Saturday, August 8, 2009

Andrew Zimmern on Food, Life and Getting Kids to Eat.

I recently had the chance to ask Andrew Zimmern, the host of Bizarre Foods (the number one show on the Travel channel), a few questions. On Bizarre Foods Chef Andrew travels the world in search of unique cuisine. And then eats it. (most of the time, see below) Watch his new show Bizarre World coming soon.


When you're faced with a daunting item to eat, is it harder to get past the mental part, the thought of the food or the taste? 

Absolutely the psychological part. The cultural messages in America make eating bats in Samoa quite a challenge. Vampires, Halloween, etc…its tougher than the actual taste or texture to push out of your mind and experience something new.


What health precautions do you take when eating in some of the countries you've been to? Have you ever had to take Cipro or another antibiotic because of something you've eaten? 

Never had to ,which continues to surprise me,  but I always carry Pepto in my overnight bag.


You are in high demand as a chef and a consultant to restaurants and food companies, how has your experience on Bizarre Foods influenced your cooking and meal preparation?

 Its extended my flavor memory bank and exposed me to techniques I was never aware of before. The reason that island style pig and goat roasts are so good is because they pound coconut palm roots and layer them n the rocks to caramelize and infuse flavor into the food. Who knew that? But more importantly I learn the  value of alternative foods on the road. Wallaby and donkey, turtle and cricket, squirrel and reef runners (small fish) are the answers to the questions surrounding how we are going to feed ourselves on this planet moving forward. Eating less pig, chicken, beef in this country also  means easing up on the pressure on the commodity food industry which is killing our citizenry. New foods and lessons learned from old cultures will and save the lives of our children and ourselves.


Is there an example of an ingredient you learned about on the show that you now use?

Motes (swollen dried corn)


Culantro…large leafed cilantro


Ripe plantains

Korean fermented bean paste…the best!


But mostly its technique…Japanese drop lid cooking, pit roasting, Chinese velveting, Chinese steaming, and so on….i was pretty worldly around the house to begin with, and much of the stuff I see and want to eat more of is pretty location specific, but we try to keep the mix varied around our house.


Bizarre Foods is one of the most popular shows on the Travel Channel, was being on TV something you wanted to do or something you fell into?

 Always wanted to do, and it has changed my life.


It took 7 years for you and Colleen Needles to sell the show, did you ever think it just wasn't going to happen?

Everyday. Selling a show is such a rare thing, you just never count on it. I thought it would be an amazing experience to try to sell one, never thinking it actually would fly.


Now that it's popular, who passed on it?

You name it, they told me to look elsewhere, and not just with the Bizarre Foods concept. All the major cable networks took a pass on my other ideas and me as well. But that’s the nature of the beast. I have good relationships, collegial ones with other networks now…of course being “in” the club helps these days.


I saw the episode with the Stinky Tofu, has there been any other times when you couldn't finish the food?

Durian, which I don’t care for.

A strange sausage in Uganda sold on the side of the road, which I am sure could have killed me if I took a second bite.



Of all the places you've eaten, which was your favorite?

Wow…hard question. Lalumanu Beach in Samoa eating fresh tuna, coconut and lime. Baojao Seafood House in Palawan Philipinnes, eating lunch on a restaurant on stilts in the middle of the ocean. Street hawkers in Vietnam,a day in the kitchen at el bulli with Ferran Adria,  Mary’s Laksa in Singapore, Harrods Food Hall, dumpling house crawls in Taipei, the BBQ day in Collanco Chile, motes in Boliva, prowling La Bouqeria, roasted piglet and angulas at Botin in Madrid, the cococnut grub lunch with my Pilchi guide in the Amazon of Ecuador, puffin hunting in Iceland…the list goes on and on…as a food freak the best eating day of my life was one day in Paris, we started out doing behind the scenes at Poilane, went to get a private cooking class from Herve This, lunch at Gagnaire (with Pierre)  and dinner at Rostaing (with the master himself)…pretty good..


You're a respected restaurant critic as well, how would you compare American restaurants with those you've been to in the strange places you've eaten? 

American restaurants take themselves way too seriously. Additionally , in America people in general eat out for many reasons…price, convenience, ambience, glitz factor, show off factor…but around the world, generally speaking, people eat out for the quality of food/service which is what it should be all about. I also love the “dish-specific” restaurants in countries I visit. Motes Magdalena in Quito only serves motes with roast pork in big bowls, tempura restaurants in Tokyo only serve tempura, dumpling houses in Taipei only serve dumplings…I like to eat that way.


Any ideas for keeping the restaurant business alive in these hard financial times? 

Sure, remember that first and foremost its called the hospitality industry for a reason. Many restaurants forget that. Second, don’t dumb your concept down to the point that you lose the essence of what you are doing and ultimately fail to play to your strength. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Most markets are oversaturated with eateries built in the last 5 years. In Minnesota we have more restaurant seats and hotel bedrooms than we have customers. Its very sad.


Any ideas for how to get kids to eat broccoli?

You have to get to kids before the pop culture gets to them. We don’t play games with food at our house, but we did get to our son early with the ” try it all” message. He eats what we eat now. Kids will get it real fast if you draw the line on cooking for the family and not for each individual. That being said most kids don’t eat certain food because their parents keep cooking it poorly, and then serving it 7 days a week which gets boring. We let our son shop and cook with us, which gives him a lot of ownership in the meal. You know the first diners running to the cooking hut when bats are on the menu in small tribal villages are the kids. They don’t have any pejorative cultural messaging about vampirism or Halloween, and they still eat out of necessity. That’s the gist of it for parents today…get to your kids early with positive cultural messages about all foods, and create an atmosphere of necessity (health, wellness, cost), not convenience (chicken nuggets 6 times a week).


What's your favorite meal to make/eat when you're home?

One pot Chinese drunken chicken. It’s a master sauce dish. Brown chicken and dump golden rock sugar, soy, sake, ginger, chiles, star anise etc into the pot and boil it down around the poultry until its all glazed…a phenomenal dish and the recipe is on my web site.


Were you a picky eater, are your kids?



What do you hope kids and parents take away from your show?

Without exception, the biggest surprise of the our show run is the incredible amount of kids who watch and families who watch together…16 year old sis and 12 year old brother can watch this show with their parents, and many do. I am overwhelmed with feedback from parents who tell me that the show has changed their kids eating habits for the better, making them more open minded and really inquisitive about food and other cultures. It’s the ultimate compliment.


What has been your favorite/least favorite episode?

Faves- Mexico, Samoa, ParisUgandaSicily

Least Faves- AlaskaSt PetersburgGulf Coast….they were great shows, audiences loved them,  but we could have done a much better job with our work there.

Best trip….the 3 week spin through East Africa. Wow what a journey, from Ethiopia to Uganda to the Ngorogoro crater in Tanzania. Simply amazing.


What's next for Andrew Zimmern?

If there is a God in heaven, more sleep.



See: Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel and

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