A chef and Navy veteran is still fighting the good fight

Illustration by Layla Ehsan

Illustration by Layla Ehsan

Protecting and Serving

by Brion Shreffler

Ahead of another busy Saturday night at the now shuttered Rarest, Sean Ciccarone, 37, took to the streets on March 25 for the #DisruptMAGA (Make America Great Again) protest that coincided with a Trump rally at Independence Mall.

It was just one of many marches/protests that Ciccarone—whose worldview was broadened by “seeing how so many other cultures work” while serving as a Navy gunner’s mate—has been involved in during the past year. He cites the continued visibility of police shootings and the rise of Trump as what has spurred him on.

“One reason I got into so much social activism was, in part, because I saw so many veterans taking the side of the people on the conservative platform,” says Ciccarone, who is now the chef-de-cuisine at Farmicia, and has also done turns at The Little Lion and Pennsylvania 6. For an outspoken chef who grew up in a diverse slice of Montgomery County, speaking up for what he feels is right comes naturally.

“When you’re in the kitchen, you need to possess a loud, informed and leading voice. It’s the same thing with activism,” Ciccarone says.

He helped to form the Philadelphia chapter of Veterans Against Trump once Trump became the presumptive GOP candidate. While Ciccarone says they only have a couple dozen members as “most veterans don’t share the same sentiment,” he adds that it’s important to show that veterans do not merely exist on one side of the political spectrum.

“People believe that the more veterans involved in a project, the more correct and patriotic it is,” he says. “So, I found it prudent to take the side of the people who share my ideologies.” As such, he has also been at the ready to lend his short, stocky frame—tattoos streaming down his right arm—to marches for Black Lives Matter, Philadelphia’s Black and Brown Workers Collective and other groups working for causes related to civil liberties.

Even with the Trump supporters who called him a “disgrace” for his “Veterans Against Trump” T-shirt or the people who called him a “race traitor” for wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, he’d actually like to have a reasonable conversation. While the comments get under his skin, he says, “I want to hope that there is a willingness to listen on both sides.”

Ciccarone would like to tell Trump supporters the same things he would say to any chef or veteran on the other end of the ideological spectrum.

“I’d tell my fellow veterans to remember how tight-knit you were with everybody else in your unit, regardless of their background. How easy it was for you to trust your life in their hands, and ask them why that same mentality hasn't transferred with you to the civilian sector,” he says.

“To other chefs, I’d ask them to remember how hard it was coming up through the ranks. How much you needed to tooth and claw your way through kitchens just to have an opportunity at your dream. That is exactly what most of the undocumented workers, and other immigrants, are trying to do when they are working hand in fist in kitchens,” he says.

In his empathy-laden outlook, he hopes to draw an explicit connection between military service and the kitchen—two places where merit transcends any differences, and where unit cohesion and collective goals are key.

“The only way the kitchen functions right is if everybody works together. If I questioned the background of everybody with an accent while they’re trying to just work with a big old smile, we wouldn’t get anything done.”