The May Festival’s Robert Porco Loves Cooking as Much as He Loves Singing

The director of choruses for the May Festival shares his favorite recipes.

Illustration by Chris Danger

Visit Robert Porco’s “Bob’s Kitchen” page on the May Festival’s website for his favorite recipes and maybe prepare a dish or two while you listen to this year’s festivities online (starting May 21).

How did you get into cooking?

Eating has always been one of the great pleasures of my life, probably due to my strong Italian heritage. When I was a child, each year my dad and a few of his paesani calabrese would purchase a hog and butcher it in someone’s garage, carrying on a tradition from the “old country.” With their share of the meat, my mother and dad would make dried Italian sausage and salami, which would be hung in the basement and then stored in a vat of lard. Calabrese salami—soppressata—remains one of my very favorite snacks. I’ve never tried to make soppressata, but my first ventures into cooking were attempts to duplicate how my mother would have cooked a pasta or meat dish. It’s only during the last 25 years that cooking became a passion.

Are there any similarities between cooking and singing?

That’s an interesting question. I bring the same desire for excellence to both activities, which I think is what fuels my passion for them. There are some general principles of preparation that apply to both, for example, the attention to detail.

How did you come up with the idea to post recipes on the May Festival website?

During normal times, on every Wednesday or Thursday I’d send a “Message from Bob” to members of the May Festival Chorus advising them about what they should prepare for the next Tuesday rehearsal at Music Hall. Unfortunately, our last rehearsal was March 10, 2020. Knowing that I love to cook, Steven Sunderman, the May Festival’s executive director, suggested that in lieu of the weekly “Message from Bob,” I instead post recipes on the May Festival website and e-mail them to chorus members as a “Message from Bob’s Kitchen.”

Do any of your recipes have family ties?

Absolutely. Many of my favorite recipes came from my mother. For example, my mom’s Zucchini Pitticelle, which I often found waiting for me on the stove when I got home from school.

What kind of response have you gotten from May Festival participants about your recipes?

The responses have been very positive. During the long course of the pandemic, I’ve spoken to each chorus member by phone, and they often mention how much they enjoy the recipes. Some even send me photos of their finished product. I’ve also heard from people who are not in the chorus.

How do you choose which recipes to post?

First, I have to like the recipe a lot, meaning I have to want to make it and eat it again in the future. For recipes I’ve made dozens of times, I seldom use exact measurements, which is unlike music! Before I submit a recipe, I make it and measure everything, and shoot photos for the website. A few recipes I’ve shared were adapted from cookbooks, such as those by Marcella Hazan.

What’s your favorite meal to make?

If I was on a desert island and could have only one meal it would be the old-fashioned “Bob’s Spaghetti and Meatballs.” The meatballs are homemade, of course, browned and added to tomato sauce and pork ribs for a long and slow simmer.

What’s your favorite recipe?

My favorite recipe is the simple preparation of T-bone steak sauteed with fresh hot Hungarian banana peppers. This recipe is a very important one in my memories and is close to my heart. When I was a child my dad worked the evening shift at Weirton Steel, and my mom would often cook steak and peppers for him to eat when he got home at 11 at night. I’d be in bed but would hear my father come home. Before long he’d come to the bottom of the steps and say, “Bobby, are you awake?” Yes, I’d reply. His next question would be, “Would you like some steak?” Yes, I’d reply. So there I was at 11:15, in my pajamas, eating steak with my dad.

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