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The COVID-19 pandemic inspired untold thousands to take a trip to what, for many, was an unfamiliar destination — their kitchen, where they set out to learn about the joy of cooking. But while jazz vocalist and master songwriter Gregory Porter wound up in the same location, his journey was quite different.
Already an accomplished chef with an admirable assortment of specialties, Porter used his time off the road to create The Porterhouse, a series of six videos in which he teaches viewers how to prepare a wide variety of food, including meals inspired by his musical jaunts around the globe. The result is part travelogue, part autobiography and entirely appetizing.
At first blush, the project may seem like a departure, but not to Porter. When asked what singing to an audience and creating a delectable dish have in common, he replies, “Culture, influence, the desire to be noticed, liked, appreciated. There’s a nurturing aspect to both music and food. Making a warm bowl of soup, putting it in front of a person and seeing them consume it — that’s joy. And I get the same joy in music.”
As the seventh of eight kids growing up in Bakersfield, California, Porter was raised by his mother, who not only supplied a soundtrack via her record collection, but also taught him to cook. Later, after he moved to New York, Porter worked in the kitchen of his brother’s Bedford-Stuyvesant restaurant. Happy customers dubbed him “Soup Man” before he became a world-famous recording artist.
Flash forward to 2019. Porter was focused on the studio, cutting tracks for All Rise, arguably his most ambitious and most personal recording. The album features ornate production, marked by a horn section, a 10-person choir and contributions from the London Symphony Orchestra Strings.All Rise was released in August 2020, and under ordinary circumstances, Porter would have immediately launched a tour to support it. With live venues shuttered because of COVID-19, that was impossible. But luckily, the concept behind The Porterhouse was already simmering.
“It’s something that had been on my mind for quite some time,” he confirms. “I kind of feel like touring all over the world has been a musical tour and a culinary tour, as well. Especially the early festivals I went to were like cultural exchange events, where they would have artists come in from New York City and the local people would be very excited for them to try the local cuisine. In Kazakhstan, I ate goat head and even horse head in this beautiful ceremony they had. And likewise, different regions in France might be known for a particular candy, or their wine, or their pork sausage.”
The first episode of The Porterhouse draws from Porter’s trips to Russia by way of a tutorial on making the perfect borsch. “The beets aren’t overwhelming,” he promises about his variation, which incorporates elements of a family recipe from his wife, Victoria. “It’s surprisingly accessible.” Mouth-watering recipes in other editions include seared ahi tuna, mussels with fennel cream sauce, gumbo, barbecue chicken and ribs, and, naturally, Porterhouse steak.
Porter certainly isn’t leaving music behind. He’s recording new songs that could wind up on a deluxe edition of All Rise or an entirely new album. But he retains warm feelings for The Porterhouse.
“It was a nice moment of recovery,” he says. “The morning the camera crew came to my house, I’d just gotten my second [COVID] shot. I remember feeling excitement and optimism, and hopefully that comes across in the moments I’m on-screen.” - Michael Roberts