CECIL BALDWIN: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Cecil Baldwin. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thank you, Cecil. Now it's time to welcome our special guest. He's the food and wine expert on "Queer Eye," and his upcoming cookbook is called "Antoni In The Kitchen." Please welcome Antoni Porowski.
EISENBERG: Antoni, welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.
ANTONI POROWSKI: Thank you so much for having me.
EISENBERG: I'm Canadian. I keep talking to Canadians. I'm starting to think that I'm just doing a segment called Hi; You're A Canadian.
POROWSKI: Talking to Canadians...
EISENBERG: Talking to Canadians...
EISENBERG: You grew up in Montreal.
POROWSKI: I grew up in Montreal, and I was the first one in my family born outside of Europe.
EISENBERG: Yeah. I know.
POROWSKI: You do.
EISENBERG: And then when you were 12 years old, you moved from Montreal to West Virginia.
POROWSKI: I did.
EISENBERG: So what got you to start cooking?
POROWSKI: I actually started cooking when I got kicked out of my parents' house at the age of 17. I was a nightmare. I just started college, actually, so it was CEGEP. And I befriended these three guys. We started a band later. We called ourselves the Silver Spoons. We wrote one song, and it was called "Hey Jackie." And the joke was, like, are we singing about Jack Daniels or about a girl named Jackie? We thought we were very clever.
POROWSKI: But anyway, the four of us - all of our parents lived abroad, and so we were all sort of, like, alone. We were like lost boys.
POROWSKI: And then I decided to start cooking for them. And I'd never prepared a meal for myself before that because I had a mother and I had, like, a woman who took care of me growing up who would, like, prepare everything. And the first thing I made, I found out recently, was a very unsuccessful, mushy eggplant parm. But it got good.
EISENBERG: That's right.
POROWSKI: It got better with time.
EISENBERG: I read that in 2012, you decide that you and a pal are going to go meet Ted Allen and go to his cookbook signing at a bookstore.
POROWSKI: Yeah. So I was living with very close friend of mine, PJ Vogt, who now has a very successful podcast called "Reply All."
POROWSKI: And he mentioned - he was like, you know what? You're living in Clinton Hill now. You got to get in with the food community. He was one of, actually, the first people in my life who was basically like, you're insanely weird and passionate about food. And I know that you want to be an actor, but you should explore food in a professional capacity.
And because I had bigger, different plans for myself, I was like, no. And I was just very stubborn. But he was like, this guy Ted Allen, the OG on Bravo's "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy" - almost forgot the name. I was up at 5 today. It's fine.
So then I did the Google, and I found out that he had a cookbook that was coming out. And I was like, OK, let's go to a book signing. So I went, introduced myself. He wrote a nice little note. Then we started talking. And so we hung out, and we realized that we lived literally across the street from each other. We became fast friends. And was that the question at all? Did I totally...
EISENBERG: Yeah, that's good.
POROWSKI: OK, good.
EISENBERG: So you guys are fast friends. How did that turn into employment for you?
POROWSKI: Ted and Barry, his lovely husband, had beehives on their brownstone on their roof, and they made their own honey...
EISENBERG: This is the most, like...
POROWSKI: ...As Ted Allen would do.
EISENBERG: ...Idyllic story. I love this.
POROWSKI: And so they had all this honey, and Barry designed a beautiful label. And they started jarring it, and they were like, well, we don't want to sell it. We want to gift it. And they needed help. So at Christmas, I came and I, like, helped package them. And I basically started working as their personal assistant. Oh, I'm remembering the stress of it now.
POROWSKI: I was the worst assistant ever.
EISENBERG: So you found out that Netflix was planning on rebooting "Queer Eye," and you decide that this might be something you want.
POROWSKI: Yes. I met the opportunity with a tremendous amount of fear, but I also really get off on fear, you know.
POROWSKI: So I decided to just run for it.
POROWSKI: I reached out to Ted, and he was like, huh - because he calls me Antny (ph) - and he was like, Antny - he was like, but you're an actor. I was like, yes, I'm aware. He's like, but you're comfortable in front of a camera, and you love to talk about food. And the thing about teaching these heroes is that you have to keep it sort of, like, relatable and accessible, and you're, like, more of a messenger. He's like, I actually think this is kind of perfect. He was like, all right, let's throw your name into the mix.
EISENBERG: How fearful or just challenging was the audition process for "Queer Eye?"
POROWSKI: It was intimidating. There were chefs - like, legit chefs who went to culinary school - who were there. So I fell into the trap of, like, compare and despair. And I'm not them. I'm not going to get it. My mission was - I kept it as simple as possible.
POROWSKI: All you can do is present yourself as you truly are, which is kind of what we encourage our heroes to do on the show as well.
POROWSKI: Like, you can only be yourself and be the best version of yourself, but it's true - easier said than done.
EISENBERG: Of course. I watch the show, and I imagine that when you're going - the heroes are amazing, and obviously they are buying into the entire journey. But you're going places that probably don't have really huge queer communities.
EISENBERG: And how does that feel for you?
POROWSKI: There's one thing that makes me more uncomfortable than a Trump banner, and it's guns, being Canadian and just knowing what toll they've had on the country. And even that said, like, that being something that we've seen in the homes of our heroes - do I want to immediately bring that up right off the bat?
Yes, but at the same time, if I do that - like, that's not my job. That's not why I'm there. If I go at it that way, it's going to be, like, walls are going to go up right off the bat. It's more about trying to, like, find the humanity and just figuring out how I can best serve this person's life in the short amount of time that we're together.
So I just focus on - I don't come in saying, like, you need to be better with your diet. I ask questions, and I just try to get as much information as I possibly can, and then we come up with an assessment.
POROWSKI: Do you want to eat healthier? Do you want to show up for your family? Do you want to know how to cook for 10 people? Do you want to know how to make a frickin' (ph) omelet just for yourself because you've been eating popcorn, Sean VanMeter?
POROWSKI: Like, it's different for everybody...
POROWSKI: ...Right? And so it's about figuring out what works for that person.
EISENBERG: Yeah. You said that you keep in touch with some of these people...
EISENBERG: ...After - some of the heroes.
POROWSKI: I'm very co-dependent, so...
POROWSKI: I do get attached because I really love people and I love connecting with people and just having - like, I'm very quality over quantity. I've never been good at cocktail parties. I love intimate dinners. And I really love getting to know a person. And when you get to know somebody over a week and they tell you things that they've maybe never even shared with anybody else before, like, yeah, you get attached.
POROWSKI: It's only human. Like, it's natural for me, so it's really hard to let go of that. I don't even think I've asked a single person, like, are you still cooking?
POROWSKI: Or, like, are you making the thing that I taught you how to make? It's just more like, how are you? How are you feeling?
EISENBERG: Yeah. So you have a cookbook coming out in September, "Antoni In The Kitchen."
POROWSKI: I do, yeah.
EISENBERG: So what's a culinary deal-breaker for you?
POROWSKI: Not that I make them often or ever, really - the last time I made a hot dog was for the last episode of Season 1 or 2 of "Queer Eye" for a bunch of firemen. But, like, ketchup on hot dogs makes me really uncomfortable...
POROWSKI: ...Because I feel like it should be, like, real American French's mustard and sauerkraut...
POROWSKI: ...And raw onion. Don't soak that. Let it be strong.
POROWSKI: And some relish...
POROWSKI: ...And maybe some togarashi, which is, like, a nice, spicy - like, a Japanese seasoning with black sesame in it just for a little bit of spice...
POROWSKI: I've gone too far.
EISENBERG: All right. Antoni, are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
POROWSKI: I am.
EISENBERG: All right. You know, we have choices for you.
EISENBERG: So would you like to play a game about books or a game about guacamole?
POROWSKI: So with books, I would just like to preface that it's kind of like movies. I'll try to describe it without knowing what the name is. I'm probably going to fail at the books, but I am tired of talking about guac, so let's talk about books.
EISENBERG: All right.
POROWSKI: (Singing) I'm going to regret this.
EISENBERG: It's going to be great.
POROWSKI: (Singing) But it's OK.
EISENBERG: Antoni, you have an amazing T-shirt collection, and one of our favorites is a shirt referencing the main characters in a book - "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara. Why did you decide to wear that on the show?
POROWSKI: When we had our mood boards set up with what our styles were going to be like, everyone had very specific looks. And with mine, they were like, you're the New Yorker of the bunch. We want you to be like James Dean - T-shirt, jeans, very simple.
And so I was like, OK. Like, where am I going to change it up so that I'm literally just not wearing the same white T-shirt all the time? And so I decided to bring up things that I was passionate about and things that I liked.
And there was a book that I read twice, and then I'm about to read it for the third time because I decided that wasn't painful enough. It was "A Little Life" by Hanya. I've never been as affected by a book as I was when I read that one the first time. I actually had to put it down for a couple of weeks at a time because it was so difficult to read.
And what struck me was not the pain of, you know, one of the main characters, of Jude, but it was the kindness that his friends showed and how they just sort of kept on showing up for him and and loving him when he didn't love himself.
POROWSKI: And it just makes me think of, like, friends that I've had, like the Silver Spoons - because now you guys know who they are...
POROWSKI: ...Who showed up for me at really difficult stages in my life and, like, different times when I was really struggling with a lot of different things. And I was just touched by the humanity of it.
And there was another part of the book that I thought was really interesting. The book does deal with fluidity and sort of - and sexual preference as sort of something that kind of evolves and changes. And it kind of felt like it was this utopian future where it really didn't matter in the best way possible, where it wasn't really treated as an issue. It was like, OK, you're dating a girl today, and you're dating a guy now. All right. Great. It is what it is.
POROWSKI: And I really liked that because that's sort of what my path has been like.
POROWSKI: So I really related to the book, and I find different parts of me in all four characters of the book. And I just love it, so I decided I wanted to wear a T-shirt with the four character names on it and - yeah.
EISENBERG: That is...
POROWSKI: It's a very long answer for a short question.
EISENBERG: No, it's the greatest answer because you know what? It would be not great if you were like, oh, someone told me to read that book, and it's sitting at home.
POROWSKI: Their names were cute.
EISENBERG: Yeah, exactly. No, that means something to me.
POROWSKI: Which they are, but...
EISENBERG: OK. So in this game, I'm going to list the main characters from a book in the style of that T-shirt, and you're going to give me the book's title. For example, if we said Jude and JB and Willem and Malcolm, you would answer...
POROWSKI: "A Little Life."
EISENBERG: Yeah, exactly - one point.
POROWSKI: That means I get one right.
EISENBERG: So we think you know all these books. Don't worry. We have hints if you need them. And if you do well enough, listener Sade Olasimbo (ph) from Alexandria, Va., will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube.
EISENBERG: Got it? All right.
POROWSKI: I was just thinking that I've never successfully completed a Rubik's cube.
EISENBERG: You just need a screwdriver.
EISENBERG: OK, here's your first one. Elio and Oliver and...
POROWSKI: "Call Me By Your Name."
EISENBERG: That is correct.
POROWSKI: It's Andre Aciman, right?
EISENBERG: That's a bonus point, I suppose.
POROWSKI: So I get three points already?
EISENBERG: That's right. Youngman and Pete and Flip and fat man and skinny man and Lance and Randy and Jeremy. It's by John Rechy.
POROWSKI: Oh - oh, my gosh, very dark book, very interesting about sex workers in the '50s in Times Square, where it used to be. It's called "City Of Night."
EISENBERG: That is correct.
POROWSKI: It's a really good book.
EISENBERG: All right, this is your last one - David and Johnny and Freddie and Evert.
POROWSKI: Freddie and Evert, is that like "Lost Boys," "Outsiders?" No.
EISENBERG: It's by Alan Hollinghurst.
POROWSKI: Oh, my God, "Sparsholt Affair."
EISENBERG: That's correct.
POROWSKI: I've only read half of it.
EISENBERG: You've only read half?
EISENBERG: It's waiting for you.
EISENBERG: You did amazing.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
EISENBERG: Antoni, you and Shaday Olison (ph) both won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.
EISENBERG: Antoni will be back later in the show to play another game. Give it up for Antoni Porowski.
POROWSKI: Thank you.
EISENBERG: Want our next special guest to play for you? Follow ASK ME ANOTHER on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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