Queer Eye Star Makes It a Fab Night at Tufts

Food and wine expert Antoni Porowski serves up salad and support to undergrads
Antoni Porowski, the food and wine specialist from the Netflix show Queer Eye, preparing a salad on stage at Tufts University. A sold-out crowd of undergrad students packed the auditorium to ask questions of the lifestyle expert.
Porowski quickly made food—and its emotional role in our lives—the centerpiece of the evening. Photo: Alonso Nichols
January 29, 2020

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The Netflix series Queer Eye is a makeover show, but it is also about helping people examine their lives—in each episode, a lucky subject gets a new look, and a new outlook to go with it. The Fab Five, the show’s quintet of lifestyle experts who transform mullets into chic bobs and hovels into havens, are equal parts influencers, cheerleaders, and therapists.

And so it was no surprise that Antoni Porowski, the show’s food and wine guru, quickly connected with the undergrad he invited to the Cohen Auditorium stage to help him with his cooking demonstration. The first-year student had barely started peeling the carrots for the salad when she opened up about coming out to her family. As they grated and stirred, they talked about how her mom is still struggling with acceptance and how the family can all get through it.

Out of everyone in the audience, “I can’t believe you picked me,” the student said, beaming. “I feel like it’s a sign.”

“A sign of what?” Porowski asked.

“That everything is going to be OK.”

“Everything already is OK. You’re perfect just the way you are.”

The January 17 event, hosted by the Tufts University Social Collective as part of Winter Weekend, was for Tufts undergrads only, and they packed the venue to ask questions of the star, from how he feels about being a queer figurehead to his views on pineapple pizza (OK in moderation, but no replacement for a good pepperoni, thin-crust, please).

Porowski prepared a salad he said was inspired by a favorite carrot, nut, and date snack his father would eat when they would go on road trips. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Queer Eye’s showstopping moments are typically the reveal of stunning new hair and makeup, a boutique wardrobe, and thousands of dollars in home renovations and décor. All that hoopla can overshadow Porowski’s lessons on cooking asparagus or flipping pancakes, even if he is a key ingredient in the cast recipe that makes the show work.

But with the stage to himself, all of Porowski’s boyish charm and genial humor were on display; he quickly made food—and its emotional role in our lives—the center of attention.

In a conversation with Hope Freeman, director of Tufts’ LGBT+ Center, Porowski explained that the salad he demoed was inspired by a favorite carrot, nut, and date snack his father would eat when they would go on road trips. He talked about his first cooking disaster, a soggy, greasy eggplant parmesan he made for a friend.

“I didn’t realize your oil has to be really hot before you put anything in it,” said the self-taught cook. He said many of the dishes in his new cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen, which he wrote soon after a breakup, bring him back to moments in that seven-year relationship. For him, food is memory and emotion.

Every beginning cook should learn to make a French omelet, Porowski said. “It’s the most romantic thing ever. Look up Julia Child on YouTube.” Photo: Alonso Nichols

Here are some bits of cooking advice that Porowski shared:

A recipe that everyone should have under their belt: Eggs three ways. First is a soft scramble cooked low and slow. “Take them off before you think they are ready.” Second, learn to make a French omelet. “It’s the most romantic thing ever. Look up Julia Child on YouTube.” And finally, cacio e pepe eggs with a ton of pepper and lots of pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese grated with a Microplane. And also, because three ways is not enough, the perfect soft-boiled egg, cooked six-and-a-half minutes. “There are few things that piss me off more in the world than boogery whites,” Porowski said. “The white has to be fully cooked, but the yolk has to be jammy.”

Biggest mistake an amateur chef can make in the kitchen: Trying out a new recipe on guests the first time they’re coming over. “It’s too Russian roulette.” Keep the experimenting to when it is just you and friend.

Advice for a college student with a kitchen but not much time to cook: Choose a day to cook make-ahead foods, such as roasted carrots, squash, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes or other veggies. Turn the oven up high and heat the sheet pan before you put the veggies on, making sure to space them out so they get crispy and caramelized. But don’t roast them with garlic or onions—those do not age well in the fridge.

Things a college student should always have in the kitchen: Lentils, nuts, frozen peas, and canned tuna. “Spend the extra dollar and get the stuff packed in olive oil. It is ten times better.”

What to cook for Valentine’s Day: “Something that is sexy but still light, like a whole roasted fish,” Porowski said, prompting incredulous looks from the audience. Clearly, staring a trout in the eye wasn’t their idea of sexy. “Sometimes things sound normal in my brain and then I hear them,” Porowski said, adding, “A roast chicken is a good way to say I care for you.”

Julie Flaherty can be reached at julie.flaherty@tufts.edu.