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Antoni Porowski talks home cooking, toy ovens, and his new show “Easy-Bake Battle”

Antoni Porowski talks home cooking, toy ovens, and his new show “Easy-Bake Battle”
Antoni PorowskiPhoto: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Like many a gay boy, Antoni Porowski longed for and was denied an Easy-Bake Oven growing up. Not so much because it was considered a toy for girls, he explains, but because his Polish-Canadian parents didn’t see the point of a miniature version of an appliance they already had in their kitchen.

On his new cooking competition show, however, Queer Eye’s food and wine expert is surrounded by Easy-Bake Ovens. The set of Netflix’s Easy-Bake Battle is littered with every make and model of the classic toy, which first hit the market in the 1960s, but contestants use actual grown-up kitchen appliances to create the sort of home-cooking they would make for themselves and their own families. The idea is to give amateur cooks the spotlight and show how, well, easy it can be to create delicious dishes out of everyday ingredients, even in a pinch.

Porowski joined LGBTQ Nation earlier this week for a chat about Easy-Bake Battle, the joys and challenges of home cooking, and even the simple pleasures of chili and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

So, the show kind of surprised me. The title kind of implies a campy, almost low-brow kind of cooking. Like… almost stoner snack cooking. But that’s not really what’s going on is it?

There are a lot of stoner-friendly snacks in some of the episodes, I have to say!

I love very specific, relatable challenges. We tried to think of my dream co-judges, co-hosts who came in on each episode—like what their specialty was. Like, my good friend Kat Kinsman who’s obsessed with all things breakfast and brunch. Alyse Whitney loves the holidays.

Chef Alisa [Reynolds] was touring with all kinds of amazing artists for a long time and she was cooking in tour buses and in hotel rooms, so for her episode the first challenge was, “You literally have a coffee pot…” Which, by the way, you can poach a beautiful fillet of salmon in there, and you can cook pasta, which was a shock to me!

I love a little, like, five percent extra wacky, but also something that people can relate to. With Chef Jacques Torres having kids himself, doing something that was related to kids that are super picky and picking ingredients that they hate and trying to figure out how to hide them in everything. Which made me think of my own childhood. My parents used to slather Cheez Whiz on everything just to have me eat literally any vegetable.

Yeah, I was surprised at the really amazing-looking dishes that come out of these challenges.

I knew what I wanted the show to be—because it’s been years in the making, and I knew that it was something I wanted to EP. I wanted to learn about every single step from start to finish, what it’s like to create a show. And I knew that I wanted it to be home cooks.

When we were trying to find a concept, I looked back at Queer Eye and I thought about what really works on Queer Eye. It was strong, existing, nostalgic IP. It was something that people had a recollection of. And with Easy-Bake, I feel like it’s the most iconic American toy, and although we don’t use an actual Easy-Bake Oven, because I feel like we would be so limited in what we could create with that red lightbulb, I wanted to have that mood to the show, where it was all about ease.

Ok, let’s talk about Easy-Bake Ovens. If people haven’t gotten the memo yet, no actual Easy-Bake Ovens were harmed in the making of this show. Do you want to try to justify that decision?

It would be tough! But they are really good for browning nuts. And on the Jacques Torres episode, he’s known for having the best chocolate cookie recipe ever, and he legit made his famous chocolate chip cookies in there and it was actually really freakin’ good. A little raw in the middle, crispy along the edge. I was impressed!

Do you have any recipes of your own that you think you could do in an Easy-Bake Oven?

We actually played around with them a little on set. I wanted to have all the different iterations of the Easy-Bake Oven since… the 50s, I think it started? And it’s changed a lot. But the lightbulb has stayed the same! We browned pine nuts. Pine nuts are one of those things that I always burn the shit out of when they’re on the stove. But you put them on that little thing and that’ll serve up nuts for a salad for four to six people, no problem.

Porowski with Jacque Torres JOHN GOLDEN BRITT/NETFLIX

Easy-Bake Ovens feel almost like they have this special significance for gay dudes of a certain age. Like they were a toy many of us coveted but were denied as kids. Does that ring true to you?

I mean, I was denied it, but it was because my parents were like, “Why would we buy you a smaller, plastic version of the thing that is in the kitchen already?” That was my upbringing, having very Polish parents.

Story of my life: I always think I’m the only one going through what I’m going through, but maybe it’s actually a thing in the LGBTQI+ community. Maybe a lot of other people are experiencing as well! I have joked that the reason I did the show is to relive my unmet childhood wishes of owning an Easy-Bake Oven.

You’re the second person to mention that, and that’s actually really interesting. I want to go on a deep dive and find out what’s at the bottom of all that.

There was a throw-away line on, I think, Six Feet Under a million years ago about the gay brother melting his sister’s Easy-Bake Oven, or something.

Oh wait, are you saying that a lot of gay boys were denied an Easy-Bake Oven because it was seen as, like, a girls’ toy?

Exactly.

Oh, that’s interesting. It’s so funny to me. Even though I was raised in a very matriarchal household, and my mother was the one who prepared the food and she’s definitely the most talented cook in the family, my father also—like breakfast was his thing. If it was the grill—I know it’s stereotypical, but he was like, “I’m gonna do the barbequing!” When I got older, I didn’t feel like I was going against the grain. I was so drawn to cooking and I’ve always loved being in a kitchen. Maybe I’ve just taken it for granted.

I feel like people usually come to cooking competition shows more for entertainment than for actual cooking tips. But feel like this show actually shows people little things they can actually do at home.

Hacks were very important. It was something that I really wanted to focus on. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we had an overwhelming amount of moms who just kicked everyone else’s butts. They’ve been literally doing this, like, forever. They have kids with different dietary restrictions, making multiple meals as different times of the day.

And sure, some of the contestants are influencers or micro-influencers in their own right and I wanted to be supportive of anybody that’s passionate about food. But some of these moms, they always wanted to be chefs.

You have someone like Giselle, where her family was like, “You’re gonna be a mom and a wife and you’re gonna have kids.” So, she got to live out her dream [on the show], showing us these hacks that weren’t, like, gimmicky. They were really smart and they were things that came out of a place of necessity, as opposed to just trying to create the next butter board trend. Have you seen the butter board?

Yeah. I don’t understand it.

I don’t either! And I don’t think we need to, frankly. It’s ok. It’ll pass.

Porowski with Derrell Smith COURTESY OF NETFLIX

So were there any dishes on your show that inspired you to, like, use a particular flavor pairing or a particular shortcut or something like that?

Totally. First of all—and anybody I know who is from the Midwest has been doing this for a really long time—I did not know that you could microwave a raw potato with a wet paper towel had have it be fully cooked through. It’s such a quick way to get to either making a fritter or mashed potatoes, or whatever you want to do. I thought that was genius!

I’m notoriously terrible at desserts. I’m savory over sweet, all the way. Baking for me is way too calculated and too patient. And the amount of layered, trifle-y desserts where it’s like, you make a cookie and it looks like shit? Crumble it up, makes some flavored whipped cream and just layer it up with some stuff. It’s really cute, put it in a little glass!

Again, simple hacks that come out of necessity, that’s still playful, but it still looks really appealing and makes you want to go and try it. I definitely paid attention to a lot of the dessert situations.

I picked up on a lot of snacks crumbled onto things and used as breading. I mean, I did see a bag of Cheetos in one clip, which reminded me of my all-time greatest kitchen innovation: Frito pie, but instead of Fritos, it’s made with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Thoughts? 

I wouldn’t hate that! I love Frito pie, and my favorite type of chip is actually Fritos, because I’m team corn over potato because corn has that added sweetness. But yeah, I wouldn’t be opposed to some Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

With Iman in that episode, she finished before everyone else and very nonchalantly tears open a Costco-size bag of Cheetos. And she’s like this elegant Kurdish mom who’s using all these spices that no one on set has touched before. She’s like, “This is what I do when I’m waiting for my kids to come home and I have a moment to myself!” Squeezes some fresh lime, chops up some avocado in there.

I literally did a segment yesterday where they asked me to recreate it, and I ended up eating half the bowl. It’s something that’s so junky and you add two fresh elements and suddenly it’s like it feels a little refined! You forget that you’re eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with a spoon!

Last question: What should I have for dinner tonight?

You seem busy, and it’s 2 p.m., so starting on a beef or a chicken stew would take a little long. But chili is a classic dump-and-stir. I reference chili a lot because it’s one of my very favorite things, and crushing Fritos or tortilla chips into chili… In my first book, there’s a Guinness, dark chocolate, chipotles in adobo—they’re 99 cents, they’re available everywhere—some black beans, turkey, and some chili powder. It doesn’t get easier than that. So good, with a bit of apple cider vinegar at the end. It’s tangy, it’s sweet, it freezes well. The leftovers are delicious.

Have I had it cold out of the fridge? Yes, and it still tastes really good. Tomorrow morning you’ll have leftovers and you can fry an egg and make your own chilaquiles situation. Chili is so good!

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