Obituary: Michael Taylor / Skilled chef with passion for civil rights
Jan. 3, 1976 - Jan. 6, 2017
January 11, 2017 12:00 AM
By Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Michael Taylor’s passions for food and civil rights were clear to most people who knew him.
Occasionally, they overlapped.
“I think food is a good way to be a revolutionary if you need to be,” he said during an interview last year with Conflict Kitchen, as it prepared for an event featuring African-American cuisine.
Mr. Taylor, 41, died Friday of a heart condition, shocking friends and family members, who said it had previously been undiagnosed.
Locally, Mr. Taylor earned a reputation as a kind chef with a keen interest in mentoring younger employees. He recently advocated for higher wages for people working in hospitality, according to his mother, Celeste Taylor, herself a civil rights advocate.
“He just saw himself coming into a place in life where he could really push to be helpful for younger people that were in hospitality,” Ms. Taylor said.
Ms. Taylor said she and her son were planning to protest the inauguration Jan. 20 of President-elect Donald Trump and to participate in the Women’s March the next day. He’d grown up around marches, she said.
Mr. Taylor was raised as a Quaker, and that continued to play a large role in his life, his mother said. He spent time in a rock band and wrote poetry. He also enjoyed spending time with his two sons, DeVaughn and Damian.
As a child, he saw his mother and grandmother cook often. His passion for cooking continued as he grew older, studied cooking and worked at various restaurants in the Pittsburgh area.
He had one signature dish: “The jerk chicken was magical,” his mother said.
The staff at Conflict Kitchen, where Mr. Taylor recently worked, was preparing his jerk chicken for a memorial service.
Dawn Weleski, co-director of Conflict Kitchen, remembered him as a humble mentor with a skill for blending constructive instructions with compliments.
Sophia Garbos, 22, who worked with him at Conflict Kitchen, said Mr. Taylor “held people accountable while at the same time being very patient.”
“It was always nice to look at the schedule and see that I was working with him, because I knew that it was going to be a pleasant experience,” she said.
Kate Romane, who worked with Mr. Taylor at the recently closed E2 restaurant in Highland Park, remembered him as a skilled chef who could move about the kitchen with ease. But he was also fun to talk to after work, she said, noting that he had a “wonderful perspective.”
In addition to his mother and children, Mr. Taylor is survived by his father, Michael Cain; his former wife, Renee See-Taylor; his stepfather, Charles H. McCurdy; and three brothers, Chuck McCurdy, Hunter McCurdy and Forrest McCurdy.
A memorial service for Mr. Taylor is being held at noon today at the House of Manna, 7240 Frankstown Ave. in Homewood. The Devaughn and Damian Taylor College Fund, to benefit his sons, has been started at the Poise Foundation, Two Gateway Center, Suite 1700, 603 Stanwix St., Pittsburgh PA 15222.
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