NEW YORK — Andrew Zimmern, the host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, thinks he’s misunderstood.
He says he’s known as “fat guy runs around world, eats bugs,” but adds, “I don’t think I’ve eaten a bug or an organ in Bizarre Foods in years.”
“I purposely set out to make a show that’s entertaining,” he said. “At the same time I try to be very thoughtful and thought-provoking and I try to educate and I take the cultural lessons of the show very, very, very seriously.”
The show’s current season focuses on American destinations, along with their history and social context. And a new show, The Zimmern List, debuts early in 2018 showcasing his favorite places, “where I actually go when the cameras aren’t rolling.”
Zimmern – a chef who has won four James Beard awards – invited The Associated Press to follow him in Queens, N.Y., for a glimpse of what The Zimmern List will be like.
In the Astoria neighborhood, he sampled cured meats and pastries at Muncan Food Corp., founded by an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia; then had a goat dish called katakat at Kababish, which serves Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi food in Jackson Heights; and finished with Taiwanese noodle soup, pork roll and minced vegetables at Happy Stony Noodle in Elmhurst.
Faisel and Hera Shaikh, from Ashburn, Va., were picking up food from Kababish when Zimmern appeared. After taking a few selfies with him, Faisel Shaikh said he’s dined at places recommended by Zimmern around the world, from Dubai to Australia.
Shaikh says he likes the show because Zimmern tells “the whole story … the culture, the society, the background, about where the food comes from.”
Here are some excerpts from AP’s chat with Zimmern.
Travel food: “I google local food writers. … I look up who are the most famous chefs on the Eater Heatmap but I also look on the Michelin guide and see who are the three-star Michelin chefs.”
“People forget that if you go onto Instagram or Twitter, you can actually click on someone’s feed and look at their timeline and you can flip back and back and back. So if I want to know where’s great to eat in Italy, I’ll look and see where Michael White and Mario Batali and all these other chefs have eaten.”
On addiction: “I’ve been sober for 25½ years. I was a heroin addict. An alcoholic. I was a criminal. I was homeless. So I have a very, very low bottom story. Tried to kill myself by drinking myself to death, didn’t work; living in an abandoned building, stealing purses (left) on chairs to live. So I’ve come a pretty long way.”
“I hope family members or loved ones who have someone (struggling with addiction) hear it loud and clear. Don’t listen to the statistics. There is recovery available for everyone. There is no one so hopeless as to actually be hopeless.”
Most bizarre bite: “In Samoa, we had a coral worm that swims up from the bottom of the ocean, thousands of feet, and dies in the sun and then falls back down and fertilizes the coral. … To eat that worm when it floats to the surface, I can’t think of something stranger.
“Enset, which is a bread, made from pounded palm roots that’s buried in the ground for months and fermented before it’s baked, that some of the tribal Ethiopians still make in that country … that’s certainly strange.
“People always ask me, ‘What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?’ and I’m just like, ‘None of it is strange to the people who are eating it there.’ I’ve not eaten any of those foods, enset, or sea worm or the casa marzu, in America. I get up in the morning, I make eggs and have cereal with my kid, roast a chicken for dinner.”