With salmon searing off to the side, “Queer Eye’s” Antoni Porowski spoke about the importance of connecting with others and having faith in yourself during Tuesday’s cooking show-style demonstration hosted by the Sarasota-Manatee Campus Activites Board (CAB).
Porowski, the food and wine expert on Netflix’s reboot of “Queer Eye,” showed off his culinary expertise over Zoom on Tuesday at 7 p.m. while he fielded questions submitted by the audience in advance. Queries covered a wide range of topics, including everything from favorite quarantine binges to the best way to slice a fish. Although the chat function was enabled, most of the questions were posed by the moderator, Brittany Aburto, assistant director of the Sarasota-Manatee CAB, with Porowski picking a few from the chat whenever he noticed them.
The $15,000 event lasted from 7-8 p.m, with only 43 audience members in attendance. The majority of the event revolved around cooking Porowski’s designated dish of the evening, pan-seared maple dijon salmon with garlicky broccoli rabe. A few participants put their cameras on and cooked along with him, but the majority left their cameras off.
Amid slicing shallots and searing salmon, Porowski told the audience that he was never trained as a chef, but rather attended Concordia University in Canada to be a psychologist. His passion for cooking boiled within him over time and ultimately came to fruition when he became an assistant for Ted Allen, the original food and wine expert on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”
“I got to learn what his job was like as Allen himself is actually a journalist,” he said. “He never went to culinary school either, but he was always very passionate about and obsessed with food and always wanted to know the best way to make something.
“I got to learn about recipe development, writing about food and talking about food all while not knowing that I was going to have the life that I have now which is really weird, but I’m really glad that I did work for him because it shows that you never really know where a job is going to take you.”
While making sure his salmon skin reached a dark golden brown color and the right crispiness, Porowski offered tips to first-time chefs. Some of them were simple, like using real parmesan instead of the pre-grated cheese that comes in a plastic container, while others were more abstract, like the importance of cooking meals based off of foods already enjoyed by beginners.
Porowski said in college, his favorite foods were Subway sandwiches and pepperoni pizza, and he expanded on those foods in his own kitchen, which fueled his love of cooking.
“Think about why you want to cook and about a dish that gets you really excited that you want to learn how to make,” he said. “There are always ways in which you can make a recipe better no matter how simple it is.”
The “heroes” that the “Fab Five” help on the show are often amateur cooks, according to Porowski, and sometimes he is learning how to make the dishes right along with them. He recalled one important dish that he helped one hero in the fourth season of the show, Deanna Munoz, cook. It was a traditional Mexican dish which helped her to connect with her mother-in-law and her own Mexican American roots.
“She was super intimidated by her mother-in-law, who is Mexican and didn’t speak a lick of English, and Deanna didn’t speak a lick of Spanish and so we went over to her place and made this really intimidating, strange, but really delicious dish, which I’d never had before,” Porowski said.
“It had ground beef, banana, apple, peaches, tomatoes, and they were all stuffed into these poblanos covered with like a creamy walnut sauce and then topped with pomegranates and just watching Deanna connect with her grandmother and connect to her people and to where she came from, I think is something that we can all relate to.”
Porowski has always been obsessed with food and has used it as a tool for connecting with people, which he said made his position on “Queer Eye” the perfect fit for him.
He emphasized that in the same way food connects people, so does television, which he has frequently noticed since the success of “Queer Eye.” He was most touched by the power of the show when a mother, her children and her parents approached him at an airport.
“The mom came up to me and told me that ‘Queer Eye’ is a show that her entire family watches together, which I thought was really incredible,” Porowski said. “I was raised in Canada, where most of us just had one TV set, and we were forced to watch whatever our parents were watching, so I love that we’re part of something on ‘Queer Eye’ that brings people together and allows them to watch together.”
As he placed the maple dijon glaze on the crispy skin of his fish, he reminisced on some of his favorite pastimes in quarantine. He has been exercising and meditating frequently to feed his healthier side. He also fostered a dog, Neon, from Texas at the beginning of the pandemic and ended up adopting her a little while later. He said Neon “saved him” over the past year and he recommends everyone consider fostering or adopting a dog if they have the means.
“WandaVision,” “The Mandalorian” and “90-Day Fiance” came up during the demonstration, as they are some of Porowski’s current favorite TV shows. The chat blew up with TV show recommendations ranging from “The Queen’s Gambit” and “The Real Housewives,” but the audience was surprised to hear Porowski did not enjoy “Bridgerton” as much as the general public. However, he said he was incredibly happy to be able to watch TV.
Now that he has more down time to watch TV, Porowski said he started dedicating more time to taking care of himself and less time concerned with the impermanence of his career.
“When ‘Queer Eye’ started, I felt this weird fear of always wondering when my 15 minutes are going to be up, I couldn’t watch any TV and I felt like I had to work all the time,” he said. “I wasn’t practicing any self-care and I was a total workaholic. I thought that was a good thing, but it was not and so now, for the past year, I really leaned into relaxing and allowing myself to watch TV.”
Once the fish was finished, Porowski fielded one final question about the most important thing he’s learned in his career so far. After a moment of introspection and a bite of broccoli rabe, he said he has learned that so many doors are open for everyone, even if they feel like they are closed.
“Over the course of my career, I have come to wish I had more faith when I was young that somebody was watching over me and that everything was going to be OK,” Porowski said. “Now I see it when I look back, but at the time I didn’t and I wish I had a little more faith when I was growing up, both in myself and in what the future held.”