And they're off! Make over your Kentucky Derby menu with the help of Queer Eye's Antoni Porowski
Plus, he dishes on that quarantine buzz cut and landing an Outstanding Host Emmy nomination.
He's helped transform the lives of dozens of people on Netflix's Queer Eye. Now the show's Food & Wine expert, Antoni Porowski, is ready to help makeover your viewing-party menu for this weekend's Kentucky Derby, delayed from May because of the pandemic.
"A lot of these events are definitely very new to me," he tells EW when asked about his own knowledge of the annual horse race. "Even though I'm Canadian, I was raised in West Virginia, and the first year that I was there — and we share a border with Kentucky — and the first year that I was there in seventh grade, all the moms got dressed up in the craziest hats and super colorful outfits and had hors d'oeuvres, and that was my introduction to this iconic American celebration."
Admitting he was, naturally, drawn more to the food, he's now helping fans of the fastest two minutes in sports create a winning spread at home. "With a lot of these celebrations, the world in some ways has stopped and in some ways has fast-tracked," he says. "And we don't get to celebrate things the way that we previously did, but I think what's nice is that it's still an opportunity to have fun." And after doing some "deep-diving into the history of it," he says, he's come up with some drinks to honor "some personalities in the history of the Kentucky Derby" to pair with some recipes from his cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen. With a trio — er, Triple Crown? — of appetizers, plus a specialty cocktail and mocktail, Porowski is betting on you loving these new additions to your Derby menu.
But first, Porowski dishes on his quarantine buzz cut and landing an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program along with the rest of the Fab 5.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You buzzed your hair! How's that working for you? Do you love it?
ANTONI POROWSKI: So, the amazing thing is I started playing tennis again and it's so great. Even when I go running, when I sweat I don't want sweat that falls to my forehead — that's TMI — but now I'm kind of looking a little Chia Pet-ish. I'm like, do I keep buzzing it or do I just suck it up and wear hats and wait till it gets long again? So I'm kind of torn. But I love it.
Had you been thinking about doing it or just woke up one day and were tired of your hair?
As a kid, I went from like a severe bowl cut — perfect bowl cut — to shaving my head on like a No. 2 clipper. So I haven't done this in over 15 or 20 years and I was like, I've just been meaning to and I'm just so happy that I did it. Especially for the summer. It's just so easy.
And congratulations on the Emmy nomination.
Ah, thank you. Honestly, we were shocked. So, [we got] all of the many wonderful nominations for the entire team, which is fantastic, but the fact that this new category for us, which is best host, it's not one that we were expecting. There are so many incredible contenders. I'm obsessed with Nicole Byer and, of course, [RuPaul] deserves all the accolades that he gets. So, yeah, I know people say this a lot, it's an honor to be considered, but seriously — even just to get the nomination, it's like holy s---! It's really fantastic. I'm super proud of everybody on the team. We were all super excited about it, so we'll see what happens.
And you got to see Nicole work firsthand when you guys were on Nailed It!, so—
Yes, and she is literally one of the funniest people I know. Her sense of humor...she's just non-stop. She's like Jonathan [Van Ness] in that respect. Their brains are on the express train, and they just pop out the funniest things every three seconds.
Anyway, we have very important things to talk about: food. Let's get to the cocktail first because, of course, there's the very important mint julep that is served at the Derby. So what is your take on a cocktail for everyone who'll be watching from home this year?
I have two of them. The first one is actually — he probably has the coolest name in the history of the world — the Jimmy Wink Cocktail, named for James "Wink" Winkfield, a famous African American jockey. I feel like a lot of people are so intimidated by simple syrups.... They're inexpensive to make. It's a very simple rule of one to one ratio of water to sugar, and you cook it over medium heat until it all disintegrates and it just becomes literally syrup. I added some ground rosemary and clementines. And what's more Kentucky than bourbon? So I've paired it with a bit of a dry cider and then an orange peel. I love the bitterness with the sweetness of it.
[For the] non-alcoholic beverage, I made the Napravnik, [named for] Rosie Napravnik, a famous female Derby jockey.... I'm going to take you on a little segue to my childhood, but we're gonna come back to the train. My sister was obsessed with Persian food growing up, and there was a summer where we only ate Persian food and the drink that she served with every meal was rosewater, orange blossom water, ice, and just a little bit of simple syrup, and it was the most refreshing thing ever. Ever since then I love rosewater — there's something really nice about having it on a hot summer day. So this drink is basically like a really nice lemonade with some cardamom pods. And there's a bit of rosewater to honor our Rosie Napravnik.
Southern food is very big in Louisville and Kentucky, of course. Do you have any specific takes on that or healthier versions of those popular recipes?
During the summer I definitely tend to lean toward the lighter side of things. My number one fruit of the year, and especially in the summer, is the peach and peaches are having — I'm very happy to announce — a very good season. What's nice about this recipe is that lightly grilling them really brings out the sweetness — it carmelizes them lightly and they still have a nice bite to them. So it's a grilled peach and tomato salad with crunchy almonds. I made a version of this for Mayor Ted Terry on Queer Eye, an indoor grill situation. If you don't want to grill, you can just use fresh peaches. If you don't have heirloom tomatoes like the recipe calls for, use cherry tomatoes, beefsteak whatever you like. Work with whatever you have. And basil is really nice with peaches — that's a really beautiful duo. If you macerate them, that can lend really well to a nice cocktail as well. And then just add crunchy almonds.
We went light, and now we're gonna go a little heavier. One of my favorite kinds of ready-made cheeseboard cheeses is Boursin. Yes, I've worked with them in the past but I've legit been eating this cheese since I was four or five years old. Yeah, it's a wonderful herbed cheese — it's basically Europe's version of Cheez Whiz. I mean that in the best way. There is no shade on Cheez Whiz — it really helped me eat broccoli as a child. So basically [Boursin] with a few threads of saffron that you let steep in a little bit of water gives that nice little pungent smoky aroma to it, and then some chunks of lobster meat and you have like the chicest, cheesiest dip with either crudités or if you have a baguette or ciabatta or focaccia or any type of awesome, fancy crackers that you want to bust out — it's great for that.
And then we're going to marry healthy with cheese with the last dish. Watermelons are in season — and this has nothing to do with the Derby — and one of my favorite ways to enjoy watermelon is actually rubbing it with fresh ginger, especially after a meal — there's something very palate cleansing about it. Just take the back end of the spoon and scrape off the skin of ginger and then just rub it on the watermelon. But back to the recipe — I love marinating watermelon in olive oil to give it a nice coating of fat, and then I crack aggressive amounts of fresh cracked pepper, not the powdery stuff. Try to get one of those mills or mortar and pestle, or with the back end of the spoon on the kitchen towel, you can crush it. When you think you've put enough, add more, and then add more again. So you're gonna have these awesome, fatty, peppery bites of juicy watermelon, with little pieces of grilled halloumi, which is this wonderful squeaky cheese that grills really well from Cypress. If you don't have that you can use feta, or if you want to go vegan that's totally fine too. And then because I love to put an herb on literally everything, add fresh mint.
Coverage of the Kentucky Derby 146 begins Saturday, Sept. 5 at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.