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More Spice, More Skin, More Sparkle, More…MORE!

Queen of Pride and budding food-world star Juanita More lays out her recipe for a most fabulous, and mostly clothed, house party.

SLIDESHOW

Juanita More.

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More in her kitchen.

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More’s dog, Jackson, assesses the harissa shrimp.

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The hostess consults with her waitstaff.

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Gougères with bacon and pickled red onions.

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More in her floral regalia.

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Govi mingles with Sui Generis co-owner Gabriel Yañez and Hi Tops co-owner Dana Gleim.

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A squash blossom quesadilla.

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Govi pours libations for (from left) Sui Generis co-owner Miguel Lopez, MAC co-owner Ben Ospital, and Yañez as MAC co-owner Chris Ospital chats with More.

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Editor's note: This is one of many stories about LGBTQ life in the Bay Area that San Francisco is publishing over the next month, all part of the June 2016 Pride Issue. To peruse the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here.

 

“My friends bought me this,” says Juanita More, gesturing toward the stove that sits in the heart of her kitchen, a pint-size space cluttered with spices, cookbooks, Heath platters, chef’s knives, and pots and pans. More, who is dressed in a mid-’50s-inspired floral cocktail dress that would suit Rita Moreno on steroids, pats her towering honey-blond wig, adjusts her chunky silver necklace, and starts slicing biscuits. “My old stove broke down, and the management company replaced it with a Barbie-doll version. I screamed and tweeted a pic of it,” she says, her one-and-a-half-inch false eyelashes embellishing her horror. “Literally the next day, someone started a GoFundMe.” 

Thanks to her adoring fans, More now has a nice, if modest, Home Depot stove and oven that—most critically—fits her roasting pans, which in the past 24 hours have been used to roast beets for pickled-beet toast with ricotta and beet-green salsa verde; to cook beef fillet for mini-sandwiches; to puff up gougères with bacon and pickled red onions; and to grill harissa shrimp with chermoula and preserved lemon. They’re but a few of the dishes More has whipped up for a small cocktail soiree to honor some of the closest supporters of the Juanita MORE! Pride Party, the annual fête-cum-fundraiser that More has thrown since 2004. Twelve years in the running, it remains the hottest Pride ticket in town; last year it raised upward of $67,000 for the Youth Empowerment Summit. Tonight’s intimate guest list reflects the breadth of its hostess’s connections: The owners of the boutiques MAC, Sui Generis, and Unionmade are here, as are Erich Pearson, the proprietor of the high-end cannabis dispensary Sparc, and Joaquin Castillo, a board member of Queer Life Space, the beneficiary of this year’s Pride party.

More’s larger-than-life plumage makes her Tenderloin studio apartment appear even smaller than it is, but the lack of real estate hasn’t deterred her from hosting countless parties since she moved in to her Tenderloin apartment 24 years ago. The offspring of a Mexican American mother and a Puerto Rican father, More—who also blogs about food on her website, Juanita Eats Out—used to crank out hundreds of tamales from her little pad and invite people to come and get them for $30 a dozen. “There was a line from my kitchen door all the way down the hallway,” she says. “It was crazy. People brought coolers!”

More is arguably the perfect distillation of two of the city’s hallowed tribes, gays and gastronomes: a flamboyant, philanthropic drag queen as revered for performing Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” while smoking a rocket-size blunt at the Stud as she is for throwing sophisticated but simple California-style dinner parties in the key of Alice Waters. Her food blog manages to weave these disparate facets of her life together: In one entry, she demos a gorgeous raspberry tart made with blood orange curd; in another, she posts Monsanto brands to boycott. And then, of course, there’s a pic of a young, cute, and very naked man doing dishes in her kitchen. 

For tonight’s event, More has enlisted the help of her friend Cory Armenta, the chef of Hecho, a Mexican restaurant in the Castro. They’ve set up an array of carrot hummus, a cheese selection that includes Humboldt Fog and Brillat-Savarin, and a spicy turnip spread with orange that More, who used to work in restaurant kitchens, describes as “just something I came up with today.” A bouquet of red Icelandic poppies and carnations towers over everything; it was designed by Maria Vella, a florist at Bomarzo Floral Design, to match More’s dress. You could almost mistake the scene for a wedding shower, at least until you meet Govi, a 6-foot-3-inch 25-year-old wearing nothing but an apron, a jock strap, some tribal tattoos, and a pair of stilettos. He’s here to serve drinks and hors d’oeuvres. “Next week, Juanita is going to dress me in drag for my first time for Power Blouse,” he says, referring to More’s monthly party where men have their drag debut.

“For some reason, young men flock to me,” More says of Govi as he pours her a glass of summer sangria spiked with wild peach liqueur. “I have three generations of them—some are even retired. Maybe it’s because I love everybody, but I’ve become mother—or drag-ma—to many. Guys often need someone to lend an ear and give advice.”

One imagines that More’s advice would be solid. Despite her dazzling getup—which starts with “shaving [her] tits” and ends two hours later with an application of press-on nails and a quick selfie before she heads out the door—her actual personality registers nowhere on the Real Housewives Richter scale. She keeps a framed photograph of her great-grandparents a few yards from her bed and speaks warmly of her coming-of-age days in queer San Francisco in the late ’70s, as well as of the remarkably accepting parents who raised her in Fremont. “My dad, who worked as admin for a cable company, saw neither color nor religion,” she says. “I remember him even coming to the Stud to see my show. He told me that I looked like his cousins,” she says, beaming. “I was like, ‘Oh, they’re so fashionable!’”

When she’s not in drag, More prefers her life to be “quiet and simple,” which is why she didn’t want to give her real name for this story. Her mother, she says, was also “super-private.” But, she adds, “when she walked into the room, everyone said, ‘The party has started!’” The apple, it seems, doesn’t fall far from the tree.
 

On Getting Naked
In addition to her Pride party, More is known for the naked dinner parties she hosts in her apartment. Started in part to help her friends in the gay community conquer some body image issues, they literally strip everyone of their facade. “Of course, there are moments when someone gets a little… excited,” More says with a wink. “But it’s not an orgy. Everyone always thinks it’s more scandalous than it is.”

On Music
“When I am planning music for a party, I like to approach it like a soundtrack to a movie—it’s got to have a story. I’m a huge fan of jazz standards, bossa nova, show tunes, and old soul. For a dinner party, my ‘mix tape’ includes Astrud Gilberto, Nino Rota, the song ‘Maleah’ by Les McCann, Frank Sinatra, Sérgio Mendes, and Marvin Gaye.”

On Rainbows
“I’m always happy to see a rainbow flag and what it symbolizes for the LGBT community—it’s a welcoming sign. Plus, I’m a gal who loves fire colors and am constantly drawn to them. I must have over 200 fuchsia-colored dresses!”

On Makeup
“For a nighttime event, you’ll want contouring powders—you’ll need a little extra highlight to sparkle. Second, you need lipstick that stays in place, for eating or kissing someone! Third, invest in a beautiful compact with a big mirror. And don’t be shy about taking it out at the table to check yourself—people get drawn in to the idea of the glamour you’ve created.”

 

Juanita More! Pride Party
June 26, noon–10 p.m.
Jones, 620 Jones St. (near Geary St.)
415-496-6858


Originally published in the June issue of
San Francisco

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