There has been many a snarky aside at Antoni Porowski’s expense. As beautiful, charming and thoughtful as he may be, as the food and wine expert on Netflix’s (very wonderful) Queer Eye reboot, his culinary credentials have been repeatedly trashed.
Take the time the 35-year-old Canadian ‘taught’ someone how to make grilled cheese sandwiches for instance, or that time he (quite unforgivably) added Greek yoghurt to guacamole.
The former model and actor has been upfront about the fact he isn’t professionally kitchen trained (although he was at one point the personal chef of Ted Allen, the original food and wine expert on Queer Eye For The Straight Guy), but that hasn’t stopped him launching ‘fast-casual’ New York restaurant The Village Den.
Neither have the cynics dissuaded him from writing his first cookbook, Antoni In The Kitchen. But how exactly do the recipes measure up? We gave them a try…
A flick through Antoni’s cookbook and you know you’re probably not going to be overly challenged in the culinary department, but sometimes simple is what you need – and when it comes to entertaining, you can’t go wrong with a crowd-pleasing dip.
My first realisation about this recipe is just how huge this dish is going to be, and secondly how rich, given there’s four types of full-fat diary involved. So make sure you’ve arranged at least a small gathering of friends or family to make a proper dent in what turned out to be a lasagne-sized dip (we’re still eating it four days later).
You don’t even need to have stepped in a kitchen before to make this. It’s quite literally throwing all of the ingredients in a bowl and mixing with a spoon. I can’t source whatever ‘white cheddar’ is in my local shop – I assume it’s an Americanism and opt for standard mature.
So into a bowl goes the mountain of artichokes, an entire block of Gruyere and half a block of cheddar, plus copious amounts of cream cheese and sour cream. I follow with the few non-diary ingredients – lemon, rosemary and pepper – before stirring. Antoni says to ‘mix until smooth’, which doesn’t seem possible…
The glorious rosemary and lemon-infused smell of baking cheese from the oven is a good sign, and the end result is gooey and creamy with the right amount of sharpness from the lemon to cut through it. Everyone agreed it was delicious and dangerously moreish, but that we shouldn’t eat too much for fear of consuming our daily calorie allowance in dip alone.
As a general rule, I don’t buy beef to cook with at home – it’s one of the easier meats to cut down on, as it’s more expensive than most and arguably not so versatile (give me a chicken and I can wrangle countless meals out of it; a bit of steak or beef mince? You can have lasagne, spaghetti bolognese, or, erm, lasagne…)
But for Antoni, I thought I’d break my own rules – Queer Eye is all about pushing yourself and reassessing your boundaries, right? So gimme the steak.
While it’s a straightforward recipe in that it’s just a slab of beef brought to room temp, seasoned and grilled (on a griddle pan, rather than over hot coals in my case), then eaten, there are a few smart nuances that make it a bit more interesting than simple caveman fare.
First up, the fact it’s marinated in grated fresh ginger. There was some consternation in my house over the fact all that ginger had to be scraped off before the flesh hit the heat, but in the end, you can really taste it branded into the crinkled, burnished outer layers.
Second is the chargrilled limes, the juice of which I squeezed over the meat, the wedges I served with it, as well as the salad. I plan to chargrill limes at every opportunity from now on – it gives you an instant dressing that hits amazing sweet-sour-salty notes, adding more zing than even the chilli and scrunched leaves of mint.
My only regret is that I went overboard on the coriander (sorry, Antoni) and that the pickled shallots were off limits (onion family allergies to blame there), but otherwise, it was quite a decadent mid-week meal for two.
Having been transfixed by Antoni’s dreamy eyes and literary T-shirts on Queer Eye, I was keen to try his recipes. Even though he’s the food expert on the show, he’s been good naturedly teased on social media for not actually doing that much cooking, so what would one of his recipes taste like?
As a part-time vegan and full-time vegetarian, the cauliflower steaks with turmeric and crunchy almonds appealed to me. It’s not a difficult dish to make – you roast up the cauliflower and add the spicy dressing along with almonds, dates and fresh coriander. I particularly liked how Antoni specifies you roast the leaves of the cauliflower along with everything else – not only does it encourage less food waste but they add a delicious crunch to the dish.
I didn’t use the Korean chilli paste gochujang that Antoni recommends, but I have a similar Chinese version which was a good substitute. Gochujang is admittedly not the most accessible of ingredients, so Antoni does suggest Sriracha as an alternate. To give my dressing an extra kick, I added my favourite hot sauce, Valentina Black Label, which is in my opinion far superior to Sriracha. I’ll be taking no further questions at this time.
I was pleasantly surprised by the dish; the dressing was hot but tangy thanks to lime and honey, the cauliflower was tender and the flavours of the almonds, dates and coriander married well. I was more than a little chuffed that mine looked pretty similar to Antoni’s, although my basement kitchen doesn’t exactly provide the best lighting for food photography.
However, I was a bit confused as to how it could be made into a main meal – Antoni recommends serving it with a rice or grain, but that strikes me as a bit dry, as the dressing is more of a drizzle on top. I served it with pearl barley cooked in spinach and chilli, but that didn’t quite match up to the cauliflower. Maybe this recipe is best as a side dish, rather than a main meal in itself.
Antoni In The Kitchen by Antoni Porowski, photography by Paul Brissman, is published by Bluebird, priced £20. Available now.