‘We all have a food story’: Antoni Porowski revisits his heritage and path to Queer Eye fame in a new cookbook | National Post
Amid the tortilla chips, burrito fixings and foil-wrapped trays laid out on Deanna Muñoz’s kitchen island, she lands on a plate of chiles rellenos. Chunky poblano peppers stuffed with melty cheese, lightly battered and deep-fried — “This is something I maybe know how to cook, but …” she tells Queer Eye’s food expert Antoni Porowski, trailing off hesitantly.
If you watched Season 4’s “A Tale of Two Cultures” episode of the Netflix reality show, chances are you shed at least a few tears. A Latino art advocate and fan of lowrider car culture, Kansas City, Mo.-based Muñoz felt stuck, opening up about her lack of confidence to express her passions and connect with her heritage.
Despite identifying as “150 per cent Chicana,” the second-generation Mexican American subject (“hero” in Queer Eye parlance) struggled with her inability to make Mexican meals or speak Spanish: “I’m living in a world where I’m not Mexican enough and I’m not white enough,” says Muñoz. Her story resonated with Porowski. Thrust into the spotlight when Queer Eye premiered in February 2018, self-doubt surfaced.
“I certainly felt that as well. I felt that discomfort: I’m not enough of a chef. I’m not gay enough. I’m not Polish enough,” he says. “That’s something that I still revisit every now and then, but it’s one of those things where … you’re always going to be too much of something or not enough of something to somebody else. Just focus on how you feel and how you identify.”
In writing his debut cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen (Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019; with Mindy Fox), Porowski reflected on his own heritage. Born in Montreal to Polish parents, many of his family’s food traditions were rooted in Central Europe. Growing up, he describes his relationship with Polish food as “complicated.” Although he loved it as a child, he later pushed it aside, feeling “ashamed” of his name and the lunches he brought to school. It wasn’t until, as a Concordia University student working as a server at his Auntie Ewa’s Stash Café — “the rite of passage for anyone Polish Canadian in Montreal” — that he “fell back in love with the food again.”
In the book, recipes for fortifying Polish meals — tangy żurek (“the Polish hangover soup”) and meaty bigos (hunter’s stew) — sit alongside “healthyish” weeknight dishes (smoky chicken skillet fajitas), his favourite recipes for entertaining (Alsatian tarte flambée three ways; spicy fennel frico), and takes on American comfort foods, including an exceptionally cheesy turkey meatloaf (a cheese lover, Porowski generously tucks an entire block of cheddar inside), and herby mac and cheese with peas (one of his top 10 culinary mantras is “frozen peas for president”).
“When I was writing the cookbook, I felt like what a beautiful opportunity to really honour those recipes and those dishes that I had, and show how I’d been able to evolve them,” says Porowski of contemplating his family’s food. “It ties into my cultural identity (in that) you take the things that your parents taught you and you figure out how to make it your own.”
He takes a personal approach throughout the book, retracing his path from Montreal to New York City (and Queer Eye) in an intimate introduction, and sharing pivotal food memories in recipe headnotes. A self-professed fan of nostalgia and all things retro, it’s a glimpse at the dishes he turns to for comfort and connection. Initially criticized by some viewers for his stripped down cooking style, Porowski comes across as an enthusiastic food lover with imagination and sensitivity.
Self-taught, he honed his technique by watching chefs and cooking show hosts like Julia Child. Ease and approachability have become his culinary hallmarks on the show, and while he continues in this vein, he presents a wide range in Antoni in the Kitchen. His recipe for radishes in pink peppercorn-and-chive butter calls for just five ingredients, for example; żurek, with its sour rye soup starter, offers a multiday gateway to fermentation.
“Just like on Queer Eye, I’m always reminded to keep it simple so that people can relate and it’s something that they actually want to recreate again … Everything (in the book) has been driven by my life and my experiences, and interacting with people — whether it’s significant others or family members or friends or people I’m trying to impress or say sorry to,” says Porowski.
“We all have a food story. I don’t care if you’re as passionate about food and obsessive as I am about it, but we all have those dishes that were there to help us through our university years, when we were growing up with our parents, when we had our first apartment, to dinner parties, to engagement parties. Every single special occasion. All the important life moments that I’ve ever had have always had food involved in some way, shape or form. And I want people to look at their lives and get excited … and just know that it’s such an incredible way to connect with other people.”
This content was originally published here.