Ginger Minj is a drag icon and local legend who is best known worldwide for their time on the hit series “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and its spin-off “All Stars,” but they are much more than that.
This Renaissance Queen is also an actor, appearing in several films including “Dumplin’,” “The Bitch Who Stole Christmas” and last year’s hit “Hocus Pocus 2”; a singer, with three albums released so far; a stand-up comedian, podcaster and now an author, releasing her first book, “Southern Fried Sass: A Queen’s Guide to Cooking, Decorating, and Living Just a Little Extra,” on Nov. 7.
Minj “brings her signature humor and sass to this tongue-in-cheek memoir-cum-life manual-cum-cookbook,” the book’s synopsis reads. “Featuring Ginger’s favorite Southern-inspired recipes, ‘Southern Fried Sass’ showcases some of her most vulnerable and celebratory moments, revealing the most valuable lessons she’s learned after years in drag and the pearls of wisdom she’s gleaned from her grandmother’s personal brand of Southern resilience.”
Minj spoke with Watermark by phone ahead of the book’s release to talk about food, family and more.
WATERMARK: Why did you want to write a book, and why structure it in this way?
Ginger Minj: It encapsulates me as an entertainer because I don’t do just one thing. I kind of dabble in everything, so there would be no way to tell my life story except in that way. When we first sat down to discuss what the book was going to be with the publishing company, they said “OK, just tell us who you are and what you do outside of ‘Drag Race.’” When I started diving into it they were like “Well this could be a lifestyle book, it could be a memoir, it could be a tell-all, it could be a cookbook”; so I said, “why don’t we do all of them?” Then they told me that’s never been done before and they didn’t know if it would work.
I said to them, “how about I go away, I try to structure something for you as a sample and then we’ll see if it works?” We did, they loved it and we dove right in. It took two years to write it because the process was so different than anything else.
It really sounds like something that we haven’t seen before: more than 50 recipes, design tips, stories from your youth and as a drag performer. It feels like a one-stop pot for all.
It really is a beautiful casserole. It sounds daunting when you say it’s part this and part that, and I don’t want people to think that it’s going to be something hard to wrap their heads around. It really flows beautifully and one thing kind of leads into the next.
Food has always been my love language. I’ve learned as I travelled around the world, even when I can’t communicate with somebody, I can learn so much about them and who they are and where they’re from by the food that they share with me.
As a fellow southern-raised gay guy, the set up for this book makes sense to me because you always got the best family stories while your mom or aunt or grandma was cooking in the kitchen.
My grandmother was the one who protected me from the rest of the family because I was so different. Whenever they’d start to pick on me too bad she would whisk me off to the kitchen, then put me up on the stool and I would help her cook.
She told me one day after my sister had outed me at Thanksgiving to the whole family, which the details of the story are in the book — they are funny and they are very, very sad — she told me that she learned a long time ago in her life if you shove their mouths full of love then they don’t have the time to spit out the hate. That’s why we cook the way we do.
She never had a whole lot growing up but her prize possession was her recipe box and when she passed away that got left to me. That’s what kind of kicked off the idea of taking the food I grew up with and the things I’ve collected on my travels and putting them all into one place. But then when I sat down and started going through the recipes I was remembering where I was and what the story was behind each one. And things that I had never heard of before my mom, my sister and my Aunt Glenda Faye were telling me stories. I was learning things about my family that I had never heard in my nearly four decades on this planet. I wanted to sit down and write out all these stories and how they affected me.
How did you decide which recipes to include in the book?
I started by including everything that was my favorite. All the foods that I really love, the foods that I love to make, and then I went to my mom, my sister, my Aunt Glenda Faye and my husband and asked what recipes do you make that you think encompass you as a person? I tried to include those in the stories about them.
When someone picks this book up and takes it home, what is the recipe you would recommend they start with first?
The chicken salad is the easiest and it is so versatile. You can eat it right out of the bowl, you can put it on a sandwich, you can stuff it into mushrooms and bake those. It is different than most chicken salads and there’s some really good stories around it.
And you know as a fellow southern person that growing up in the south every day is a holiday. Southern families will find a way to get together and serve food. There is an entire chapter in the book about the holidays and there is every single recipe you’ll need for a perfect Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. That’s one of things I’m most proud of in the book, you can just open up that chapter, copy everything right out of there and you’ll have the most perfect meal that you’ve ever had for a holiday. And it’s easy.
That’s perfect since we are coming up on the holiday season.
That’s why we wanted to release the book now. My publishers were pushing me to push it out at Pride but to me the holidays are my time, and the holiday season is really when the food is a part of the conversation, so it was important to me to push it out now.
What are some of the most valuable lessons your grandmother taught you?
Along with the one earlier — if you shove their mouths full of love then they don’t have the time to spit out the hate — she taught me that everything you do, whether it’s cooking, performing or doing any kind of job in the world, you just do it with care and love because if you don’t, you’re not gonna get that back and it’s not gonna be worth your time.
Are there stories for your “Drag Race” fans?
There’s so much piping hot tea, as the kids say, for the “Drag Race” fans in there, never-before-heard juicy bits of gossip. Things that have happened in my three seasons, out on tour with the different girls and stuff like that. I’ve been telling everyone that everything from the chicken to the gossip is juicy.
There’s a perfect sweet tea recipe in there, you can do it spiked or unspiked. Mix yourself up a pitcher, sit on the porch and gossip about everybody. That was my grandmother’s favorite thing to do. She would just sit there on her porch and if you sat with her having some tea she would just spill it all for you.
Was grandma’s tea spiked or unspiked?
Well she always had her own pitcher, so if that tells you anything.
What would you like readers of this book to take away knowing about you?
I think even the people in Orlando who have known me for so long, I feel like they only know me on the surface level and I feel like this fills in all the gaps of what made me into me. What brought me to Orlando, what kicked off my career and made me the person that I am today. There’s a lot of dark stuff in there but I only shared it because I wanted people to have the full picture and to understand that even though I’ve done bad stuff and made mistakes I’ve come out of it on the other end as a better person, and they shouldn’t be afraid to do that too.
I’m a little scared about it because it’s the most personal thing that I’ve ever done. I have never shared all of me with the world before. Only the bits and pieces that I’ve wanted to so I’m nervous about it but it’s also very cathartic and liberating to put it out there and let it go.
After “All Stars 6” where I shared that story about my mom giving me my first pair of ruby slippers, when I went back out on tour people were coming up to me sobbing and telling me how that story reflected there’s or they wished it had reflected there’s, and I realized there is such power in sharing your story. It made me feel good that people connected with me and the things that have happened to me on a different level than they have before. So that’s when I decided I was going to put it all out there, warts and all, and I think that it will help a lot of people. It’s also really funny too.
With all your success, what do you think that little kid sitting on the stool in his grandmother’s kitchen could say to you if he could see you today?
I think that little boy would say thank you, because that little boy never felt seen, never felt heard; was honestly told to just sit in the corner and be quiet and don’t embarrass anybody. Now I’m putting that little boy’s story out there into the world for everybody to see and read.
Ginger Minj’s “Southern Fried Sass” releases Nov. 7. Learn more at GingerMinj.com.