‘Queer Eye”s Antoni Porowski dishes on overcoming addiction, career bumps, and ego

TORONTO — Soul-baring revelations are a staple of Netflix’s makeover hit “Queer Eye,” but its Canadian star Antoni Porowski admits he wasn’t always comfortable with that kind of candour himself.

That’s changing, the Montreal-bred model-turned-reality star says as he alludes to some of his own personal struggles in his first cookbook, “Antoni in the Kitchen,” co-authored by Mindy Fox.

“It’s sort of like a culinary memoir and sort of about food that’s shaped me,” Porowski says of the book, which comes out Monday.

In it, we learn Porowski never cooked with his mom and didn’t get along with an older sister, and there was a lonely spate when he and his parents moved to West Virginia while his mother commuted to Montreal to spend time with his sisters, who stayed in the city: “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I longed for family,” he writes.

Reached by phone recently in Philadelphia while filming an upcoming season of “Queer Eye,” Porowski says the “vast majority” of recipes are connected to his Polish roots, including a winter stew known as bigos, and his take on braised red cabbage, made with pears and cumin.

There are also simple recipes his critics love to hate — his two-ingredient instructions for “Kielbasa, Polish-style” consists of slicing the garlicky sausage length-wise and then pan frying it in olive oil until golden.

It’s for this reason Porowski is a polarizing figure — ever since the first season of “Queer Eye” when he put Greek yogurt in guacamole and spent another cooking lesson jazzing up hot dogs. Porowski admits that in response to the backlash he “tried to over-complicate the recipes” in the third and fourth seasons, until a producer told him the show was not about his cooking chops, but the average people they were trying to help.

“I’ve been able to expand on my culinary interests and knowledge in other ways — I opened up a restaurant,” he says of his year-old New York eatery, the Village Den. ”And the cookbook was another extension of that.”

Porowski is set to discuss his evolving career and tips on home cooking at a ticketed event for Indigo Books in Toronto on Oct. 2 and for Librairie Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal on Oct. 3. Before hitting the road, Porowski chatted with The Canadian Press about overcoming addiction, career hurdles, and his own ego.

CP: Your book hints at difficult family relationships, can you elaborate?

Porowski: I have an older sister that I’m very close with now and my father who I’m also very close with now — we speak multiple times a day (but we) weren’t particularly close growing up. He worked a lot, there wasn’t any type of animosity or anything like that, but he was very committed to supporting the family. (And) with my oldest sister, we went through a really rough patch and we actually didn’t speak for several years…. Meanwhile, with my middle sister and my biological mother, I don’t have relationships with them.

It’s a tough thing. The fact that I have complicated relationships in my family and the fact that I do come from a dysfunctional family … I think has shaped this need for me to (create) the perfect Rockwellian dinner setting where I just love to have nice family meals.

CP: You hinted at a struggle with addiction in “Queer Eye.” What did that involve?

Porowski: I told myself in seasons 1 and 2 that I would never talk about my fluidity and then lo and behold we had — I’m going to get to the answer but I’m just building up to it — we had (makeover subject) AJ, who lost his father and he never had a chance to come out to him and he was going to come out to his stepmom (and) I realized how hypocritical it would have been if I didn’t share my personal story…. I don’t like giving people advice very often. I don’t like getting it either, especially unsolicited. And that was a lesson in: Don’t be so precious about certain things. But at the same time there are things that I do like to preserve for myself.

Two seasons later we meet Joe (and) he mentioned that (alcohol) was something that he struggled with and that was something that I could relate to in a really intimate way in my early 20s when I was trying to figure myself out. I had a lot of existential angst. I still have a bit of existential angst. It doesn’t all fully go away.

CP: How do you cope with that?

Porowski: I’ve been seeing a therapist on and off since I was 17. I’ll just say that there are a lot of resources out there for anybody who’s struggling with anything that they’re dealing with — any type of addiction whether it’s a substance or love or anything that’s harmful to them.

CP: Before succeeding Ted Allen, the food and wine expert in the original “Queer Eye,” you auditioned as host of a Food Network Canada show, right?

Porowski: This was when I was Ted Allen’s assistant. He found out that they were auditioning for “Chopped Canada” and so I went in and I auditioned for it — nobody asked me to audition for it — but I got a tape in and I coached for it with this awesome coach (but) they wanted names…. They ended up going with, I forget his name, but it’s Tori Spelling’s ex-husband, or her current husband.

CP: Dean McDermott. But you ended up following in Ted’s footsteps, regardless.

Porowski: Not once did I ever walk into his house thinking: “I’m going to do this thing that you did or are doing.” And I was weirdly preparing for it. Even though I wasn’t a very good assistant. Like logistically, I’m terrible at calendars and I’m quite disorganized. I need a lot of people to help me.

CP: Do you still want to act?

Porowski: It’s something that I was very passionate about since I was a little kid, still am. It’s something that I definitely want to pursue when the time is right…. I sometimes have trouble focusing. I’m actually quite severely ADHD….

A lot of the stuff that I was auditioning for — that I was pursuing, or that I thought I wanted — was really about ego and how I wanted to be portrayed. Being on “Queer Eye” — yes, it’s entertainment and it’s a show — but it is a service job. Our point and purpose is to help other people (and) so I want to have at least a little bit of that if I pursue acting, as a visibility for LGBTQIA roles or queer parts. Just have a little bit of a focus on something that has meaning and that’s not just about me and my master plan and my ego.

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