“We have our salt, we have our acid from the lime juice, we have cilantro, and we have our avocado,” Antoni Porowski says, standing over a molcajete with a dish towel draped across his shoulder. Queer Eye’s newly anointed food expert is showing a hapless 57-year-old divorcee named Tom how to make one of the bachelor’s favorite foods from scratch. “So, this is tangy Greek yogurt,” Porowski tells Tom, bowl in hand. “It has so much less fat than sour cream, and it has a lot of flavor — I like to put a little spoon of that in there.”
By mixing that yogurt into the guacamole, Porowski ignited a national conversation about his kitchen skills or lack thereof — a conversation that is still raging today, despite the fact that Porowski, a virtual unknown in the food world a mere 11 months ago, is now one of 2018’s breakout stars. In the months following the show’s debut, Antoni signed a book deal, became a spokesperson for brands like Whole Foods and VitaCoco, and partnered with two of his NYC gym buddies on the opening of a health-food restaurant on an iconic corner of the West Village. Porowski also starred in his own American Psycho-themed short for Netflix, appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers making Thai turkey bowls on Thanksgiving, and landed a one-night-only role in the off-Broadway comedy series Celebrity Autobiography.
None of this would’ve been possible had Porowski not embraced the public’s early fascination with his cooking abilities, and parlayed the media attention into a showcase for his passions aside from guacamole recipes. When New York Times contributor Bonnie Wertheim visited his Brooklyn apartment, Porowski whipped up fresh pasta, a Marcella Hazan-inspired tomato sauce, and his own recipe for ground turkey meatballs, while talking about his love of corgis and the book A Little Life. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Porowski addressed his Instagram feed and its mix of Blue Steel-style selfies and food porn. “With the photos of me, I keep them tongue-in-cheek, clever,” Porowski remarked, “and with the food, I get to be passionate and be my nerdy-ass self and just go off on the virtues of pairing blue cheese with apricots or whatever.” And when the second season of Queer Eye was announced, he even poked fun at his image in a music video where he appeared dancing, gleefully, with an armful of avocados, as digital versions of the fruit rained from the sky. This image tells you a lot about Antoni’s persona: Yes, he’s read the comments; no, he doesn’t care; and wow, he’s having so much fun right now.
By glancing at that Instagram feed or reading literally any of these interviews with Porowski, it’s apparent that this Montreal-born New Yorker is obsessed with food and knows what he’s talking about. The public scrutiny over Antoni’s abilities in the kitchen might stem from the fact that the food world has never seen a celebrity quite like him before: a modelesque, openly gay TV chef with an affinity for both splurges and the healthy stuff, who is knowledgeable and yet somehow not a snob. Porowski seems as comfortable rummaging through a bachelor’s kitchen in a Strokes T-shirt on Queer Eye as he is working the red carpet in a tux on Emmy night. And the message he preaches, both on the show and elsewhere, is inclusive and unpretentious: no matter who you are or where you live or what your dietary restrictions may be, you should feel good about what you’re eating. This idea of the healthful gourmand lifestyle extends to his partnerships with Whole Foods and VitaCoco, his menu at the Village Den, and also his work on Queer Eye.
After learning that Tom, the Mexican food fan from the premiere, was diagnosed with lupus, Antoni says that he created several recipes for dishes and drinks that were free of nightshades — fruits and vegetables that may cause inflammation — to impart to him on the show. The Greek-yogurt guac was the only one that made it into the final cut, but that dish still aligned with his goals for working with Tom. “It’s not a cooking show,” Porowski told GQ after the premiere of Queer Eye. “It’s not about my skillset. It’s about figuring out how we can contribute to the lives of these people in a very short amount of time.”
Like his Christmas party pal Chrissy Teigen, Antoni paved a path to culinary stardom by using his love of food as a compass, all while eschewing professional kitchens and cable TV cooking shows along the way. 2018 was a big year for Porowski, and the food star shows no signs of slowing down in 2019. For all these reasons, Antoni is Eater’s pick for the #Brand of the Year.