Money Talks, and so should we. Here, powerful people get real about their spending and saving habits.

By Alyssa Hardy
Feb 26, 2020 @ 4:00 pm
Neil Rasmus/BFA

Food and beverage are two of the sneakiest expenses in any budget. From the grocery bill to last-minute takeout orders, at the end of the month it can feel like more than half your paycheck was blown on what you ate just last week. In fact, according to the USDA, over a third of every U.S. dollar earned is spent on eating out (and that’s not slowing down as inflation makes food more expensive). The struggle to maintain a reasonable food budget is a common one, as many people have a hard time finding the time or the resources to get it on track. This is true even for culinary stars like Queer Eye’s foodie-in-chief, Antoni Porowski.

On the hit Netflix show, Porowski’s role is to introduce cooking and healthy eating into the lives of the many subjects the team “makes over.” Part of that process involves teaching them how to shop and what to shop for, something he’s learned over the years. “When I first moved to New York, I had about $60 a week to eat with,” he tells InStyle. “That was pretty much it until I overdrafted my account.” It was then that he had to develop some mindful shopping and creative food skills that he now implements in his everyday life. “The most creative recipes that I've ever come up with were when I was a student, and I only had a little bit of money to work with,” he explains.

Now that he’s a multi-hyphenate in the cooking world, Porowski is turning this simple skill into something that everyone can partake in. Recently he unveiled his partnership with Country Crock to help the brand launch its new plant-based butter. It’s a small step in an initiative to bring more plant-based and healthy options to stores for a lower cost. “You can actually make small changes,” he tells us. “For this, it's a one-to-one swap for traditional dairy butter. You don't have to change your measurements or anything like that. It doesn't have to be this big, aggressive change, but by making small tweaks over time, over a period of a few weeks or a few months, you realize that it's not that hard.”

Even still, the Queer Eye star understands that food costs are a complex issue, and despite his knowledge and experience, there’s always something new he can learn about how to spend when it comes to food. Ahead, we talked to him about his spending habits, his thoughts on tipping, and of course his biggest food indulgence.

On his first job…

My first job was in high school. I was living in West Virginia and I was babysitting. My father was a physician there at the time and a buddy of his at work had two young kids and he wanted his kids to learn French. I spoke French because it's my second language since I'm from Canada. So we would watch French movies and eat French snacks. That's how I made money so that I could go to movies and buy parachute pants at Abercrombie.

On his one food splurge…

One that I actually like is canned tomatoes. I learned this when I was a student and had a very limited budget. I would make a lot of tomato sauces and try to have them last throughout the week. You can get a regular can for 99 cents or you can get San Marzano tomatoes. It's not a brand but it's a style of tomato. Often they're canned with whole leaves of basil to sort of flavor it. It's an Italian varietal that’s just so incredibly flavorful. They do cost a couple of bucks more for a can, but they taste so much better. Once you try those, you really can't go back.

On the most expensive meal he’s ever had…

I was in a bad band when I was in college and we were called the Silver Spoons. We didn't have very much talent, but we were obsessed with The Strokes and Jet and Kasabian and Bloc Party. Nothing ever really happened, but I had a reunion this past summer where my three bandmates (because apparently we've never disbanded, and we're still technically together) came to New York for a weekend of bro-y-ness and we all hung out. One of my friends is very pretentious. His name is Ramvi and he's a big culinary snob so he demanded that we go to Eleven Madison Park. We went there and splurged. It was totally worth it, and maybe one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had, but basically it's like a four hour deal, it's like seeing two movies consecutively. It was really brilliantly executed and really special. Still, it was definitely the biggest splurge ever for me. The total was $1,600 for four people, food only. I was grateful to be in a position where I could indulge in that once in a lifetime.

On the myth that it costs more to be vegan ...

I think that that's total bull. It's actually more expensive to buy a lot of packaged snacks and ready made meals and things like that. The advice that I often give to people who are going plant-based is when you're at a grocery store, always start with the outside. That's where all the produce tends to be. And I do the middle aisles a little later on. Vegetables, if you go organic, are going to be pricier, and if that’s something that you can afford it's definitely a route that I highly recommend taking. Some veggies, like peas and cabbage, are really inexpensive.

On his favorite inexpensive food item ...

I was chatting with my co-author for my first cookbook [Antoni in the Kitchen], Mindy Fox, and she has this theory that cabbage is going to be the next big thing of 2020. Meanwhile, you can get cabbage for like $2 for a massive head that weighs a ton. You can braise it, you can have it raw, shaved, roasted.

On how much he spends at the grocery store …

I'll stock up on all kinds of different things. I think it really depends which grocery store I go to, but usually it's probably in the $150 to $250 range. And I live alone. I don't live there full time, though. I'm traveling around a lot of the time and I'll have certain pantry staples like nuts and seeds and grains and things like that that I kind of like to keep on hand. But that's usually about a week.

On how to cut your grocery budget without sacrificing quality …

I think it really depends on where you live and what your eating habits are, but there’s always an opportunity to budget it out and try to come up with a goal. Maybe try to knock off $20 every month, for example, and see how far you can go. I like to buy fresh fruit and cut it up. Pineapple can be really inexpensive if you go to your local market. Buy it in bulk when it’s on sale and you can freeze it to make your own chutney, put it in your smoothies, or you can thaw it out and just have it as is. So it's knowing when to stock up and not being afraid to freeze things as well. That's one thing that I've learned from my parents. As a child of Eastern European parents, we love to freeze everything.

RELATED: Jonathan Van Ness Always Asks Himself This One Question Before Making a Purchase

On how much you should tip …

Because I am an ex-server and I was a server for 10 years, I tend to overtip. It differs in different parts of the country, though. In Montreal for example, it's standard 15%. In New York, it's 20%. I’m usually more aggressive if somebody is really passionate about what they're doing and they're having a lot of fun and they're really putting in a lot of effort. But the bare minimum is always, for me, about 25%, but usually about 30%. I like to tip generously because I remember what it was like when I was a waiter. And a good tip always put me in a really good mood.

On what servers should make…

I'm actually really interested in everything that Danny Meyer is doing with his hospitality group and sort of making fair wages a standard. When you go to his restaurants, service is already included and they don't accept additional tips. There's less pressure there because it just makes everything a little more fair. Maybe it's my Canadian socialist nature, but I love the idea of having everything standardized, where the waiter doesn't really have to worry about it or feel like they have to impress. It just feels more fair and everyone gets to make the same amount. It becomes a little less capitalist.

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