Restaurant recipes

Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski on his new restaurant, recipes and more

Although Antoni Porowski became famous for teaching sad dads and hapless bachelors how to whip up easy finger foods on the Netflix hit weird eye, his culinary knowledge is much deeper than that. Before becoming a television star, he spent years working in restaurants in Montreal and New York, and Porowski was also a private chef for original Fab Five member Ted Allen, who recommended him for the role on reboot. Chatting with the TV star days before the opening of his bustling new Manhattan restaurant, the Village Den, it’s clear that Antoni has a penchant for healthy foods and splashing calorie bombs. Her menu at the Village Den — a collaboration between Porowski and veteran New York restaurateurs Lisle Richards and Eric Marx — reflects her eclectic tastes.

Antoni recently took a break from the pre-opening madness to take part in the Famous Original Eater Questionnaire, an interview series where we ask Hollywood’s most exciting people about their eating habits.

Welcome to the famous quirky eater quiz. What’s the last thing you ate?
The last thing I ate was a combination of things. I had leftover cauliflower flour so I made a cauliflower pizza and then my teammate Jonathan came over with Church’s Chicken. I had leftover bratwurst which I cut very thin and I had frozen broccoli. I didn’t want to shop for groceries, so I used whatever I had at home. I also had pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes and tomato sauce from Lidia Bastianich. It was therefore a semi-homemade and healthy meal, accompanied by fried chicken.

What’s the last thing you drank?
I’m drinking it right now – it’s cold brew over ice, black. No sugar, no milk.

When and where was the last time you ate a hot dog?
It’s been a long time. Wow, okay, the last time I ate a hot dog was when I was in Brooklyn, and I was photographing a recipe I made at the end of season 1, where I made pickled vegetables and honey mustard for hot dogs in the last episode. So that was… maybe six months ago?

What do you want to eat right now?
I don’t have the biggest sweet tooth, but I do in the morning. If I could have anything right now, it would be a cold birthday cake, with whipped cream cheese frosting. Vanilla. That and coffee for breakfast is my ideal.

What’s the difference between the recipes you cook and demo on weird eye and those of your new restaurant?
It’s like day and night. On weird eye I come up with what I know and try to turn that into lessons for our “heroes”. But it’s really listening to what they need. Sometimes it’s a bit more ambitious. It is sometimes very simplistic. But it has to be something condensed into a short amount of time.

At the restaurant, we had several weeks of testing and developing the menu. It’s apples and oranges, a whole different beast. I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating: The Den is really an expression of the kind of food I want to eat during the week. There are lots of vegetables and fruits and that sort of thing. And that’s a lot of protein, so definitely lighter meats.

It looks a lot like me. I’m very ADD, and so culturally it’s all over the place. There’s a cabbage roll which is basically a reimagining of a recipe my mom used to make when I was little, but with cauliflower rice instead. There are baked fish sticks with a macadamia nut crust. There are small garden bowls. Some breakfasts are inspired by Indian desserts because of my best friend Reema. We have a carrot halwa, which looks like this really nice shredded carrot pudding, but we have it with cashew cream and a bit of pistachio crunch.

The restaurant is much more “me”, I would say.

I Lily that you never wanted to open your own restaurant until recently. What made you change your mind? And how did you partner with Eric Marx and Lisle Richards on this project?
The truth is that it has not been my dream to have a restaurant. I know restaurant owners, and the amount of work that goes into a restaurant is nothing short of madness. It’s a real commitment, and most restaurants don’t, so the odds are really stacked against you.

We have this thing called “training club”. We’re a group of seven or eight in LA and New York, and whenever we’re all in New York together, we just go practice. And we always went to the Wayfarer, which is Lisle and Eric’s uptown restaurant. It’s more decadent to eat there, but we would basically ask the chefs to do like grilled fish with roasted Brussels sprouts, or fibrous vegetables with a poached egg or something. And we decided it would be great to have a place with food that we really like that makes you feel good after eating it, and you don’t go into a carb coma.

It came from an organic place, and it also came from a time when I was a “yes”. And I’m always kind of – I say ‘yes’ to everything. With weird eye, I wasn’t really a hundred percent sure what success would be. So I wanted to do everything I could because… I want job security! What’s great [Eric and Lisle] is that they have a solid experience in restaurant management. They know what operations are like, whereas with me I just came for menu development and came as a home cook. So there’s been a lot of advice along the way for editing and making it more concise and restaurant-friendly.

What’s the one food you didn’t try until later in life?
You know what it is? I love it so much: bottarga. So it’s dried fish roe, and you basically treat it like Parmigiano-Reggiano. You just grated it on a microplane. I had it over linguine with toasted breadcrumbs, and it rocked my world. I love fish anchovies and sardines and that sort of thing. And I loved how delicate it was but just nice and salty. I have it on toast now, and it’s great.

What have you never eaten that you wish you could try?
I’ve never tried durian, and just hearing people talk about the smell of it…I’m a very sensory person, and I’m dying to try it.

What’s your drink?
Either I would go to Eataly and have a nice little espresso doppio with a biscotti on the side and a glass of sparkling water. Or, more realistically, because I’m downtown more often, I’d go to La Colombe and have a black cold brew. And while I was waiting for them to squeeze him, I got a glass of water — they have a little water dispenser thingy over there.

Which album is the soundtrack of a universal dinner?
I know I wore t-shirts on the show, and I like more bands than the Strokes and the National, I swear. But the national concert is coming up this Sunday and I’m going there and I’m so excited. Last night I was writing and listening Boxer, which is my favorite national album. What I love so much is that there’s a fun party song that’s nostalgic, like “Fake Empire.” And then “Apartment Story” reminds me of 10:30 p.m., when everyone is at my house and they’ve already had way too much to drink and they’re drunk and it’s dimly lit and there are candles everywhere . And then there’s songs like “Santa Clara” when everybody leaves and I’m alone and I’m taking a shower and doing all my moisturizing regimen and it’s like the perfect song to take me to the bed. So this album will take me all night.

What is your “madeleine of Proust”? The food or drink that instantly brings back memories?
I will say two things. One of them is bone marrow. We had it when we were kids and loved it. And then the bones, we gave them to our dog, Biggie, who was a long-haired dachshund smuggled in from Poland. So we had that at home and I had that with my older sister, Carolina, who was obsessed with bone marrow. I was super picky as a kid and didn’t like it, but then I fell in love with it and we ate it together at L’Express, which is a great little French bistro in Montreal. They cut it cross-sectionally, and they have fried savoy cabbage on it with a little fleur de sel. You just have that with bread, and it’s creepy poetry. I love, I love, I love bone marrow.

And the second would be smallec, which is basically pork fat with small pieces of pork, in a jar. It’s like the equivalent of bread and butter when you go to any Polish restaurant. So, here is pork fat. You ask them for salt, but they never have good quality salt, so you just have to put regular table salt. It’s greasy, salty, and there’s a small piece of bread. It’s the perfect introduction to a meal – it just gets you excited. It reminds me of my Polish roots, hence the nostalgic quality.

What are your restaurant models? Is there a restaurant owner you admire?
Yes, I will leave with two. One of them – and I’m in no way trying to compare myself to him, because he’s a chilling legend – is Keith McNally. In this room of Time why Balthazar is such a success, [the author] goes in depth on fries, and their steak frites, and how important it is to be consistent. It is so important that the dish tastes exactly the same every time. New Yorkers are very loyal to the restaurants they like as long as the food is good. So I respect him a lot.

And then my other one is my old boss and my chef buddy Chuck Hughes. He opened a place called Garde Manger in Montreal. I was a server there. Because it was a menu that changed every day and we wrote the menu on a blackboard, he was experimenting with some really weird stuff. Often it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, but he was never hard on himself. It was always like, “Okay, I guess we’ll go for something else.” I just loved how he was always so playful with it, and he was unpretentious. He used his Quebec roots, the ingredients and the knowledge he had and made it so much fun. There was something approachable and very free-spirited about the way he approached it, and I always respected that a lot in him. And that’s something I want to remember with everything I do in the future.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

• All slices of the quiz of the original Famous Eater [E]