Netflix’s reboot of the classic reality TV show Queer Eye has become the first real TV hit of the year. The show is the shot of optimism that 2018 desperately needs, and is a particularly timely reexamination of what it means to be a man in the 21st century. It is a truly delightful show, so naturally, the internet has found something to hate about it: the food and wine expert, Antoni Porowski.
If you’re unfamiliar, each show focuses on making over a man who is in some sort of rut. One can’t get himself out of his parents house; one can’t stop thinking of himself as irrevocably ugly; another is afraid to come out to his stepmother. The stars of the show are five gay men known as the Fab Five. Each focuses on his unique specialty (fashion, culture, grooming, interior decoration and food) to gently push each episode’s subject to be a better, more well-rounded version of himself.
The internet ruins everything
Antoni always had an impossible job; the original version’s food and wine expert is easily the most famous of the bunch – food writer and Chopped host Ted Allen. On top of that, Antoni has the unenviable task of teaching guys who can’t be bothered to pick the crumbs out of their ZZ Top beards how to become gourmands. So naturally, he doesn’t push them too hard.
In the first episode, he teaches Tom, a man who drinks “redneck margaritas” (tequila cut with Mountain Dew) how to make a simple guacamole. In another, he teaches a fireman how to make a slightly fancier hotdog (put potato chips on top!). He makes mac ’n’ cheese, he makes grilled cheese, he makes very basic salads.
The internet, of course, isn’t having it. The website Junkee suggested that Antoni actually had no idea how to cook, and was just on the show because of his looks (Antoni, for the record, is very handsome. He looks like a cross between John Mayer and Dave Franco, but without the air of entitlement).
Helen Rosner at The New Yorker brutally called his tastes “just a dollar more than basic.” Bowen Yang at Vulture said, “I just think he might be a serial killer. Ted Bundy had a nice smile and decent knife skills too, you know.” And when the New York Times did a profile on Antoni (in which he admitted that the criticism hurt his feelings), the writer felt obligated to mention that the food he cooked for the interviewer was good.
The foodies of the internet, in short, don’t want to see a man helping another man with straightforward tips. If a man’s going to make a simple milkshake, the man better be Richard Blais, and he better be making it with liquid nitrogen. The foodies want a fairy godmother transformation. They want a spectacle.
Cooking as a confidence building tool
Despite what America’s food snobs might say, Antoni’s approach to teaching cooking is the correct one.
When I first went to college, my mother taught me a single recipe, a tomato sausage ragu, that I could pull out if I ever wanted to impress girls. The trick, she said, was to cook the onions and sausage in wine before adding the tomatoes and the cream.
Using wine in a sauce, any chef will tell you, is not earth-shattering stuff. But it became a mainstay in my hosting arsenal for a very simple reason: if you, like me, lack anything in the way of natural confidence, one way to magically concoct that confidence is to cook something that the other person finds tasty. You serve it, their eyes light up, and you know you just showed them that going out with you wasn’t a complete mistake. I cooked the ragu on my second date with my wife, and, while I don’t want to give it full credit for our subsequent marriage and child, I don’t think it hurt. Had my mother tried to teach me how to make a consommé instead of that simple ragu, I probably never would have entered the kitchen.
So simple tricks — like putting greek yogurt in guacamole or putting potato chips on a hot dog — don’t have to be mind-blowingly impressive. They just need to be noticeable and unique.
Dating aside, cooking, as I’ve written on this site in the past, can be useful as a method to pull yourself out of a depression. Many of the men that the Queer Eye Fab Five are making over are people whose lives aren’t exactly brimming with passion and purpose. You don’t give giant projects to people who can’t get themselves out of their mom’s basement —let alone into the kitchen to cook a soufflé.
Instead, you give them baby steps. When the baby steps are successful, confidence gets boosted a bit, and then you can move on to bigger and better things.
If the internet held all of the Fab Five to the same standards that they hold Antoni, they’d see that the other guys often go easy on the advice, too. In one episode, grooming expert and possible woodland nymph Jonathan Van Ness simply teaches a man how to floss. In another, culture expert and Greek-statue-come-to-life Karamo Brown just hands a guy a phone and tells him to call a girl he likes.
Antoni, inevitably, does not pass the show-off test that foodie culture requires. We, the foodie public, don’t want lunchtime snacks. We want croquembouches, 7-layer tiramisus, and risotto that was somehow cooked in under a half an hour.
We’ve become so used to spectacular dishes being created by genius savants that we’ve forgotten that you don’t start into cooking by making a gingerbread Taj Mahal. You start by putting a dab of honey on your toast.
But Antoni is not cooking for us. He is cooking for the men he’s helping. He saves his peacocking for his beautiful, beautiful Instagram page. We don’t deserve him.