Lucy Belle LeMay has strict rules in her kitchen. Meals should be made from scratch, meaning “You scratch it out of the box,” she explains. Spam is good, especially on the grill or served on a toothpick with tomato and cheese. Most importantly, whether it’s a Jell-O shot or a specialty cocktail, the drink pairing is just as vital to the meal as the food. “Us girls in Beaver Pond do like our vodka,” Lucy Belle says.
Dressed in an electric blue, above-the knee halter dress draped with a sash reading “Miss Beaver Pond, Vt.,” Lucy Belle is an uncommon addition to the growing world of Vermont food bloggers. While she may post from the fictional Hot Damn Trailer Park of Beaver Pond, her recipes are more likely to be tested in the refined, country-style kitchen belonging to Johnnie McLaughlin, a member of Burlington drag collective the House of LeMay.
When he’s not in character as Lucy Belle, McLaughlin works for the Visiting Nurse Association. He shares his home in the South End of Burlington with Mathew Viens, an assistant attorney general, and two friendly boxer dogs, Franklin and Maddy, who aren’t entirely comfortable with McLaughlin’s alter ego. “Franklin doesn’t like that big redhead comin’ out of the basement,” McLaughlin says of his downstairs ritual of doing Lucy Belle’s makeup and donning a massive wig.
When Seven Days visits, the transformation is already complete. Lucy Belle is camped out at her computer, flanked by vintage rolling pins and an American Heritage Dictionary, in her combination kitchen and office. She types furiously into the template for the House of LeMay blog, which she writes with Amber LeMay, aka Bob Bolyard. The other founding member of the troupe, Margaurite LeMay — or Michael Hayes — seldom contributes to the Daysies-winning blog, which nets close to 1500 hits a day.
While Lucy Belle is currently working on a not-so-appetizing post — a comedic video about bed-bug prevention — she’s also baking cupcakes for the blog’s latest feature, “Bitchin’ in the Kitchen.” The House of LeMay’s new involvement in the Vermont food scene doesn’t stop with the blog. The troupe is also sponsoring — and lending its presence to — the state’s first gay food festival, Northern Decadence Vermont, which kicks off on September 9.
Back on June 29, a new tag appeared on the five-year-old LeMay blog: “drag queen cooking.” Since then, Lucy Belle, who calls herself a “foreign exchange student” from Mississippi, has posted a new recipe weekly. She took one week off for an August trip to Provincetown, where she promoted the LeMays’ “Ask Some Drag Queens” Magic-8-Ball-style smartphone app.
In McLaughlin’s home, decorated with dog-centric antiques, a light scent of peaches from a Bellini-scented candle fills the air. The peachy touch suits the Southern-fried recipes, and literary style, of “Bitchin’ in the Kitchen.” “It goes all the way back to Grandma Edna St. Vincent LeMay,” says Lucy Belle, outlining her family culinary history. “Us girls were always in the kitchen, and the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. A lot of [recipes on the blog] are her recipes with a little Southern twist throwed in.”
The Southern inflection means Lucy Belle makes liberal use of pecans, which she has “throwed” into her Shelburne Vineyard-inspired grape salad and used to top her cupcakes. It can also mean “a little bourbon.” Just a little? “The LeMays’ ‘little’ is more than most people’s,” confides Lucy Belle with a mischievous grin.
She asks her visitor to photograph her as she removes her cupcakes, made from a Pillsbury Moist Supreme Golden Butter Recipe mix, from the oven. Of course, Lucy Belle has added her own touch of mini chocolate chips. She usually photographs herself through all the steps of preparing her dishes.
Lucy Belle’s simple recipes are gaining a following; she says feedback on her pesto has been particularly favorable. The LeMays’ webmaster and photographer, Russell Dreher of New York-based company RJD Productions, says he recently tried the recipe, which uses toasted pecans instead of pine nuts, judged it “quite good” and planned to survive on it through Hurricane Irene.
In her post, Lucy Belle recommends buying basil for the pesto at the local farmers market, but hers came from her stunning backyard garden. All stonework and flowers, it’s an oasis for the household that also provides inspiration for recipes. The zucchini-and-tomato gazpacho resulted from a glut of the two vegetables, which still fill a bowl in the kitchen, along with habaneros that Lucy Belle grows out back and adds to pasta sauce, turnip greens and collard greens for a hint of fire.
When the cupcakes have cooled, Lucy Belle is ready to frost them, once again with a Pillsbury preparation, in both chocolate and vanilla. Some she tops simply with sprinkles or her signature toasted pecans. Others are festooned with chopped bacon in a show of support for the “BPPBPPP (Beaver Pond Pork By-product Processing Plant),” maintains Lucy Belle. She remarks that the vanilla, chocolate and bacon combo reminds her of childhood breakfasts in Mississippi that consisted of chocolate-chip pancakes with a side of bacon.
Cupcakes are on the Mississippi belle’s mind in anticipation of the Decadent Cupcake Competition, part of Northern Decadence Vermont, an inaugural event that spearheads Gov. Peter Shumlin’s initiative to increase GLBT tourism in the state. The House of LeMay is a sponsor, as is Seven Days. (Disclosure: This reporter will be a judge at the cupcake competition.)
Northern Decadence’s organizer, Willie Docto, is president and treasurer of the Vermont Gay Tourism Association and co-owner of Moose Meadow Lodge in Waterbury. To aid in the viral marketing of his gay food festival, Docto enlisted the House of LeMay to film a web video parodying the classic grape-stomping episode of “I Love Lucy.” (That oenophilic free-for-all can be viewed on the Northern Decadence website, Facebook or YouTube.)
The LeMays will also board the Spirit of Ethan Allen III for a Midnight Culinary Cruise on September 9, the event that kicks off Northern Decadence Vermont with tastings from nearly 20 restaurants, including Das Bierhaus, Salt and Marsala Salsa. The following day, Hilton Burlington will host a food festival, along with an art show, tourism expo and silent auction. The cupcake competition to be judged that day is open only to amateurs, though Docto says some of the competitors are New England Culinary Institute students. As a sponsor, Lucy Belle says it wouldn’t be fair for her to enter, though she has concocted a “very special recipe” just in case.
The LeMays’ participation in the event is just one way they volunteer their time. On August 20, all three gals hosted a benefit brunch for Vermont CARES at Leunig’s Bistro, a favorite LeMay haunt. A portion of the proceeds from their phone app go to I’m Too Young for This! Cancer Foundation in honor of survivor Dreher.
According to Lucy Belle, even “Bitchin’ in the Kitchen” has altruism at its heart: “In Beaver Pond, we always like to help people out.
“Not a lot of people would consider me a Martha Stewart, but if they like my recipes, I’ll consider expanding,” she says. She may even start sharing instructions for full meals, with components such as her beloved grits. What more could fans want from their favorite Southern drag queen cooking blog?