Antoni Porowski on expanding his empire beyond “Queer Eye”

After Antoni Porowski was cast in Netflix’s 2018 reboot of “Queer Eye” and rose to fame as the makeover show’s boyishly charming culinary expert, he struggled to say nope.

For years, he had hustled as a busboy and server at upscale New York restaurants while auditioning for acting gigs. So when he finally got the job that meant he could mix, rather than balance, entertainment and food, he wanted to go all-in.

“I went through a weird phase when ‘Queer Eye’ came out where I was like, ‘I’m not going to have fun,'” he says over breakfast at The Smile restaurant in midtown Manhattan. “I’m just going to work and hustle. I will do every endorsement.

Her yes phase proved rewarding, leading to cookbooks, a fast-casual restaurant in New York’s West Village (which closed during the pandemic), and brand deals to tout espressos, nutritional gummies, meal planning kits and other paraphernalia to her 4.5 million Instagram followers.

But it was all getting too exhausting. So when COVID-19 forced “Queer Eye,” which was filming in Austin, to halt production, Porowski used the time to mentally reset and refocus his priorities. He spent the early days of the pandemic in Texas with his boyfriend, Kevin, and their newly adopted foster dog, Neon.

“I took a break. Don’t use a food analogy…” he begins, before offering one of the many food analogies he’ll use during our two-hour conversation. He recalls the advice he received from his agent: “Think of it like a slow cooker. You don’t have to say yes to everything. »

Porowski, 38, began considering the kinds of projects that uniquely aligned with his new calling as a famous home cook next door. This manifested in his first big swing outside of “Queer Eye”, Variety learned — as the host of the Netflix cooking competition series “Easy-Bake Battle.” Consider it his Harry Styles or Camila Cabello breakout moment. But fear not, reality TV fans: unlike One Direction or Fifth Harmony, the “Queer Eye” Fab Five, also made up of interior design expert Bobby Berk, cultural expert Karamo Brown, Grooming guru Jonathan Van Ness and fashion ace Tan France, aren’t sure, as the series has been renewed for Season 7.

“The nice thing about working with four castmates is that I tend to fall asleep,” he says, referring to “Queer Eye.” On the new series, he has no others to rely on. “I’m someone who is terrified of so many things in life, but I also take great pleasure in indulging in fear. I was like, ‘Let’s see if I can do this.’

Porowski — who will be joined by guest judges including Kristen Kish of “Iron Chef” and “Nailed It!” alum Jacques Torres – helped pitch and develop the series as executive producer. “We got to know Antoni on ‘Queer Eye,’ and we always knew there was more to him,” says Jenn Levy, vice president of non-fiction content at Netflix. “He makes food super accessible.”

The series, which has already wrapped filming and will be released later this year, also gives Porowski a chance to realize an unrealized dream: “My parents used to say, ‘We have an oven. Why would we have an Easy-Bake oven? ?” So selfishly, I can relive my childhood.

Inspired by the popular children’s toy, “Easy-Bake Battle” features home chefs competing in two sets of savory and sweet challenges using only an Easy-Bake style oven. Embedded in the show’s ethos is the idea that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. But unlike the mini kitchen appliance, the competition series is not suitable for children. “They have to understand the temperature. They have to understand the timing,” he says. “I know it doesn’t sound easy, but they have to be resourceful.”

Antoni Porowski wants to branch out beyond his role as a culinary expert on “Queer Eye.”
Ryan Duffin for Variety

Porowski is an enthusiastic talker, and he leans forward when he begins to talk about the home cooks, who compete for big cash prizes: “I’m so glad you’re meeting two moms who have always wanted to make it to make a living. Their families convinced them to do something else. I like the idea of ​​empowering people who are passionate about things but haven’t pursued it in a professional capacity. »

Porowski admits: “It’s a bit of projecting myself. Although he rose to fame as the resident foodie on “Queer Eye,” he has developed a bit of a complex about cooking, as he was not professionally trained in culinary school.

“I’m a home cook, and that’s something I was a little ashamed of,” he says.

Like slow cooker beef stew, accepting this took a little while. His insecurities were amplified after the first season of “Queer Eye” in 2018. For the inaugural episode, Porowski went to great lengths to come up with recipes that matched his subject’s dietary abilities and restrictions. The very first “hero”, a lovable truck driver named Tom, suffered from lupus, which meant he couldn’t eat foods high in alkaloids like tomatoes or eggplant. Instead, Porowski cooked skirt steaks and quesadillas and made salsa from corn and black beans. In the kitchen, there were lawyers hanging around. So as a finishing touch to the Tex-Mex feast, he taught Tom how to make guacamole with Greek yogurt.

“That’s the only thing that succeeded in the episode,” he says with a groan. Cue Internet ponders whether or not Porowski could cook. “And then I became the guac guy.” He stops to laugh. “I got endorsements, so I’m not complaining.”

In subsequent seasons, he attempted to overcorrect by concocting more complex meals. These never made it to the show, because a producer on “Queer Eye” convinced him they weren’t necessary. “She’s like, ‘You read in people who can criticize you to be simple. But know your audience and who you work with.

Through his job, one aspect of his life that he never had to deal with was deciding to come out publicly. It’s not lost on Porowski that he shot to fame thanks to a show that celebrates the LGBTQ community. Porowski, who has dated both men and women, identifies as sexually fluid.

When “Queer Eye” first aired, he recalls, “I was going straight through. I’ve had a lot of friends contact me, like, ‘Is this an acting gig?’ “He said to them, ‘No, it’s not scripted. I went out with guys.

Her real-life dating story will soon serve as the inspiration for a romantic comedy called “Girls & Boys,” which Porowski is directing on Netflix with “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris. This movie won’t be his first on-screen role outside of reality TV host. He also landed a small role in the upcoming drama “Spoiler Alert” with Jim Parsons for Focus Features.

Although Porowski began his career in show business as a cook and talks about meals with the detail and precision usually reserved for doctors preparing for surgery, food wasn’t always part of his big stardom ambition. .

Born in Montreal to Polish parents, he grew up obsessed with Martha Stewart and Saturday morning cartoons like “Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers” and “DuckTales.” In his school yearbook, he wrote that he wanted to be a famous actor and a surgeon, but he didn’t do either of those things while studying psychology at Concordia University in Canada. He decided against going to graduate school and instead returned to his childhood dream of becoming a performer, moving to New York to pursue acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse. But once he arrived in Manhattan, he considered working with Martin Scorsese rather than channeling Rachael Ray.

“When ‘Queer Eye’ came along, that wasn’t part of the plan. I was kind of like, ‘OK, I got the job I needed, and not necessarily the job I wanted,’” he recalls adding freshly cracked pepper and ketchup to four scrambled eggs.

He stops, taking a moment to defend the condiment he’s just put on his plate. “It’s because of my boyfriend. I judged him for the first year of our relationship. I was like, ‘This is really trash!’ I tried it once, and I’m obsessed.

Porowski also had to reevaluate the career he envisioned for himself.

“I’m not a character actor,” he says. But he still worked to find roles that fit the personality he cultivated in “Queer Eye.” “Amy Schumer consciously chooses roles that are an extension of who she is. And that’s kind of what I want. I branch out into acting while respecting the food space.

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