Quite often, fate has plans for us that we may not realize until it’s staring us in the face. Poppy Tooker – culinary activist, radio and TV personality, author and now the queen of the New Orleans Drag Brunch – learned what fate had in store for her following her successful book on the history of Tujague’s Restaurant. Whether you’ve read Tooker’s book or maybe know a little Tujague’s history, you may have heard of Julian Eltinge, who Newsweek hails as one of the most acclaimed female impersonators of the early 20th century. Tooker credits Eltinge with her new book and her success with her Drag Brunches.
New Orleans Magazine caught up with Tooker to talk about the new book, her life in the drag and brunch world of New Orleans and her connection to CrescentCare.
Q: How did “Drag Queen Brunch” come to existence? What an old straight white woman is doing writing a book about drag queens in New Orleans is a very interesting question. I didn’t write this book. This book was written by other forces in the world.
It’s a book that doesn’t exist in any form anywhere that I can find. It somehow captures the experience of a drag brunch while giving you an up-close personal look at a handful of drag queen profiles in the book and delicious recipes from New Orleans historic and most modern favorite breakfast places. So, it all comes together in this one very beautiful book that I see as being really more of a coffee table book. It’s guaranteed to be a real conversation starter.
Q: How does Juilan Eltinge come into the picture? It wasn’t written because of Julian Eltinge, but it wouldn’t have happened without him [and his ghost] because it was entirely inspired through my work with him.*
Q: How did you become involved with CrescentCare and the NOAids Task Force? Traditionally, [CrescentCare’s] biggest fundraiser is “Dining Out For Life Week.” I first became involved in the NO/Aids Task Force back in the 1980s. The person who the book is dedicated to was in the running to be the first chef to run their “Food For Friends” program when it began. I had friends dying of AIDS. I was there when they delivered those “Food For Friends” meals. It was a very important lifeline and that’s why I’ve always believed in that organization and supported it in any way I could.
Q: Why are the Drag Brunches so important? When the “Tujague’s Cookbook” came out (with mention of Julian Eltinge) my friends at the NO/Aids Task Force said, “great book and why don’t we have a drag brunch?” And I said, “Why don’t we have a drag brunch?” So, we started doing these drag brunches in October of 2015 in honor of Julian Eltinge, our cross-dressing ghost.
We raised over $2,000 for the NO/Aids Taskforce for our “Dining Our For Life.” And that is at all of our brunches. There are a lot of for-profit drag brunches. Mine are not for-profit. Even the drag queens that participate are charitable. The queens who have to get up at 5:00 in the morning to look that good for an 11:00 a.m. brunch.
Q: How did drag queen Vinsantos become a part of the book? I came across Vinsantos because in doing my drag queen profiles again and again, some of the young drag queens in the book mentioned Vinsantos because Vinsantos has been, I think it’s five years now, has been conducting once or twice a year, these drag workshops. Making drag for everyone. Women, men, no matter what your orientation or what your drag is. Vinsantos has put a very definite imprint on the drag scene of today in New Orleans because he’s “drag-uating” all of these new baby drag queens who are regarding drag as a new form of self- expressive art and very, very different from pageant queens and female illusionists.
Now my photographer, Sam Hannah, who worked with me on the book, graciously gave up the cover shot because, as luck, or Julian Eltinge, would have it, Jose Guzman Colon was in town. He’s the photographer whose cover shot that is. Jose lives in San Francisco.
*For more about Poppy, Vinsantos and the ghost of Julian Eltinge view “Persona” online at MyNewOrleans.com.
Born/Raised: New Orleans; Ursuline Academy “lifer”
Favorite TV show: “Steppin’ Out,” I never miss it
Favorite Book: Anything by M.F.K. Fisher
Favorite restaurant: I have such a weakness for Toups South since my recording studio is in housed in the same building. Those cracklins get me every time!
My favorite food is BUTTER! I once saw a lovely little framed piece of embroidery that was a stick of butter with the sentiment “In Hell, there will be no butter!” That keeps me on the straight and narrow!