NEW YORK | As a kid, “Queer Eye” foodie Antoni Porowski had a love-hate relationship with Polish fare.
It was standard in his Polish Canadian family, but he was a picky eater. He didn’t like caraway seeds. He truly didn’t like beets.
And once he and his dad decamped from Montreal to Glade Springs, West Virginia, the 12-year-old boy with the funny name tired of showing up at school with cabbage rolls and kielbasa when everyone else munched on crustless sandwiches and Oscar Mayer Lunchables, which is all he wanted, too.
“I kind of weirdly grew ashamed of my heritage and my name and my cultural identity,” the 35-year-old Porowski told The Associated Press.
It wasn’t until he moved back to Montreal at 17 that he reconnected with the food of the motherland through a magical little Polish restaurant called Stash Cafe, run at the time by his Auntie Ewa.
“My father worked at this restaurant as a waiter. So did my sisters, all of my cousins. I started working there, just hanging out with the grandmas in the kitchen making the pierogis, and I kind of fell in love with the cuisine of where I’m from.”
In honor of his heritage, Porowski includes updates on some of the recipes his parents brought with them from Poland in his first book, “Antoni in the Kitchen,” which he wrote with Mindy Fox. In addition to Polish twists, the book includes some of his French Canadian favorites, and dishes that please friends or that he has run across at restaurants around the world.
From Poland, there’s the hot dog’s brawny Eastern European cousin, kielbasa, a no-brainer for outdoor entertaining paired with a good pale lager-style beer, Porowski writes. There’s bigos revisited, a winter hunters stew he makes with wild mushrooms and endless pork that includes kabanos, a smoked and air-dried Polish sausage.
“Bigos is beloved by Poles. Everyone has their own version of it, but a lot of Polish people put beer in it and I thought that that was very hoppy, so instead I put in red wine and treated it like beef bourguignon.”
Porowski didn’t start his adult life as a foodie. He was about five years out of acting school, having studied psychology at university, when he auditioned for “Queer Eye,” an Emmy-winning Netflix reboot of the Emmy-winning Bravo show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”
The show’s possibilities left him anxious. Was he gay enough? Was he good enough in the kitchen? Did he really want to make his passion, food, his living?
“I’m still trying to define what that means for me,” Porowski said of his sexual orientation. “I think I did certainly have a bit of shame being fluid when I was growing up because I didn’t know too many people who I could relate to.”
His fellow Fab Fivers helped him get more comfortable with being all the way out. The food question he resolved himself.
“I had a lot of things that I was interested in and I still do, but I realized that the one constant, the one thing that I always did that followed through everything was food. The first jobs I had were in restaurants, from bus boy to waiter to manager to sommelier. It’s what helped me sustain myself while I was auditioning,” he said. “Food is how I show my love to other people. It’s how I connect to others.”
Food was complicated in other ways growing up. His mother did all the cooking, though his physician dad was in charge of all things that go on a cheese board. The children were definitely not invited to participate in the kitchen.
“We watched. From a distance. I used to judge her for that, but I realize I’m actually a lot more similar to her than I tend to admit sometimes,” Porowski said. “I’m trying to be a little more like Samin Nosrat in ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’ where she invites people to actually cook with her and be part of the collaborative process.”
While Porowski has found his stride as the show’s food expert, he’s still working on the idea that he’s a “spokesperson” for the LGBTQ community.
“I get stressed out when I get asked that,” he said. “I’m not an expert in anything except my opinions about food and dogs and maybe scented candles. I just try to stay in my lane.”
Porowski’s fondness for both corgis and avocados is well known among his fans.
“I like an avocado,” he said. “I’m not as obsessed with them as public perception may be. Sometimes you get remembered for some strange things. It’s such a symbol of millennial culture. The stars just aligned to make me the avocado guy. There are worse things to be remembered for, frankly. I’ll take it!”
And his favorite food?
“I love cheese. It’s cheese.”
In particular, he sings the praises of that French standard Boursin, a hit with 1970s American housewives looking to up their entertaining game to gourmet. In the book, Porowski puts it in an herbed lobster-and-saffron dip recipe and declares that Boursin still deserves a place at the table, just as it had when he was growing up and his parents put together cheese charcuterie boards after his swim practice.
“For any European kid, it’s a classic, beloved staple,” he said.
Porowski expresses his thanks in the book, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and out Sept. 9, to Ted Allen, the food and wine expert on the original series. Porowski was Allen’s assistant after chatting him up at one of his cookbook signings.
Allen, who went from the original “Queer Eye” to host of “Chopped,” praises Porowski’s “endless imagination” in the kitchen during his more than three years helping Allen and his husband, Barry Rice. “And BTW, there was rarely an avocado in sight!”