Unless you live off the grid, away from the internet, or are my mother (who is not reading this anyway), you’ll know that Queer Eye was rebooted by Netflix a couple of years ago. It’s an Emmy-award winning scripted makeover reality show, updated from the iconic and groundbreaking early 2000s version to abandon “for the straight guy,” to be a little more inclusive and expansive. I could write a lot of words about the show, but that’s not the point of this article, and many others have done a better job than I’d be able to do. Go forth and watch the show and read all the think pieces.
Antoni Porowski is Queer Eye’s food and wine expert. The camera loves him, and we, the viewers, love to see him loved by the camera. He’s effervescent and adorable. He’s charming and charismatic, quirky and earnest. Queer Eye viewers love him. Celebrities love him. In very 2019 mode of the cult of celebrity, Antoni Porowski has become Antoni™. He doesn’t need a last name.
What Antoni Porowski does well is present Antoni™ in a way that fans think they’re getting valuable, private insights into his life, but in reality they’re not. Antoni™ doesn’t reveal much on Queer Eye, and he’s very careful in the way he talks about himself and his life in interviews. He’s diplomatic and thoughtful, and often a little vague. He uses humor to diffuse, or purposefully avoids engaging with tricky content. He leaves you simultaneously feeling satisfied and also wanting more. It’s easy to think that because I follow him on Instagram and watch his TV show that I know him. I don’t know him. I know what he wants me to know about him, and I’m okay with that. When I picked up his new NY Times Bestselling cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen, I hoped to glean a little more info about this enigma of a man.
I couldn’t help but think through one particular lens when reading the cookbook, and it has to do with Antoni™’s desirability. And no, I don’t necessarily mean that in a sexualized way. In the best way possible, Antoni™ feels to me like the epitome of something an internet algorithm made for the express purpose of getting people to like it. He seemingly came out of nowhere. His entire Instagram feed is a thirst trap: in his case, a series of photos of him looking gorgeous and literally flexing his muscles. And through his Instagram feed, we’re privy to his travels, his love of corgis, his beautiful relationships with his Queer Eye cast mates, and all that #sponcon (why yes, I do need some Country Crock and some Boursin). He presents a life worthy of envy but in such a humanizing, normal way, followers think they know him. His life is desirable, he is desirable, I want to know him and be him and have him as my friend.
The fact that we eat with our eyes seems particularly prescient considering the ways in which the media and fans seek to consume Antoni™. My first task was to count up all the food photos (83) and compare them to the amount of Antoni photos (56). Food photos outnumber Antoni™photos, so that’s a good start. There are 103 recipes in the book, and most of them have corresponding photos of the completed dish. The food styling and photography was lovely, and it helped my anxiety to know that I executed a dish that matched (more or less) what is in the book.
There are seven chapters, with about 200 total pages of recipes:
- Apps and Snacks
- Greens, Veg, and Other Sides
- Soups and Stews
- Pasta and Rice
- Weeknight Healthyish
The introduction to the book offers a bit more info about Porowski and his youth: How he got to know Ted Allen, the original food and wine expert on the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; growing up in Montreal in an upper-middle class Polish family; how he fell in love with food; how he made it on to the Queer Eye reboot. He talks about how he studied at Concordia University, about taking acting classes in New York, and cooking for his then-partner Joey Kreitemeyer’s family. It’s a tale that centers food and the ways that food can be a means to show care and affection.
At first, I wasn’t sure who the audience was for this cookbook. It doesn’t focus on a particular cuisine. It doesn’t focus on a particularly type of diet, or practical constraints of cooking. I guess it seems obvious, but I realized that the cookbook is for watchers of Queer Eye, of fans and followers of Antoni™. It’s a book that tries to take you on a food journey through the highlights of his life, as outlined in the introduction.
The recipes are easy to follow, and there’s a nice mix of make-everything-from-scratch and use something premade. For instance, you don’t need to make your own dough for flatbreads, or roast your own chicken for pulled chicken with cilantro and lime, but there’s a recipe for roasted chicken. When choosing recipes to test, I selected two that were twists on something familiar to me: the turkey meatloaf with a block of sharp cheddar, and the ginger cardamom cowboy cookies.
I have two go-to meatloaf recipes. The first is from America’s Test Kitchen. The second is what my family calls a big meatball — it’s pretty much a loaf-shaped meatball with pepperoni and mozzarella cheese inside, cooked in tomato sauce. I’m not one for substituting turkey for other meats, because turkey can be dry and flavorless and sad. I was intrigued by this turkey meatloaf and figured if nothing else, an entire block of cheese baked inside of it would make it edible.
Well, let me tell you something, dear reader. That meatloaf was delicious, and not just because there was a whole lot of cheese oozing out of it. The recipe calls for two pounds of 85% or 93% lean turkey, and I used one pound of each, which gave it enough fat and flavor. The rest of the ingredients complemented the turkey and the sharp cheese, balancing a little spicy with sweetness from ketchup. My husband and I were more than happy to eat the leftovers for the next two days. I now have three go-to meatloaf recipes.
I love desserts and wanted to test one from the cookbook. There is an amazing looking and sounding pie (Jim’s Pi Pie), but I didn’t have a ton of time for recipe testing and I didn’t want need to eat an entire pie. The ginger cardamom cowboy cookies spoke to me for a number of reasons: I could give some away easily (to save myself from myself); I could freeze any leftovers (as if there would be any); I like ginger and cardamom.
Cowboy cookies have a lot of stuff in them, and these ones are no different. Antoni’s cookies are oatmeal cookies with candied ginger, chocolate chips, pecans, and coconut. They’re a little extra, but in the best way. They’re crunchy and chewy, and the cardamom and ginger really shine. The hint of bitterness from the chocolate cuts through the sweetness, though if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth you could probably cut out some of the sugar. Like just about all cookies, they were best when a little warm, right out of the oven. They were even good the next two days, but after that became a little dry. Despite this, there were no cookies stashed in the freezer for future consumption — my husband and I ate them all.
The recipes in the book span food preferences and skills. There’s everything from cheese stuffed bacon-wrapped dates to whole roasted red snapper. You’ll find healthy(ish) and indulgent recipes, as well as meat, seafood, and vegetarian options. You’ll also find some recipes featured on Queer Eye, though that avocado salad is not in the book.
A quick internet search will reveal too many words written by people questioning Antoni’s credentials, his creativity, his capability, and his possible avocado obsession. Even though Porowski’s public persona has been carefully crafted, it’s one I still want to engage with. I want to follow him on Instagram and see what he’s eating. I want to read and cook from his cookbook so I can try to tap into the feelings he writes about when he cooks turkey meatloaf. I want to be charmed by him. While we won’t be friends IRL, I still want to see Antoni™ in person for myself. Luckily for me and you, he’s visiting the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts as part of PYGMALION this Friday. He’ll be in conversation with Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast, and doing a cooking demo. I’ll be front and center, hoping to bask in the glow of his light, and maybe learn a little something about him that no one else knows.
Photos by Jessica Hammie