In the first episode of the revamped Netflix take on Queer Eye, culinary influencer Antoni Porowski announces, “I’m, like, a dairy freak,” before adding a generous portion of Greek yogurt to his guacamole. This collision of lactic thickness and chunky avocado proved to be the plop heard round the world.
Porowski’s rep as a clueless food expert became a heavily memed matter of public record. The New Yorker even referred to his “highly suspect guacamole” in the headline of its online piece about the show. Ouch. But perhaps the reason Porowski has been able to parlay his success from Queer Eye into a restaurant, forthcoming cookbook, and all manner of other opportunities is because he took that experience in stride. He was able to do that because he knows who he is and what he brings to the table—and he’s comfortable with himself on both counts.
“I kind of pride myself on the fact that I’m not a chef,” Porowski told Fast Company’s Chris Allen recently, while filming a video around the newly released second season of Queer Eye. “I have a deep reverence and respect for chefs. They are my rock stars. But I pride myself on being a home cook. I’m somebody who’s self-taught. I literally learned to cook from watching cooking shows on Food Network.”
Porowski didn’t set out to follow in the footsteps of the telegenic chefs of Food Network fame. He originally moved to New York (via West Virginia) to become an actor, but never got comfortable pretending to be other people. Instead, he carved a winding path through New York’s restaurant scene before ending up as the personal assistant–and personal chef–for original Queer Eye cast member Ted Allen. When Netflix began to put together the roster for its reboot of the makeover show, word reached Porowski. A manager friend told him about the project and encouraged him to throw his cook’s hat into the ring. It was not a decision he took lightly, though.
“Food is always something that was intimate and sacred. Kind of like my sexuality, it’s something that I kept inside and I shared with close loved ones, and that was it,” Porowski says. “And then when Queer Eye came about, I had immediate chills and fear because it was, like, ‘Food: private. Sexuality: even more private.’ And also, unscripted television. It’s me, not a character, which is even more vulnerable and more naked.”
Porowski struggled to decide whether or not to put himself out there. Ultimately, it came down to a nagging fear that he would regret not exploring the opportunity way more than he would if he did and it didn’t pan out.
When the new series debuted on Netflix last spring, Porowski became an instant sensation with his guacamole moment. But rather than strain against the image the internet seemed to thrust upon him–essentially, Fisher Price My First Chef–Porowski accepted it with a shrug, kept on being himself, and let his personality and cooking speak for themselves. Owning who he is as a cook also coincided with owning who he was in his personal life.
“When you become a public person, you have a lot less secrets. You’re kind of forced to be comfortable with who you are,” he says. “It’s this weird exponential growth curve that happens. So I feel like I’m more and more the same person wherever I go. For example, my parents would know when I was dating a guy, but I worked in a restaurant for a few years, and everyone just assumed I was straight, and I never either corrected them or proved them otherwise.”
Porowski has since emerged as a star on Queer Eye and an emerging lifestyle brand. He is now the co-owner of The Village Den, a hot fast-casual spot in Manhattan’s West Village, and his first cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen, is due this September. Eater even awarded him Brand of the Year in 2018. Not too shabby for a guy the internet mocked for taking liberties with guacamole.
“I got this success because I was myself,” Porowski says. “And I didn’t get success when I was trying to be somebody else, to try to be a version of me that was more about what the outside perception was, as opposed to sort of leaning into what my passions and interests are.”