“By knowing what we put into our bodies, by having direct access to ingredients, by going to the market and picking it out, you take pride in what you do, and I think that’s what helps you become a confident person.”
If you’ve seen the ever-so-popular Netflix series Queer Eye, you already know Antoni Porowski: the swoon-worthy chef who has captured the hearts of men and women across the globe. It is a combination of his smouldering looks, the almost alluring way in which he makes guacamole, and his kind demeanour that has led to such a dedicated (almost obsessed) fanbase. Where, exactly, did this gorgeous food-expert come from? Was he a chef? Was he just a really good looking, charismatic foodie? Turns out, he served as personal chef to none only than the original Queer Eye food and wine expert, Ted Allen. Rewind a little further, and you’ll discover Antoni was born and raised not too far away in Montreal, Quebec.
Last week, the he made his way back to his Canada, revisiting the Art Gallery of Ontario for the first time since an elementary school trip, to celebrate his collaboration with Café Appliances. Once I had regained feeling in my legs and put my school girl jitters aside, we had chatted about our mutual love of soul-food, simplicity and hot water.
What made you first fall in love with cooking?
I think I realized it later on in life. I was a bit of a troublemaker in my youth; I got kicked out of my parent’s house. I got a tiny little apartment with a double burner and a mini fridge. I basically had to fend for myself when my whole life, I’d had people cooking for me. I was a spoiled little brat. So that made me go back and look at the recipes I had known and loved as a child. I went on this little adventure of recreating them for myself. I was figuring out my palate. That and also when I was introduced to Food Network; I would obsessively watch cooking shows when I was doing cardio at the gym.
I remember feeling that when I first moved out—I didn’t realize how much I appreciated coming home to my mum’s cooking. How do you think that cooking contributes to confidence?
I wasn’t the most confident kid. I actually wasn’t all that confident even a year and a half ago when I started doing the show. I still don’t know what I’m doing sometimes, and I sort of question everything that I do. Confidence, for me, has come with education. The more that I know about something, the better I become at it. You know what I mean? It’s like the first time I tried to cook an omelette. It was terrible. It was way overcooked, it was crispy on the sides, and then I learned how to make a French omelette. I learned that it could actually be something really delicate and beautiful and fluffy, and it’s something that costs just three dollars to make. By knowing what we put into our bodies, by having direct access to ingredients, by going to the market and picking it out, you take pride in what you do, and I think that’s what helps you become a confident person.
That’s very well said. I must say though, I still don’t know how to make an omelette. I think eggs are just my weakness.
YouTube “Jacques Pepin.” Or, use my cookbook, coming out this fall. There’s the perfect, simple French omelette recipe. It’s failsafe, anybody can make it.
I have a question about your cookbook. What are you hoping people will take away from it? Aside from great food, of course.
At first I thought it would be a more technical endeavour of teaching people the sort of basics of every technique, but it turned into more of an autobiography of food. My Polish heritage, food I eat when I try to be “healthy-ish,” food I eat that is very cheese-based stuff that I make for family and friends. Every dish has a story. I almost just rolled my eyes saying that, because it sounds so trite, but it really is true. Everything I put in there has a story behind it, whether it’s a dish that I ate at my favourite restaurant in Mykonos, to the chilled borscht that I had when I was a little Polish kid.
I don’t think that’s trite at all! I think that’s what cooking should be.
Yeah, it’s so personal.
Exactly. It’s such an expression of who you are, and it’s an opportunity to appreciate that. A way to say “this is where I came from” no matter the situation.
Right! Some dishes are really sad, because they take you back to after a break-up or something, but at the same time it’s still a part of you. The happy, the sad, all of it.
With Queer Eye there are lots of stories behind the food, because you’re interacting with unique people. I just finished watching the camp episode with my mum and it’s inspired me to attempt porchetta with my dad in the summer. What recipe or cooking moment on the show was your favourite?
That was a very important one. I had a lot of respect for Joey. He had a really dark period in his life where he wasn’t in touch with his son, so to do that when your kid is already grown up… And to have enough humility to be like, I made a mistake, but I want to focus on being better. I was actually quite proud of that one, because this was somebody that had experience with cooking. It wasn’t like I was going to teach somebody who has never made a sandwich before how to tie a porchetta. Which actually isn’t hard to do! It’s easier than a braid. I can’t tie a braid, but I can tie a porchetta.
But yeah with that one, he really wanted to have something he can make with his son. Like when he talked about his mother and rice and beans. It was so important to him because that’s what his mother had made him. So I really wanted Joey to have that version of something that he could do with his son too. It was a special one. So I like that it was important to you, too.
The show is so relatable. Even if the main context of the episode doesn’t apply to you, there will be a moment where you go, “I get that.”
There’s so many different things that people can latch onto and understand.
Let’s talk about the exciting collaboration you’re doing with Café Appliances. What is your favourite thing about Café? What really wows you?
First of all, I think customization is something that is just so important. We live in a Pinterest world, where everyone has an opinion about literally everything—and everyone wants DIY and personal things that they can do themselves. Something as simple as being able to choose the hardware on your appliances, stuff like that turns me on. I don’t know if it does that for everybody, but I think it’s important. Appliances are usually an afterthought, so to have something that is not only high quality, but also really beautiful, I think it’s an awesome thing. Did you know that there is actually a hot water dispenser in the fridge so that you can make tea?
I was shown that! I’m a big tea drinker. And there’s a Keurig too!
That blew my frickin’ mind! Keurig is great, but tea I am obsessed with!