By MARYAM SIDDIQI
Saturday, April 13, 2019
It was only 14 months ago that Netflix's reboot of Queer Eye debuted and yet it seems as if Antoni Porowski and the rest of the Fab Five have been in our lives for ages. The show's food and wine expert was raised in Montreal and now resides in New York, where he opened his first restaurant, the Village Den, in late 2018.
Recently back from Japan, where the show was filming its next season, and in Toronto to launch a design-forward line of customizable appliances with GE, called GE Café, Porowski met with The Globe to talk about the differences between East and West, cooking as self care, and essential dishes.
So. You were in Japan. I was in Japan at the exact same time.
Let's talk about Japan.
Actually, we're only going to talk about Japan.
Obviously there are huge cultural differences, but when it comes to food specifically, did you notice differences in the rituals or even the way that they eat versus North America?
I always want to be respectful about tipping whenever I travel. I was a waiter for 12 years. I'm very sensitive to it - I'm the one who calls his friends out whenever they don't tip enough at a restaurant. They actually explained to me that you don't do it because they get uncomfortable, because you should have good service. It's not this rewards program, it's expected. Everything is about being so meticulous, and with the food I thought it was the same thing.
Even when we went to yakitori places where their focus is just the chicken. They're so proud about it. What I learned from chefs there is that they'll just spend a lifetime.
People spend a lifetime mastering something. It's such an incredible respect for food.
I'm hearing that that sort of same respect doesn't always exist in North American culture.
It doesn't. I don't think it does.
Why do you think that is? We place a huge priority on convenience.
Convenience is huge. But the thing is, Japanese are big on convenience as well. Take 7-Eleven.
You go to a place where they have an egg sandwich, but it's delicious. I get really upset on Queer Eye when I meet somebody and they tell me that they just eat granola bars three times a day and that's their sustenance.
What upsets you about that?
Because there's something so utilitarian about it. I love a granola bar if it's a good one. But to take time and actually make something, even if it's semi homemade, even if you're making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it's a little moment with yourself.
It's giving yourself a gift. Or more importantly, I think it's when you're of service and you make something for somebody else. It can be toast with jam and butter.
It can be as simple as that. But if you take care and you put the jam on the corners so that you don't have a bit of the dry crust on the end, which nobody should have to suffer. It's about taking care.
When people don't do that I get really upset about it. And the misconception is, I think, that there's something elitist about making things from scratch and that's total bull.
Do you think that?
I don't, I don't think that. But I get people sometimes who are like, well, I don't have time for this, or I'm not fancy enough to prepare a meal from scratch.
You don't have to be fancy to really respect the food that you're having and to understand it. And, health ties into that as well. When you're preparing your own food, you know what you're putting into it, you know how much butter, how much salt is going into it.
There's so much that can be gained from taking care of what you put into your body and what you serve other people, and because you're educating yourself, you're more cognizant about what you're putting into your body. I think that ties into why I have such a strong emotional connection with food. I really respect it.
Did you always?
Always. My father's the same way.
I was a very picky eater as a kid and there were a lot of things that I didn't like, but we could never waste anything, we had to finish everything on our plates. That was because on my father's side, his father was in a concentration camp as a Polish Catholic. My mother's father was in a concentration camp as a Polish Catholic, and they were basically given one raw potato a day. So, for them, like we always had three fridges growing up stacked with food as if there was going to be a shortage the next day. But we were always told you had to finish every single thing on your plate. Now, when I look back, those nuggets of information, the things that my parents tried to teach me, it's a driving force for me.
You're teaching adults how to cook on Queer Eye. What is the hardest part of that?
There are two directions that I take. Sometimes they knew how to cook but they stopped doing it.
And we figure out why they stopped and why they need to continue. And other times, they really don't care. But you have to give them a reason for it. There's an episode in Season 1, it was Cory, the cop. This is somebody who is quite religious. He was eating dinner downstairs. He was eating protein bars for dinner while his wife and his kids would be eating upstairs. Yet, religion is so important and the idea of breaking bread on a Sunday night is so instilled in that culture and he wasn't going by that. I had to get into why it was important for him to show up and actually connect with his kids. It was more about the reason for cooking as opposed to the ingredients. Not everyone is as obsessed with the taste of things as I am or the smells.
Cooking for one can suck.
Do you find that there are certain challenges when you're helping someone try to re-establish a connection with food who's solo versus somebody who's with family and can use this social way in?
Yeah. There are certain things that people can make for themselves that are simple. I think the egg is always such a great start. It's so good for us. I'm so tired of eggwhite omelettes. There's so many important things in the yolk other than the flavour, even though that's the most important part.
Everyone should know how to make an omelette or a nice little frittata. Everyone should have a couple of stews in their arsenal that they can make and freeze.
Thaw it out in the morning and you show up at home. You have a beautiful little bourguignon or whatever it is that you can just heat up with some rice or some noodles really quick.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
PABLO LOBATO/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Tuesday, April 16, 2019