Celebrities—they’re just like us. You might have rolled your eyes at this cliche, and for good reason too. But after Antoni Porowski, Queer Eye’s food and wine connoisseur, visited Penn on March 29 for an “Evening with Antoni,” the audience learned that this Fab Five member may be more relatable than one might initially assume.
Hosted by SPEC Connaissance and GSESG, the three–part event included a food demo (during which Antoni and two audience members made turkey lettuce wraps), a moderated section with Penn’s Executive Director of Student Health Services Dr. Giang Nguyen, and question–and–answer from the audience. Throughout each section, Antoni reflected on his past and his present, sharing valuable lessons with the audience. Even if no one individual was receiving an iconic Queer Eye makeover, the audience could learn to love themselves a little more thanks to Antoni’s relatable words and actions.
Lesson One: Even Famous Chefs Aren’t Immune to Mistakes
The food demo portion included creating turkey lettuce wraps with shallots, onions, jalapenos, lime juice, and more. Possibly one of the most hilarious moments of the night occurred when Antoni realized he forgot to put the lemongrass in his lettuce wrap dish, but this minor error would just make any Queer Eye fan love him more. He simply laughed it off and demonstrated how to prepare the lemongrass as he pseudo–aggressively smacked the herb with the back of a knife, jokingly taking out his frustration. This demo was accessible to the audience for a number of reasons: Antoni chose these ingredients because they are easily found at any grocery store, and when you forget an ingredient, Antoni just suggests imagining that it’s there. Antoni also confirmed during this demo portion that it is, in fact, difficult to talk and eat.
Lesson Two: It’s Okay to Take One Day at a Time
After the demo, Antoni moved to center stage where he and Dr. Nguyen sat in navy blue armchairs and sparked a casual conversation. Asked how students can stay healthy while busy, Antoni gave some advice. In addition to warning that juicing celery is stupid, Antoni admits to taking one day at a time. As an inherent optimist, he always tries to focus on the positives.
Lesson Three: Knowing your Cultural Identity Builds Confidence
As Antoni discussed his childhood, he recounted being raised in Montreal and attending a diverse multicultural elementary school. However, when he moved to West Virginia, he witnessed and experienced persecution. He recalled speaking Polish with his mom at a Walmart and a man asking him whether they were 'aliens.' Antoni was troubled by this and became embarrassed about who he was, wishing he could swap his cabbage rolls with crustless white bread and bologna sandwiches. Today, he embraces his Polish heritage and is creating a book with several Polish recipes that he will tweak to make his own. Antoni firmly believes that knowing who you are will build confidence and a sense of identity.
Lesson Four: You Don’t Need a Label to be You
When Antoni initially joined Queer Eye, he didn’t feel comfortable telling friends and family the title of the show. The word “queer” made him uncomfortable because he didn’t identify as gay. He had dated both women and men, but wasn’t necessarily open about everything. When he became a member of the Fab Five, Antoni would feel like an impostor at times, like he wasn’t “gay enough." But while filming the show, Antoni realized that if he expected the heroes to be open and willing to share their story, he needed to be open too. Now, Antoni admits that “fluid” is the closest term to describe himself, but he doesn’t feel like he needs a label to define himself.
Lesson Five: Your Past Failures Can Become Your Current Successes
Antoni described himself as “really messy” in his twenties, going “balls to the wall” in college and not balancing school and party life well. He felt pressure in college to please everyone and felt scattered: His parents wanted him to be a doctor, he was a Psychology major, all his electives were in art history, and he wanted to be an actor. He acknowledged not being close to his family when he was younger and being ashamed of his sensitivity. Today, however, he has grown and changed. He talks to his dad three times a day and his sister is now his best friend. He embraces his sensitive side because, after all, his empathetic nature is key to his success on Queer Eye. In order to help the heroes grow, he needs to learn and grow with them.
Lesson Six: We Are All the Same
Even though Antoni is a member of the iconic Fab Five, he too is learning to become more comfortable in his own skin and practice empathy with others. When an audience member asked Antoni how he deals with the conservative guests on the show, he emphasized the importance of seeing someone as an individual, rather than a concept. Of course, Queer Eye wants the hero to become more socially aware, as indicated by a former tagline “Turn the Red States Pink,” but Antoni also acknowledges the importance of getting to know someone before addressing the red hat. He takes these ideas with him in the new season of Queer Eye. As the Fab Five travels to Tokyo, Japan, the group recognizes that, despite cultural differences, everyone has commonalities.
As the night closed, Antoni reminded the audience that “life is fun” and that you should "be a little sil' sil'" whenever you can. Most importantly, he concluded, “be nice to each other, don’t be dicks.”