Star of Netflix’s “Queer Eye” reboot talks ‘fluid’ sexuality, caring for starstruck fans and the sexy anatomy of a coconut
By Chris Azzopardi
Even though Antoni Porowski is known for his avocados, on a recent afternoon he was contemplating the coconut, every sultry detail of the tropical fruit meticulously combed like that of someone’s body during a first date. The fleshy inside, the milky liquid.
It’s the first day of June when the Polish-Canadian wine-and-dine expert on Netflix’s “Queer Eye” reboot rings and, oh right, we’re talking about food. But gay America isn’t hungry – it’s thirsty AF. And because real lives are being changed thanks to Porowski, designer Bobby Berk, culture advisor Karamo Brown, stylist Tan France and groomer Jonathan Van Ness, it is also joyfully crying.
Season two of “Queer Eye” – note the dropping of its qualifier to be more inclusive – doesn’t skimp on giving you opportunities to feel good about this otherwise not-good world, as the Fab Five imparts their best-life insight and general gay wisdom on a diverse group of clients, including the franchise’s first woman and transgender man.
As Porowski continues to process his experience with the sudden upswing in gay male thirst and avocado sex puns (one Facebook commenter claims he was so compelled by Porowski’s hotness, “I’m now cooking my own bloody guacamole”), the 34-year-old subject of culinary controversy talked critics and why variety truly is the spice of life.
After the new Betty Who theme-song video for the show, where you’re cradling avocados and wearing a crop top, the avocado dick puns are out in full force.
I guess I asked for it, right? I’m literally wearing a crop top and unsuccessfully trying to juggle avocados, so I shouldn’t be surprised.
I must say, I do hope the crop top becomes a regular clothing theme of yours in the third season.
(Laughs) Thanks! I do have to give credit where it’s due, and that was 100 percent Tan France.
When it comes to you, the thirst is real. What is that kind of attention like from the gay community?
I do maintain a certain amount of ignorance to it and a kind of detachment. I learned quite early on, because there’s been a lot of really amazing and positive and nice attention from the show. But with that, there’s also gonna be certain haters and some negative and not-so-nice comments, so I’ve sort of decided that if I’m gonna take the good, I have to take the bad, so I’ve decided to take neither.
I take it all very lightly, with a small pinch of salt. It’s entertaining and it’s funny, but I just try to focus on what my next move is with this show, with press that we’re working on, living out of hotels for the past couple of months, and hoping that people really enjoy (this season) as much as they did the first.
When you’re living out of hotels, how do you maintain a healthy diet?
I don’t! That’s the honest truth of it. My only thing is, I always love to have a proper gym, because I get up fairly early, and when you’re jet-lagged, you don’t really know what day of the week it is or what city you’re in, which is often the case with me.
When we do go on press, and we discovered we were in London recently and Tan introduced me to the wonders of Nando’s, which is a chain that they don’t have here yet in the States, but it’s this awesome PERi-PERi chicken. Had that for, like, four meals in a row with a bunch of PERi-PERi mayo, guilt-free with chicken livers, ’cause, I mean, I wanna live my life too. I’m not one to deny myself of the pleasures of, like, a good ripe stinky cheese on a fresh crusty baked bread in Paris.
Oh, I’ve seen you indulge on the show.
You’re not afraid of some macaroni salad.
There ya go! Well, but that wasn’t my recipe.
It wasn’t, but you still ate it.
Oh, I ate it. I’ll try anything twice.
Are you still trying to wrap your head around your overnight fame?
Yeah. I mean, it certainly hits in waves. The next level of kind of acceptance of what’s actually going on was when we were just recently in London, and when you experience people who’ve been waiting outside of your hotel with magazines to sign. It’s kind of like, “Wow, you’re a human with a life and a job, presumably, who wanted to wait to have a moment,” and I’m grateful for it, but it’s not something I want to be too comfortable with. It’s very bizarre and very overwhelming, and it’s a perpetual state of shock.
What my therapist tells me is, “Don’t trust your feelings right now because you’re constantly basically running on adrenaline – your life right now is pure adrenaline.” It’s been like overdrive, so it’s just, take everything very lightly, focus on the next move, make sure you always have a bottle of water in your hand and that you’re not drinking too much coffee, and that you rest whenever you can. And remember not to lean into your workaholic self, which is very alive and well in this new chapter of my life.
What are your gay fan interactions outside of hotels like?
I feel like I’m pretty good at reading people, but with fans it’s very different because the connection, like the energy and the direction of it, is very different. I always think, “Oh my gosh, I’m so uncomfortable after that interaction and I don’t know why.” Tan will tell me, “No, because they’re experiencing this concept of being starstruck, of seeing someone on TV, and then you meet them in person and you don’t really know how to behave.”
So my thing is, ask them a question about themselves, try to make this a human interaction, and try to normalize it in the best way that you can, just to make sure that the person kind of has a nice, meaningful experience and they can leave happy. Sometimes I’m left, like, taking care of people. They’ll come up and their mouth opens and they don’t say anything, and you don’t want to be presumptuous and be like, “Yeah! I’m the guy from that show!” But then once it becomes clear what show I’m on and the work that I do, it’s like, I have to kind of take care of them and be like, “Are you OK? It’s fine. Here, do you want a hug? Do you want a photo?”
You don’t just go right in for the hug?
No, I’m a little – yeah, I have more of a European sensibility. We like to kiss twice. Or: I don’t know, healthy boundaries.
Kiss twice, though? Everyone must just enjoy meeting you.
How has helping other people on this show changed your approach to your own life?
I’ve had many passions: I studied psychology, that’s what my bachelor’s is in; I worked as a gallery director; I photographed vintage furniture; and on the acting side of things, that was something that was always very ego, where it was always how “I” want to be perceived. I wanted people to look and see and feel my presence, whereas with the show, it actually isn’t that at all. That became very clear with episode one: the energy is directed in the other direction, so it’s really us being of service to this person that we’re helping and figuring out how best we can benefit their lives in such a short amount of time and try to impact them in a meaningful way.
We see that happen in the first episode of season two, with “Mama Tammye.”
Mama Tammye is an example who spun it on us, and doesn’t even taken care of herself and shows up as a teacher and as a member of her church, and for the five of us.
You cried at the end of that episode. Of you five, who cries the most?
You’re talking to him! When you hear somebody’s struggle, or especially when they’ve overcome something or made a choice like Tammye – there was a lot of pain and a lot of fear and borderline hateful feelings toward gays, and she realized that it was her perspective that was wrong, and she’s a beacon of hope for people. It’s possible at any age. If you have people like Tammye who were able to figure it out, there’s no excuse for the rest of us.
Even though you’ve been with men and women, you’ve said that you don’t like to call yourself bisexual. Have you found the best way to explain your sexual orientation to people yet?
Not really. And it’s not something that I feel too pressured to figure out. Sometimes I have very strong opinions about how to cook a filet of salmon so the skin remains crispy and doesn’t stick to the pan, but with a lot of things, I don’t like being the expert. I’d rather go in and be like, “I don’t know.” There’s a power in that for me. It’s sort of like going in with humility and saying, “I’m still trying to figure it out.”
While I don’t think I’m trying to figure out my sexality, I’m just not as concerned with it anymore. My 20s were a really hard time for me of figuring out what the hell I wanted to do with my life. And being in my 30s, now that I kind of have a point and purpose with what I’m doing in this chapter of my life, it’s just, I’m happy where I’m at and that’s all that really matters.
Look, that (coming out) conversation with AJ in that changing room in season one, that was seriously a byproduct. Tan brought me along because we both had similar experiences. He as a Muslim and me just as the individual that I am. We’re both so completely different, but we have the same feelings about what it was like to come out, and that it’s this dynamic process, like (out actor) Charlie Carver recently – a fellow Gay Times alum – feels he’s constantly still coming out, that it’s this continued thing, that it doesn’t just happen once and you shoot your proverbial load and it’s done; you have to keep doing it over and over again. Some people don’t, but it’s not like a start, stop. And I don’t need that pressure in my life to try to find myself in any way where I feel like I’m locked into something. I’d just rather keep it open and fluid, because that’s how I am with the books that I read, the music that I listen to. All of my interests are always changing, and it’s a constant dynamic process, and so is my sexuality.
These days, there is obviously less pressure to subscribe to any one label, or stick to the binary.
For people who want to be not binary, go right ahead. If that helps you sleep better at night and you feel more like you’re a better and truer version of yourself, then 100 percent, you should be able to pursue that with freedom and – is today June 1?
Today “is” June 1.
It has me thinking about Pride and what Pride means: the ability to be the truest version of yourself without any negative consequence or fear of being persecuted or judged or criticized or hurt for it. And whatever that is for a person, however you define yourself or don’t define yourself, you should be able to do that with total freedom. I know that’s utopian and idealistic, but that’s really something to strive for and something the show has reminded me of.
I read that you were a private chef for some high-profile clients. High profile as in celebrities?
So with food, it was something that kind of happened accidentally, cooking for people. There were some I’m not allowed to discuss, but in the sports world in New York there was somebody I was working for in particular where we would host these intimate dinner parties. And I remember as a kid when we would have dinner parties at my parents’ house, everyone would always gravitate toward the kitchen; that’s where the heart of the home is.
Where the smells originate.
Exactly. That’s where the slow-roasted garlic wafts are emanating from. And for me, I’m not a traditional classically trained chef where I’m in a kitchen and I’m doing my own thing; I am an entertainer, that’s who I am. And I love food and I love playing with it, and I love preparing it for people. It’s how I show my love. So, it sort of became this whole thing. We would make short ribs and I would just talk to people. She’s a close friend who works in the sports world and she was the one who kind of started this whole thing for me, kind of recommended me to other people in the biz, and then afterwards, I met (original “Queer Eye” foodie and “Chopped” host) Ted Allen and worked as his personal assistant but also cooked for him and we did dinners, like “Chopped” barbecues, for some of his cast members and crew on his show. It sort of evolved in this weird, organic way while I had other jobs. It was sort of a side thing I did every now and then. It wasn’t a regularly occurring everyday thing where I showed up and made breakfast, lunch and dinner for someone. I was never one like that for any job. I’ve always had, like, 10 different things going on at the same time.
If you could cook for any celebrity, who would it be and what would you cook?
Dead or alive?
They can be dead.
I would take something off of the menu at Voltaire in Paris and I would prepare it for Oscar Wilde, and I would slap my copy of “De Profundis” in front of him and be like, “We’re gonna talk about this for five hours and I’m gonna feed your belly and I’m gonna get you drunk, and you’re just gonna tell me everything and answer all of my questions.” And then I would also maybe throw Allen Ginsberg in there, and why not Jack Kerouac? And who else? I’d throw in Virginia Woolf and she’d tell me all about “Orlando”.
You’re on a desert island and you can survive off one food, what’s the food?
I love a fresh coconut. You crack it and you have the milk, which is so delicious, but the flesh too. There’s that creamy part on the inside that you can scoop with a spoon, and then there’s the really hard shell part that, if you roast it with sugar, it gets caramelized and really nice and crunchy. So, I think coconuts. I’d get fed up with them after a week, but I don’t know what food I wouldn’t get fed up about, truly. Ask me again tomorrow.
I’ve never thought about the flesh of a coconut until now, and it sounds weirdly sexy.
(Laughs) Oh, think about it. Go buy a fresh coconut and think of me.