Cornellians tuned in from around the world Thursday evening to watch Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski exhibit his famed cooking in a virtual event, listening to conversation about his heritage, life in the spotlight, and most importantly –– food.
Making a sage and prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast with roasted radicchio, Porowski answered questions from Jeremy Scheck ’22 — a junior who has gained an impressive 1.7 million followers on TikTok with content featuring his culinary skills.
Porowski noted Scheck’s skills and love of food as the event kicked off. “There’s so much diversity in the style of cooking that you do,” he said to Scheck, “and you seem as obsessed, if not more obsessed, with food than I am. So I’m really pumped to be doing this with you.”
The pair cooked simultaneously — each in their own kitchens at home — and, between cutting, stirring and mixing, engaged in a Q&A-style dialogue. Discussing everything from pets to favorite meals, Porowski also dove into his cultural background, sexuality and role on Queer Eye.
Growing up, Porowski moved often, living in Poland, West Virginia and Montreal, though he now resides in New York City. Since his parents were Polish immigrants, Porowski talked about his experiences with inclusivity — or lack thereof — when he moved to West Virginia, a state in which residents had limited exposure to diversity, he said.
“I remember I brought this Polish hunter’s soup, Bigos, to school, which is like braised cabbage and sauerkraut and like four different cuts of meat … and the looks that I got from my classmates were that I was just like an alien from outer space,” he said. “Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I felt embarrassed about where I came from and about my heritage.”
Food, he said, was the mechanism that sparked a newfound pride in his Polish roots. Moving to Montreal at age 17, Porowski eventually worked as a busboy at his aunt’s Polish restaurant, Stash Cafe. While working at his aunt’s restaurant, he was reintroduced to his heritage by meeting other individuals who shared a similar background and, of course, a love of Polish food.
Now living life under the public eye, Porowski elaborated on finding his identity — and helping others discover theirs — on Queer Eye.
“I kind of went from this shift of being a private citizen to being somebody who’s public, and it’s a very different, tricky thing to navigate,” he said. “I told myself when we started filming on the first day, I was like, I’m going to do whatever they asked me to do, but I’m not going to talk about my personal life.”
As a member of Queer Eye’s “Fab Five,” Porowski has opened up in ways he never thought he would, he explained, facilitating many honest and effective conversations with individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community.
“What I realized was you’re meeting a perfect stranger who’s opening up to you about something that’s really deep and personal,” he said. “I felt like I had a responsibility to do the same thing to make sure that it’s a conversation.”
Porowski explained how these conversations are not solely one-sided. He said Queer Eye has not only allowed the people they work with on the show to grow, but has also been a learning experience for Porowski.
“I never tried to pretend like I have my shit figured out. I’m still figuring it out. I make mistakes on a daily basis,” he said. “I feel like I have a responsibility to continue presenting myself as a student because that’s how I see myself in life.”
As the segment came to a close, Porowski introduced the audience to his three-year-old dog, Neon, and paused to convey an important reminder to the Cornellians watching: Take COVID-19 seriously.
“If you’re not going to wear a mask for you, wear it for somebody in your life who’s immunocompromised, who’s at risk for any reason,” he said. “Yes, a vaccine is great. But rollout takes a while and winters can be really harsh. And so just take care of yourselves and again if you’re not going to do it for you, do it for somebody else.”