If the Queer Eye reboot taught us anything, it’s the importance of learning from each other’s differences, and joining together in a gooey place of empathy and respect. I try to internalize that message in my daily life. I really do. But there’s one subset of the population that I have no patience for: Antoni Porowski "truthers," ye who would even think to doubt whether Porowski, the cooking expert plucked from thousands of applicants, can actually cook. After a cavalcade of snarky Twitter chatter, the question of Porowski's abilities was first formally explored in an article in Junkee entitled "Investigation: Does the Incredibly Hot Food Guy From Queer Eye Even Know How To Cook?" Since then, Porowski has had to address his "simple recipes" in all his media appearances.
So you should listen to me, for I have seen things. I’ve seen Porowski wander the aisles of Whole Foods, enchanted by the possibilities each ingredient represents. I’ve watched him expertly slice vegetables while talking about the dinner parties he used to throw for his friends when he was 14. I've heard him discuss the merits of his favorite Greek olive oil. All in all: He has the technical skill, enthusiasm, and the vast knowledge of recipes necessary to be a cook. And of course he’s a cook. Ted Allen, the former Queer Eye cooking expert, never would have hired Porowski to be his personal chef otherwise.
So why the slew of doubt? I think the miscommunication stems from two sources. First: Queer Eye only shows a sliver of what Porowski actually made with the guys. When I spoke to him, Porowski remarked that the bulk of his tutorials were cut from the episodes. The entire step-by-step process of making chili with Bobby was eliminated from episode 6 – instead, it seemed the chili was prepared instantly. For the most part, Porowski didn't get a chance to show off those ninja-like knife skills I witnessed during our own tutorial.
Porowski was also criticized for preparing simple food like grilled cheese, hot dogs, and guacamole. Admittedly, these are not particularly difficult dishes. But did we actually expect that Tom Jackson, he who keeps his fridge stocked with ingredients for “redneck margaritas,” would learn to make boeuf bourguignon? Even if he did learn to make boeuf bourguignon during an intensive session with Porowski, do we actually think he’d regularly cook it? Would you? (For the record, Porowski knows how to make boeuf bourguignon — he told me he regularly prepares the French stew for his boyfriend’s parents during their weekly Sunday dinner gatherings.)
In an interview with GQ, Porowski clarified that his role on Queer Eye wasn’t to show off his own kitchen prowess. “It's not a cooking show. It's not about my skillset. It's about figuring out how we can contribute to the lives of these people in a very short amount of time. It has to be very fact based and in a simple way,” Porowski said.
His goal was to instill curiosity about food where there had been fear or apathy or lack of knowledge. And these guys needed help, as well as curiosity. Corey let his wife do all the cooking; Remy subsisted on smoothies; Neal’s cooking equipment sat unused. Tom, as we stated, specialized only in mixing tequila and Mountain Dew for a "redneck margarita."
The single quality that detractors have latched onto – Porowski has not been professionally trained as a chef! — is actually what makes him uniquely qualified for the job. Antoni is an amateur in the best way of the word. Until Queer Eye, cooking was something he did for himself, and for his loved ones. “Food is how I interact with people,” he told me when we cooked together. He approaches cooking from a place of love and curiosity, not from a place of work or obligation.
That's the thing about cooking. You don't need to be a professional to do it well. Who taught you to cook? Probably not a trained chef. Probably a parent, or a friend, or reruns of Julia Child (another self-taught chef) on PBS. And the first thing they most likely taught you to make wasn’t boeuf bourguignon, it was grilled cheese.
When Porowski gets his own cooking show (notice I say when), then we can judge his abilities, as they compare to professionals. For now, he’s clearly just doing what Queer Eye asks of him: Eroding the fear that has calcified around the idea of cooking in these men’s minds, one simple recipe at a time.
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