Antoni Porowski has found himself at the eye of a glorious hurricane. As the resident Food and Wine expert on Netflix’s recently rebooted Queer Eye, his social followers have multiplied over night and suddenly his penchant for avocado has become common knowledge.
But Antoni has remained impossibly humble. “I have to start by saying I love your publication so much,” he tells us eagerly down the line from New York, “my best friend Shant and I in college read it religiously when we were following all our Brit rock bands.”
And music is a consistent theme throughout our chat; fans of the show will know that he has a bountiful collection of Strokes t-shirts, but Antoni is also a big fan of Richard Ashcroft (“it just reminds me of my youth”) Oasis (“I’m a big, big, big Oasis fan”) and even Taylor Swift (“Her previous album ‘1989’, there was something very fun and poppy about it!”)
But moving away from his love of music; we caught up with the Fab Five foodie to find out what it’s like being the star of everyone’s new favourite tv show and the weirdest thing he’s ever found in a fridge.
How did you get involved in filming Queer Eye?
“A friend of mine mentioned that Queer Eye was being rebooted for Netflix, and it was basically his idea. I contacted Ted Allen [the show’s original food and wine expert], who I worked for, and I asked him what he thought about it, and he was like “wow, you really want to make a public life out of food”, it’s always been very intimate and very precious: I love cooking for friends and family, but I’ve never had my own cooking show or been seen as a professional in the public atmosphere.”
“Ted gave me his blessing, and he then pitched me to the show creators, which I think certainly helped, and then there were a couple of months of chemistry testing, until I was offered this pretty damn incredible job!”
You mentioned Ted gave you his blessing – has he seen the show now, and what did he think?
“He has! He realises that it’s such a different medium and such a different time, what he said was probably the best praise I could have got, as I have such a reverence and respect for what he does, he’s a very humble man, and has a deep respect for chefs, even though he is not one like myself; and what he told me was “I like when you only speak when you have something to say” and that when we first meet the heroes on the first day of shooting I run straight into the kitchen. Because I’m so fascinated by people’s fridges and pantries – you can find some really weird shit and you can learn a lot about a person, and it’s kind of like a much larger medicine cabinet.”
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found in any of the fridges?
“There was one house, I’m not going to say whose; but there were a bunch of cans that didn’t have labels on them. It didn’t make it to the episode, but there’s no way of knowing what’s inside these cans and there was a bunch of them! It must be such a mystery to open it up and see what the hell is in there. That was really weird – why would you not even label it with a permanent marker?”
Do you have a favourite moment, or a favourite recipe you taught one of the show’s heroes?
“This was in the episode with Neal Reddy [episode 2], who I had a very strong personal connection with. And this is somebody who’s loved cooking, and had stopped. He admitted to having bouts of depression over the past few years, and gave up on his passion. And he knew a lot about food, a lot more than he let on, and he shared that when we were in a restaurant together that this was something that he actually used to be super interested in.”
“And when we were in his house, we were preparing these little grilled cheeses for his event. And to teach him how to take a brick and wrap it in aluminium foil to press down the grilled cheese evenly, so you had these perfect little Panini’s. And to see him just through himself into it, and to start preparing it himself, I really felt this spark go off in his eyes when he was just excited.”
Do you still keep in touch with any of the heroes?
“I got a DM yesterday from Cory [episode 3], when I made a really nice Marcella Hazan sauce on my Instagram story and I tweaked it a little bit and he was messaging me; because we’d given him a pasta machine and he wanted to know how to make a sauce from scratch.”
“I on the regular get photos from Neal, he made himself an omelette, sorry Neal but the mushrooms were a little mushy, they could be a little more cooked with spinach, but he’ll learn! And he’s making himself an omelette, and he said in the episode that it was lame to cook for himself, and here he is making a fucking omelette, and sending me a photo of it! I’ve never felt like a proud papa, or a teacher, with somebody I consider my equal, but it’s a pretty damn good feeling and I don’t know if I’ll ever be a parent, but I think that’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling that way.”
The reception on social media has been absolutely mad, how is it just seeing your mentions?
“It’s a lot of attention, and I think with a lot of positives, is going to come some questionable ones too. I can’t not roll my eyes at it, it’s a reminder to just stay in my lane, focus on what it is I’m doing, if I make it my life goal to try and convince everybody single person, then I’m going to drive myself exhausted, and I’ll probably end up single and alone! Trolls will be trolls”
And there’s this online question over whether you can actually cook…
“I know my skill set, I never pretended to be a professional chef, I have a respect for them, but I’d never consider myself one, they’re my rockstars. But I am someone who food has been a constant in my life, and it’s been a passion, it’s something that I’ve constantly studied, and I’m constantly trying to better my craft, and that’s good enough for me. And I know the people who eat my food really enjoy it, and those are the people who matter at the end of the day.”
I think the thing people love about this show is that although it is about a makeover, it’s really so much more, as you tackle everything from coming out to race relations.
“Right! It’s so important. And with Netflix as a home there are no advertisements, we’re not allowed to advertise anything unless we really believe in it. And the format of this show, the fact we’re in the south, and that it takes a while to drive from A to B, it gave us time in a car to have those real conversations, to have those talks and that discussion.”
“To your point, this isn’t a cooking show, it’s about getting to know these people and figuring out how we’re similar, everyone is so fricking divided and there’s so much fear going on in the world and all these different crashing political systems, and it’s bringing out the far, far left and the far, far right; but at the end of the day, we’ve all felt what it’s like not to feel like we deserve to be where we are, to feel like we have some sort of imposter syndrome. Our stories are so different, but we’ve all experienced fear at some point in our life. ”
“And from fear, stems hate. But here we show pure kindness, which is what I think show and every single one of my cast mates does so well. There is no bringing the person down with any meanness, or making fun, and if we do it’s all in jest and it’s all with a foundation of love and kindness, and we need that. And I think that’s why the show has been so well received, because I don’t think we’ve seen that in a long time. And we’re so polarised with all the news outlets that we chose to watch, that we forget that.
Looking to the future, would you want to return to the show for a season 2?
“Absolutely. My castmates and I joked around saying it would be nice to do it somewhere like Chicago, where it’s a little cooler maybe, in the fall months so we get to have some fall winter collection from the designers, instead of spring/summer; but wherever the show is, whether we’re in Iceland or Poland, or Canada or the US or abroad, there are a lot of conversations that need to be hand, and the show didn’t air for 10-12 years between the first iteration, and now just Queer Eye; but the conversation has gone on, it hasn’t ended, and I think it will continue to, whether we do it, or somebody else does it.”
Queer Eye season 1 is available to stream on Netflix.