My life in food: Antoni Porowski on Japanese food and his love for Nigella Lawson

The Queer Eye presenter talks about his Polish heritage, his new cookbook and dining in Japan.

By Farida Zeynalova
Published 10 Sept 2021, 06:07 BST, Updated 10 Sept 2021, 11:10 BST
Antoni is the food and wine expert on the popular Netflix series Queer Eye and author of ...

Antoni is the food and wine expert on the popular Netflix series Queer Eye and author of two cookbooks, Antoni in the Kitchen and Let's Do Dinner.

Photograph by Tommy García

My first memory of ‘cooking’ was when I was four years old. It was jabłko z serkiem (apple with cheese) — even if the food wasn’t Polish, I remember the names of things in Polish. I’d put a thin slice of havarti, or whatever cheese was lying around, on a thin slice of tart green apple. I’d pretend it was an hors d’oeuvre while watching Sesame Street. 

Growing up, my mother’s bigos was the most comforting thing. It’s a Polish hunter’s stew with sauerkraut, braised cabbage, plums, red wine and leftover meats like ends of sausages, bison meat or pork, as well as three or four types of kielbasa [Polish sausage]. We’d eat it with fresh rye bread and cold butter. There would also be tons of marjoram, and the scent of that takes me back. Borscht is also incredibly nostalgic for me. The Polish version is like a consommé — a very clear broth. Stash Café in Montreal makes it just the way I like it. I was a waiter there, and so were my dad and sisters. It’s a rite of passage if you’re Polish in Montreal.

Tan makes the most incredible dhal. We’re filming in Austin and I had been constantly reminding Tan [France, Antoni’s Queer Eye co-presenter and friend] that he’d never made me any traditional Pakistani, Indian or Kashmiri dishes, so he finally started cooking for me. I promised I’d never tell anybody how the dhal is made because it’s a family secret, but one thing I can say: I was shocked by the amount of garlic. I love garlic, and I put a lot of it in my food, but I think he put a whole head in this pot of dhal. It was just fantastic, and it was really thick ­— I could eat it every day.

Antoni’s new cookbook, Let’s Do Dinner, is published 16 September (£22, Bluebird).

Photograph by Paul Brissman

The first cookbook I ever bought was Feast by Nigella Lawson. She’s super-talented; it’s the romanticism she brings to food, and the whole experience of feasts for specific events. I love books that are technical, but I’m more interested in those with deep, personal stories — that’s what makes me want to make a dish. 

My relationship with food has changed over the past two years. My new book, Let’s Do Dinner, is a reflection of that; it’s influenced by what I’ve learned from travelling to places like Italy and Japan. I always look at my life pre-Queer Eye and post-Queer Eye and see how much it’s changed. 

The sushi and sashimi omakase in Japan blew me away. It was at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo, inside a tiny townhouse among the skyscrapers. I went back twice! The level of care that goes into everything in Japan was so eye-opening — things like tonkatsu or crispy pork cutlet served in broth. We were filming there for four weeks, and mealtimes were always quiet because the food was so delicious.

Rome has some of the most beautiful, simplistic food I’ve ever tried. Like fresh pappardelle with just butter, lemon and pepper. Or cacio e pepe, which is on so many menus but often gets screwed up. It’s the simple things that, when done right, are incredible because you really taste every ingredient.

The single greatest lasagne I’ve ever had was in New York City. It was in I Sodi. It has like 30 layers and they torch it on the side so it’s crispy; plus it has the most wonderful, tender bolognese. I get it every single time. They also do the best carciofi fritti (fried baby artichokes with salt and lemon).

Antoni’s new cookbook, Let’s Do Dinner, is published 16 September (£22, Bluebird). 

Let's Do Dinner cover design and hand lettering by Laura Palese.

Published in Issue 13 (Autumn 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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