Queer Eye's Antoni defends his credentials, T-shirt choices, and love of avocados
New Queer Eye Fab Five member Antoni Porowski is still taking in the “beautiful and overwhelming” audience response following the revival’s Feb. 7 premiere on Netflix. Along with Bobby Berk (design), Karamo Brown (culture), Jonathan Van Ness (grooming), and Tan France (fashion), he is helping make over the lives of men — straight and gay — and gaining a lot of fans along the way.
“It feels like an explosion has happened,” the Montreal, Canada native laughs about his expectations. “To have it go from zero to 100 — I really thought that I was prepared for what the reaction was going to be, but I don’t think you can be.”
While it’s mostly been positive (“I have randomly been crying out of sheer joy”), there are also those who can’t help but tweet about his choice in T-shirts or question his culinary authority. “I’m very honest about my food background; I’ve never tried to pretend like I was a chef,” says the self-taught 33-year-old (he turns 34 on March 14), who’s worked in restaurants, as a sommelier, and personal chef — his mentor is original Fab Five-r and Food Network host Ted Allen.
Fortunately, EW can take the heat, so we entered the kitchen (okay, we got on the phone) to get some answers to our burning questions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What has life been like for you since the show premiered?
ANTONI POROWSKI: I was walking down the street with Jonathan [a couple weeks ago] and the amount of people that stopped us — I have a lot of public friends so I’m usually the one who gets to hide in the background, and then to have that reaction, that energy come toward me — to have nothing but people get really emotional and just want to hug you and tell you how much they enjoyed the show and how much they needed it and how much they binged it and they recommended it to their parents and grandparents and so forth, it is… I’m so grateful and so lucky that the show is a feel-good show and that it’s had such a positive effect on people through its message.… I can’t compare it to any feeling, but it’s just overwhelming, and there’s humility and shyness and excitement and there is just a sh— ton of gratitude. It’s a lot of emotions. [Laughs] I have randomly been crying out of sheer joy and just being overwhelmed. But it’s been really nice.
On the flip side of the tears there are also some great laughs. In particular, what was going through your mind when AJ walked out in that leather harness?
[Laughs] Okay, well, I don’t know if you noticed this as a viewer, but he went from this shy, reserved, keeping his gaze down and not engaging in too much eye contact [kind of guy] — much like many of the heroes, these people that we helped — to coming out in a harness and fully owning it and flexing his chest — umm, that was like very, you know… I’m a really reserved guy. Maybe I don’t have that sexual confidence [laughs], as much as I’d like to. It’s just not who I am! It really caught me off guard. I was not expecting him to come out in that harness!
No sexual confidence, says the guy who shows a fair amount of skin on Instagram!
Uh, yeah, I mean, I’m not delusional about the reality of the way this whole business works. [My account] is 50 percent food, 50 percent me. With the photos of me, I keep them tongue-in-cheek, clever… and with the food, I get to be passionate and be my nerdy ass self and just go off on the virtues of pairing bleu cheese with apricots or whatever. With the photos of me, it’s just a bit of flirtation and understanding the medium.
Some have made comments on social media about the dishes you made on the series. What do you say to those who question your culinary expertise?
I really enjoy being vulnerable and it’s how I connect with other people, and part of how I do that is through food, by sharing something that I feel is very intimate and personal because it’s something that I create out of nothing. And I want to continue to do that. And when there are people who sort of question that, I think it’s going to come with the territory, but I really like the idea of staying in my lane, knowing that… first of all, Queer Eye is not a cooking show. I thought it was going to be, in the beginning; I thought I was going to be making these four-course meals for every single one of the heroes. And just for the record, I did make several components for each of these guys but a lot of it doesn’t make it to the edit, and that’s neither here nor there; there’s no point in rehashing that because it’s lost footage, unfortunately.
I want people to know that it’s not about me coming in and teaching Cory how to master molecular gastronomy in a span of four days because I don’t think anybody would be capable of doing that. It’s about me showing up and figuring out how he can better serve his family, which he clearly wanted to do, and I think we achieved that…. I’m very honest about my food background; I’ve never tried to pretend like I was a chef. I think that’s disrespectful to people who have gone to [the Culinary Institute of America] and different culinary institutes throughout the world. My background is in psychology — that’s what my bachelor’s degree is from, and my specialization. I studied fine arts and art history; I’ve studied at a conservatory here in New York as an actor. I have a lot of different passions, food has been a constant through my whole life, it’s something I’ve always had a very intrinsic passion toward and for and I continue to learn about it, and I’m not going to let any type of negative comments dissuade me from wanting to pursue that because I love it.
What a perfect blending of your worlds and interests, with food and psychology…applying all of that here.
I think so! I worked for Ted [Allen] for two or three years, but I never worked in his house thinking, “I’m going to do that thing you did.” That was never part of my plan. I had other plans and… it’s that whole thing of, life is what happens when you’re making plans…. The one job I’ve always had — and I realized this during the chemistry testing the audition — my first job was as a busboy at a family-run Polish restaurant where grandmas made pierogis in the basement. I’ve always had some kind of a restaurant job, whether it was as a sommelier or a manager or teaching staff how to talk about food at a Japanese restaurant on Bond Street in New York…. I think even the greatest chefs are always learning; the ones that I respect, the really good, successful ones never rest on their laurels. It’s like in any field where you’re passionate about something, there’s always something else to learn, and I’m always going to be a student. Look, I just learned how to make risotto properly about a year ago. I was mixing way too hard and turning it into sludge and I realized that you have to give it constant attention, but it’s the speed at which you mix it where you have to be gentle with the Arborio rice so as not to break it up so that it turns into porridge. So it’s a never-ending process and that’s why I love it so much.
Bobby Camp’s kitchen was a mess, lots of sippy cups. Fair to say it was giving you a bit of a panic attack trying to get it organized?
Yep! I am prone to anxiety attacks, and I was close to getting one…. I love a good purge. There are plenty of people out there — and this isn’t a judgment on Bobby Camp’s family — but, for me, clothes, for example, I love to just have a few pairs of jeans, a few T-shirts that I wear religiously over and over and over again — much to the dismay of my boyfriend who wishes I had a more varied fashion sense — but I love giving things away and I feel like there’s someone who always needs it more, so I love having what I need and that’s it.
To see so much of everything — but at the same time, who am I to say anything? This poor guy is sleeping three to four to five hours a night and he has multiple jobs and he’s raising so many kids — I don’t know what that struggle is like. And yes, we’re coming in there to tell these people what they’re doing wrong and how we can help them, but we also have to be respectful and know that they’re letting us into their homes; they’re making a decision to be vulnerable, and I have to be respectful of that because then it’s going to be a missed opportunity and the gates of communication are just going to shut down.
Speaking of keeping a small wardrobe, some on social media have pointed out that you wore the same shirt a couple times.
If I like something, I stick to it. I’m very loyal to my Strokes T-shirt and my Little Life T-shirt and The National and the stuff that I like to promote.… I wore two if not three Little Life T-shirts, and four if not five Strokes T-shirts that some people have brought to my attention. But I’m okay with it.
When we unveiled the Fab Five back in December, producer David Collins, in describing each of you, noted your “adorable face,” which is also not lost on a lot of viewers — many have used the heart-eyes emoji and the like in tweets expressing their attraction to you. What’s that aspect of the attention been like? Have fans been sliding into your DMs and hitting on you?
Oh yeah. Honestly, I would say 95 percent of it has been really kind words with very positive things about my physical appearance. I’m not an idiot — I’m very grateful to both my parents for creating me and for giving me the facial symmetry. [Laughs] And I’m thankful to my vanity and maybe light narcissism for the génique that I have…. I try not to get too obsessed with the comments or feed into it too much. Again, and maybe I was just a little delusional, but I’m also 33 — I’m not old by any means, but I’m no spring chicken, I’m not some young, single, 20-something-year-old starting off in the business. I am basically married, I have an amazing relationship, and so I take it all with a grain of salt because and I’m very grateful for it because it is what it is and I just hope that if people are watching me for certain physical attributes then hopefully they’re going to watch for the recipes as well, and I’m going to just continue doing that.
What’s your favorite way to eat an avocado?
[Laughs] Just for the record, I know I use it in two of the episodes — I’m not that avocado crazy. I enjoy it, but by no means is it a staple or a must-have in my kitchen.
My favorite way to eat an avocado is, usually when I’m starving after a day of running around, I just cut it in half and I pour this raspberry walnut — and it’s the one dressing I buy that’s already made, because I do love making my own vinaigrette — but I think it’s Ken’s Steak House, and it’s a lite raspberry walnut vinaigrette — it’s tangy, it’s really nice — and I pour that into an avocado half and I just eat it with a spoon. And recently I had it grilled, which was really delicious.
All eight episodes of the new Queer Eye are available to stream on Netflix.