Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski on Netflix, Social Media, and Opening a Restaurant
Antoni Porowski might be best known as one of the five friendly hosts on Netflix’s Queer Eye, the effervescent update to the reality program encouraging everyday people across the country to live their best lives. As the culinary expert of the quintet, Porowski has expanded his role as the cast chef and parlayed that into a growing brand, most notably with the opening of his new fast-casual restaurant Village Den in Manhattan last fall.
These days, part of building up a personal brand that comes with hosting a lifestyle, reality, or game show is a strong social media presence. For celebrities and Instagram “influencers,” that now entails signing contracts and deals for paid partnerships to boost not only the brand but also the pocketbook. But sorting out which paid partnerships are valuable should require both strategy and sincerity.
Much of Porowski’s Instagram feed features stylized food shots of Village Den dishes (brunch is especially ’gram-worthy), professional portraits, professional-looking selfies, the occasional doggo snuggle, and some scattered sponsored content. Among them are Instagrams advertising Olly Nutrition gummies, Boursin cheese, and Whole Foods meal planning.
Porowski’s latest deal is a partnership with Saeco, an Italian manufacturer of manual, automatic, and capsule espresso machines. In light of the new collaboration (as well as the news this month that Queer Eye has been renewed for at least two more seasons on Netflix), Porowski sat down with Fortune to review some of his latest business dealings—not to mention share a few lifestyle secrets, tips, and tricks so that we, too, might be able to finally throw that perfect dinner party.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Fortune: Congratulations on Queer Eye being renewed for two more seasons! What are you looking forward to most coming up for the show?
AP: Thank you! The second season of Kansas City starts Season 4. It’s confusing because we also have Japan season. (It’s not really a season, but it kind of is.)
We’re going to be starting in Philly very soon, and it’s just going to be great to be back with the boys and doing the thing that we love to do, and just meeting new people. I love meeting people. I’m such a people-person, and getting to know their stories, getting as much information as I can, and then figuring out, “Okay, I have a limited amount of time with you, and what are we going to do that I hope you’re going to remember for the rest of your life? No pressure!” But that’s always a fun, stressful, but emotional and exciting challenge. And it’s different every single time because every person is different in their own way.
I think with everybody, it’s just being excited about the individual. I had never been in Tokyo before. I had never been to Missouri before. I’d been to Philly a few times, but really for weekends with friends and just have dinner at their homes. I don’t know too much about the city. I like that it’s close to New York. So it is going to be really nice because I’m hoping to sleep in my own bed. I’ve had an apartment for seven months, and I’ve slept like a month-and-a-half in it! So, selfishly, that’s very exciting.
But also, multiculturalism means something different wherever you are. And it exists in Kansas City as much as it does in New York. There may be more diversity in New York. Even statistically—it’s not even a subjective thing. But I’m always curious to see what does that mean here. With a city as historical as Philadelphia, it feels very old-world America, with the cobblestoned streets and the architecture. I want to see like, “What’s the immigrant story there?” Like who immigrated there, and when. Who stayed, and which food stayed? And that’s something that’s so fascinating to me because I think it feels so much of how we behave and the type of people we’ve become, the people that we’re surrounded by, even if they’re a different culture.
How did you get involved with Saeco? What is your thought process about which brand collaborations and sponsored ads you should run? Have you ever turned down sponsored content? If so, why?
It didn’t take too much investigative journalism to find out that I’m obsessed with coffee. I mention it in almost every single interview that we’ve been in. I talk about it, ad nauseam. I post it on Instagram Stories, supporting all kinds of different coffee from like the big guys to the smaller little roasteries. Whoever it is. I just frickin’ love coffee. It brings me so much joy. One of my favorite writers and poets and musicians—like Patti Smith talks about her cup of black coffee. Coffee and Cigarettes is one of my favorite little vignette films of all time.
So when the team at Saeco came up, we just started having a conversation and trying to figure out like how are we going to develop meaningful content. I think we were on the same page from the get-go: It has to be personal. They didn’t come with guidelines like, “So this is what we want you to do.” It was a very open-ended question: Tell us about coffee in your life. And it feels like that’s so general.
But then when I started thinking about it, and I started breaking it down, I was like, “Oh, I get what you’re saying.” It literally wakes me up in the morning. It gets me going. It allows me to function in front of other people because I work a lot. But also, it’s my way of having a little moment of self-care on a Saturday, when I want to take the time and adjust it, and customize it, and make my beautiful cappuccino with the foam that reminds of the way that it was in Italy when I was there. And at night, if I’m making an espresso glaze for my braised beef short ribs, it’s there for me. It’s like my best freakin’ friend.
And I just love the ritual of it. I love the smell. There are two different smells that come out of this machine. That’s a weird sentence. One is when the coffee, when the espresso beans are being ground. There’s this freshness of it. And then there’s a second whenever it’s brewing, and it comes out. Then there’s just that light purring-kitten sound, when the machine gets activated, that’s very sensory.
How is the restaurant business treating you? What advice would you give to other culinary entrepreneurs looking to open their own restaurants and small businesses?
It’s doing great. I had no idea how powerful catering is. And at first I was like, “No, I want single plates.” But businesses love to have fresh food. But they don’t have the premises or basically the setup to create their own food, and they want to have things catered.
So that’s been amazing. We’ve been doing delivery for SNL to Instagram. It’s a really fun part of the business because it’s self-sufficient.
I’m not there every day because I’m traveling all the time, but food, obviously, is a super-important element, and the number one word for me is consistency. Every dish has to taste exactly the same every single time.
If somebody comes in and gets that Thai chicken bowl, when they come back, I want them to have that experience re-created. Whatever it is. Whether it’s their coffee drink, whether it’s their smoothie. It has to be the same every time. And successful restaurants have mastered it, from Jean-Georges with ABC Kitchen to Mercer Kitchen. Like that tuna pizza and that spring roll have been exactly identical—every single time I go. They never waver.
So that’s my goal. And by being on Instagram, people always tag me when they’re there with photos of the food. So when I don’t see micro-cilantro and crushed peanuts on my Thai chicken bowl, I text my business partners right away, and be like, “Guys, let’s do better. Please.”
For entrepreneurs, just make sure that you have consistency and know what your strong suits are. And just make sure that it’s done the same every single time.
How does social media play into all of your different projects and businesses? Especially in regard to the culinary industry, should it be the centerpiece of your marketing strategy or is there something else that should take precedence?
Whether it should be there, I’m not going to answer because I’m not in control of that. But with some things, I think it’s as important as it is to be creative and to plant seeds for birth and growth. It’s very important to be perceptive and to know when to be reactive and to respond to something that’s already there. Whether you love it or you hate it, Instagram is there for now. So let’s use it as a tool.
And in the position that I’m in, everyone’s following what I do organically, and it’s bringing it back to your initial question of why it’s important for me to collaborate with brands like Saeco. Like for me, I’ve been familiar with the brand since I was a kid, and that was the brand that people had in their homes. It was very familiar to me. I didn’t have a fantasy as a kid of representing an espresso machine brand company. But still, to be attached to something that you really love, even other brands, like Boursin cheese that I ate as a child, it makes me proud and excited to sort of like talk about it.
And Instagram is a perfect medium where you get to express yourself in that way because not everyone does it. I know influencers and personalities have other people manage their accounts, and that’s fine. Zero judgment. But I need to be fully in control because I know that fans of the show are smart. They know who we are. They know what’s real and they know what’s fake. And the stuff that I do that is most organic is the stuff that I get the best feedback from. On the show and with endorsements alike. So honesty is always key.
Finally: The perfect dinner party. What should it entail, and how can the rest of us ever hope to achieve it?
Absolutely! I had the perfect dinner party about a week ago. There were two people that I’d never met before, and one like a good acquaintance and one of my best friends. And I didn’t know what the hell I was going to make!
Sometimes it’s a mistake, but I made a dish that I had never prepared before, and thank goodness it was successful. But make something that you’re comfortable with. The thing with me is when I cook on the show and when I’m working on the cookbook, I make so much food. So when I go to someone’s house, I always get uncomfortable when they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t want to make anything for you because I’m like afraid you’re going to judge it.” And it’s like, “If you make me burnt toast, with butter, I’m going to be thrilled because I just know that you made it for me, and that brings me joy. Not too burnt, but medium-burned, you know?” Just the thought, the effort that somebody puts into making something.
You can do simple things. I don’t pay attention to tablescapes, but I love flowers. I live very close to the floral market. So I love my peonies and my parrot tulips, and just fill a vase up. Get some nice linens that you buy on sale somewhere, Williams-Sonoma or Ikea, or wherever it is. Get some cutlery on the nice little farm table.
Keep it simple, and always have a board when everyone comes in, so they have something to nosh on—whether it’s charcuterie, cheese, or make a nice gooey cheese. Just have food, have alcohol. Play music, dim the lights. You don’t need bright lights at dinner. I like it to be moody. Play some Miles Davis, and just do things that are important to you. Whenever I keep it specific to what my interests are, I get to create an experience for somebody. And people always leave remembering that.
The joke with me is at my dinner parties, everyone’s like, “I’m always passing out at the end of your dinner parties because I get drunk, and I fall, and the lights are always so dim.” But that’s exactly what I want! I want your tummy to hurt. Listen to good music. Be a little tipsy, so you take an Uber home. And be full.
That, for me, is the making of a perfect dinner party. Yes, there’s a perfect way of roasting a chicken, filleting fish, of doing all these things. But it really doesn’t have to be complicated.
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