Ever since Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot premiered back in February, the one question that has haunted the show’s Food & Wine Expert, Antoni Porowski, has been a relatively insulting one. Namely, can he cook?
Amongst the Fab 5—made up of Karamo Brown (Culture), Jonathan Van Ness (Grooming), Bobby Berk (Design), and Tan France (Fashion)—Antoni tends to be the most polarizing of the bunch. That said, as someone who once survived off of instant oatmeal for five days after my microwave broke, Antoni has validated my love of sprinkling potato chip crumbles on top of things—and, for that, I am eternally grateful.
All jokes aside though, as he tells NYLON, he has learned that the haters do not define him, especially since the show’s real focus is about learning and growth. After all, you have to learn how to walk before running, especially if your primary source of calories is a Mountain Dew-tequila monstrosity. So ahead of the Season 2 premiere of Queer Eye, we took a few moments to chat with Antoni himself about everything from his experiences with imposter syndrome as a gay man and cook to his passionate defense of peas (yes, even in mac and cheese). Read our Q&A with him, below.
How’s it going? You’re at the Netflix office right?
Yeah, and you know what? At lunch today, they had a lobster-shrimp mac and cheese and on top of that a vegan sloppy joe, which I didn't know it was vegan until I ate it and then I was surprisingly okay with it. Not that I'm against veganism, but I don't like food that pretends to be something else. But I digress. It was really delicious, so it made worthwhile.
Two seconds in and already a controversial statement! Antoni, tell me more about your position on veganism.
I am 100,000 percent for it, but I do have a problem with things pretending to be meat. I think the purpose of veganism is an appreciation for plants and veggies and fruit and to just eating cleaner... If you're going to go vegan, then really learn how to be. Learn how to use an asparagus in different ways: You can blanch it, you can roast it, you can fry it if you have to. But you can also shave it into beautiful, little ribbons or cut it into thin slices and marinate it in a bit of a pickling liquid. Learn how to treat your vegetables with the love and kindness that they deserve. Basically, my point is that I don’t like to pretend. I don't like processed soy stuff.
Fair. Okay, back to my real questions. So obviously the show's been a runaway success. What’s that been like?
I honestly thought it was going to be more of an homage show—a nod to what the original was. Something fans of the OG would respond to like, "Oh, that's cute that they're redoing it." It hit me in waves when I realized like, "Oh, this is a completely different beast." We have an entire production team in Atlanta who'd worked on previous shows in the unscripted world, and they’d say things like, "Wow, I've never felt like my work had so much meaning." Or people would get emotional and camera operators would cry.
I think we would be ignorant to say that we didn't feel like we were a part of something special. But that said, you never know what the crowd reaction is going to be. And I'm someone who's experienced impostor syndrome—as I think a lot of people have with their careers, especially when they pursue what they're passionate about, because they want to be good at it. I've experienced that as a gay man, I've experienced that as a cook, as a gallery director, as a student of psychology. In every single thing that I've ever pursued, you're always worried that you're going to get torn down.
But what's been incredible about all of this. And I think it's a really important life lesson [to know that] it's actually impossible to please everyone with this job, especially at this level. There will always be people who judge or criticize or don't agree with your opinion, so this has been a perfect exercise in not caring in a healthy way. Just kind of staying in your own lane and focusing on what the next move is. Or focusing on the next person you're helping or the next recipe you want to impart on someone—to just not worry about all of the noise.
That reminds me, it's no secret that you do have some particularly harsh critics out there.
I indulged that in the beginning. I wanted to... I don’t know, no one gave me a guidebook on how to deal with public life. But I read everything, and I thought it was going to make me a better person, but it actually just kind of ruined me.
With the harsh critics what's unfortunate is that there’s a lot of hate and anger that I can see. And what we try to do on the show is really positive, so I'm not deep-frying sushi rolls and serving them with barbecue sauce. I'm trying to teach them things that are actually really applicable to their lives. Lessons that they can take on, and sort of turn into something else, or just figure out how to make their own lives better.
Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but, at the same time, this isn't a cooking show. It's a make-better show. We use our verticals to communicate with heroes trying to improve their lives. There are facts and things that they certainly learn along the way, but I actually think that is almost secondary. The tips and advice are very important, but that insight [is more important].
Karamo deals with it directly, and the rest of us sort of deal with it using our verticals as a vehicle. So that part is more important to me. And I know the change that we've had on people, and we get amazing feedback from them. So I'd rather just focus on that.
What does your mentor [Chopped host] Ted Allen think of the reboot’s success?
He's been so amazing. I mean, nothing short of incredibly supportive. I worked for him and consider him a very close friend. He's just the curious Pop who wants to know everything that's going on and is super-fascinated by all of the press and all of the amazing things that have been happening as a result. Because he's experienced this as well, and his career's in a really beautiful place right now where he works on an extremely successful show—arguably the most successful [culinary] show—and he's super happy. He only has that because of the opportunity that David Collins, Michael Williams, and Rob Eric gave him on the original Queer Eye. So he's a super-grateful man who's just excited for my path and for what's to come. He reminds me every fricking time we speak. He loves sending me articles.
So when are you going to be on celebrity Chopped?
I don't know. Oh gosh. Cooking under pressure like that... I don't know if that's for me. I have stronger opinions than [a desire to figure] out how to prepare something with swordfish and mangosteen and durian. But it would be fun to hang out with Ted. I've been on set a couple of times with him.
Circling back a little, has it been difficult for you to adjust to public life? You said, there's no manual, but has it been a hard adjustment?
A mentor of mine basically explained it to me. It seems like a crass comparison, but I really think it does apply, because he's someone who's seen a lot of his friends experience certain levels of success and popularity. He sort of compares this whole process to losing your virginity. You have no idea how it's going to go down, but at the end of the day, it could be really beautiful and short-lived, or really long and kind of painful. But usually, it's somewhere in between and it's kind of like a little bit of all these different things. And that's exactly what it's been for me. Most importantly, we experience so much love and adoration and praise from a lot of fans and sometimes publications. And then sometimes you hear things that are not-so-good, or [you’re] objectified, and all the other stuff that comes with it. You just kind of learn to roll with the punches and take everything as it comes.
Everything is so much more precious to me now though. Now that I'm not at home and I've been living out of hotels for the past couple of months, when I am home and I get to spend time... Like, my best friend just delivered a kid yesterday, and I wasn't there for that. So it's stuff like that which makes me really sad. Like, I wish I was there so I could experience the birth of a new godchild. But at the same time, I'm super-excited because, as soon as I'm back in New York, I know I'm going to go see little Mara and introduce myself. So the stuff with family and friends, it's so much more important now, and I have much more respect for it than I ever did before. Those moments are so super-precious.
That said, even when we travel, I get to be with the boys, and we get along so well. And we're all experiencing this thing together in different ways. Though some of us have Google Alerts for our names—I'm not going to say who, but… [lowers voice] Bobby and Jonathan—Tan and I are surprisingly very ignorant. We stay very cut off from anything that's being said. That's just a choice that we've made. But even though we're all so different, it's so nice when we're together, because we're all experiencing the same thing. So there's kind of like a, "Yeah, you know what that's like." There's no judgment, and we can vent about the things that would sound really douchey to vent about to anybody else, you know?
If you could switch jobs with any of the other guys, what would you choose and why?
I think interior design is something that's really interesting just because I do have a little bit of a background in... mostly furniture design. Vintage stuff from art deco into the '60s, '70s—American design, Italian design. Not that we're going to be putting $10,000 stools into people's homes, but it's something that's always been kind of fascinating. The rules of different textures you can play with—all of that is really something interesting.
Fashion is another one that's kind of new to me. I consider myself a little more on the boring side with jeans and t-shirts, but Tan has really kind of helped me push the envelope, and now [I have] the luxury of being able to work with a stylist and wear weird shit sometimes! I get to explore the virtues of Opening Ceremony and wear really puffy, bright, neon coats. We're in public life, so let's just be fun and a little weird and start painting our toenails and wearing jewelry.
Actually, when I was talking to Karamo, he was like, "Man, I miss Strokes t-shirt Antoni. Now he's wearing pajama pants."
I could never ever... wait, did he say I always wear pajama pants?!
Oh, I wore a little two-piece silk suit and a little shirt-and-short [combo] that kind of looked like pajamas. But they're a lot more chic than that! That's probably what he's referring to... But yeah, Strokes t-shirts have been ruined for me. I’ve given them away, and I can't really ever wear them again.
They've been so over-exposed. I still love the Strokes, but I feel like I kind of have to start helping promote newer, smaller bands. Or I don't know, do something different altogether.
What’s your favorite Strokes album?
Oh my gosh, I'm trying to think what are my favorite songs. You know, Is This It really set the tone. And it has one of the most underrated Strokes songs of all time: “Trying Your Luck.” “Trying Your Luck” just makes me want to put on my busted Ray-Bans with the crack in the lenses and just go back to the days of smoking Red Marlboros and having really long greasy hair. I wore cowboy boots and skinny jeans. I was being a mess in my 20s in the best way possible.
So one final question: If you could only eat peas or Dijon mustard for the rest of your life what would it be?
[Laughs] Who's going to say, "I'm going to eat Dijon mustard for the rest of my life”?! Damn straight, it's peas. And you know, here's a new way of eating it that I discovered. Danny Meyer—New York icon, legend—he did the menu for Delta. Netflix spoils us and threw us into bizzy class—that's short for business class—on the way here. And he made a cold pea tartare with crispy prosciutto tartare, which was delicious. And I love a pea soup, I love peas just cooked with a bit of butter and good salt. I like them with a can of tuna and olive oil with fresh oregano and lemon juice. I throw my peas into my bolognese. I throw it into my mac and cheese, and I'm not sorry about it. It is delicious! Get over it, haters of cheese with peas! It's added fiber and protein, and it's good for you. And it adds a nice little sweet pop.
Yeah, sorry, my pea question came from the mac and cheese episode in Season 1. Very, very divisive.
I 100 percent stand with that. You know what, I even make my [homemade] Hamburger Helper with ground turkey, and then I put tomatoes in the mac and cheese, and then I bake it. So [in the words of 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon], suck it, nerds. Fuck the haters.
Queer Eye Season 2 premieres June 15 on Netflix.