Andrew Zimmern is widely referred to as a “globalist,” rather than merely a chef or television personality. Zimmern consistently bridges cultures and raises awareness through his show, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, where he brings food from unfamiliar cultures around the world straight to our television sets. In a world where sustainability has become a key issue, a show largely based on the concept of “one culture’s trash is another culture’s treasure,” has only become more and more relevant.
Recently, Zimmern has forgone his passport and moved the show to America, where he proves that these explorative foods largely thought of as ‘bizarre” are right outside our front doors. Zimmern hosts a commercial television show that attracts a huge following, while also pushing viewers out of their comfort zones each episode; usually one comes at the expense of the other. Zimmern manages to make it all possible though. Also a highly popular freelance journalist, as well as a gifted chef, Zimmern’s quest to make all of us more open-minded and aware is a successful one. Between donkey meat in Beijing, and cow udders in Bolivia, this global icon found some time to sit down with us here at The New Potato, for a trip around the world…
TNP: Can you describe your ideal food day?
Oh my gosh, my ideal food day. I actually have a chapter in my book about this. I’ve been blessed to have so many, yet I find that none have yet to beat one day I had in Paris.
I went to three bakeries in the morning: Poilane Bakery; the bread came out at 5 AM. Then I went to Ladureé and had macaroons. Then Pierre Hermé for another round of pastries. This was all before 9 AM.
Fauchon had opened, so we went and browsed and snacked. At lunch I met with Hervé This, a physical chemist behind the movement of molecular gastronomy. He gave me a private lesson in molecular gastronomy at the French Institute for Agricultural Research in Paris.
We went for a walk and shared bread and cheese. Then, in the next eight hours, I went to a few Michelin star restaurants. The first was Hotel Balzac, where I spent an hour in kitchen with Pierre Gagnaire. Then I went to Restaurant Michel Rostang.
I still pinch myself that I did all that in a day. But you know, I have many contrasts to that. I could contrast that to when I’d go to Japan, catch fish with the fisherman and eat with them on the boat. I’m not a snob. It’s just that the Paris day was remarkable. I also went to Botswana and Namibia and hunted and roasted bush meat with the tribesmen over a bonfire, which is incredibly rare. I’ll never be able to do that again. The Paris day I could recreate or try to. But eating porcupine with the tribesmen in the baba hills; I’ll never have the chance to do that again.
TNP: We definitely could be more explorative/less wasteful here food wise, but how can we realistically translate things like silkworm larvae in Hanoi and porcupine in Africa to a family dinner in America?
Oh my god so easily. We’re so ignorant, close-minded and limited in this country about food. It’s tragic and it’s killing us. There’s such a problem with health and wellness; we have such a narrow wheel of choices. If everyone would just give up meat once a week, and keep the heads on your fish once a week…We are the only culture that rips the heads off of shrimp when they come in and then freeze them. It’s so weird – really ridiculous. If we would just eat small fish and keep the heads on once a week, have alternative poultry protein like duck or goose, eat goat a couple times a month; If everyone would just do one of these things even once a month, we could take the pressure off of these commodity farms. It’s this American bloodlust for cheap commoditized food that’s become an addiction. It’s shocking how few families will go meatless once a week.
TNP: Is that why you decided to move Bizarre Foods to the US this year? Does it have a lot to do with getting that message across about the eating habits of Americans?
I’m always trying to open peoples’ eyes to what’s going on in the world. Everyone talks about how New Orleans is one of their favorite food cities. I love New Orleans. No one remembers that there’s a huge Vietnamese population in New Orleans. To stretch those boundaries is the healthiest thing we can do.
TNP: The fear of these foods – and especially feeding it to your kids – comes from bacteria concerns from food-borne illnesses. As someone who’s travelled everywhere and eaten everything, how real are these concerns?
Look, they exist. But let me tell you, there’s a greater chance a child will get sick when you take him or her to a hotel buffet in downtown Minneapolis – or a major hotel in any city. There is a better chance of them getting sick from that than from anything I eat on my show.