. I would love specifically like a merch collaborator. We’re also looking for additional sponsorship and funding so, you know, I intentionally keep these dinners at reasonable price so that people can experience them. 

For example, we did an eight wine-wine tasting for like $20 which is unheard of in California. So we’re always looking for sponsorship and funding. 

We’re also working on expanding Stormé Supper Club to do events around the country and the world. So imagine a Stormé Supper Club pop-up in DC, Atlanta, and Ghana, you know. So that’s definitely on our hopes and dreams list. We’re working on our programming for 2024. I don’t know if you saw it, but we just got a really amazing feature on Netflix’s High on the Hog, so we’re getting a lot of really great attention there. 

That’s such a great Netflix series and it’s why I reached out to you!

Oh, Amazing!

Nia, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me. I’ll have to check out a Stormé Supper Club event the next time I make it to LA.

Thank you for reaching out. 

For more information about Nia Lee and the Stormé Supper Club, visit their website or follow them on Instagram and X (Twitter).