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Interview: Bizarre Food‘s Andrew Zimmern

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Bizarre Foods America's Andrew Zimmern

After traveling the world looking for the bizarre, Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern comes home and shines the spotlight on good old America for his second season.

He’s one of those fun interviews where you ask him one question and he’ll go on for about 15 minutes.

“You know, I’ve spent a lifetime on the road sort of telling stories and every time I would sit in interviews I would always talk about the opportunities here in America for telling some of those same kind of stories.

And it always fascinated me in ethnic enclaves around this country especially how waves of immigration would keep food honest. And, you know, just because something is honest and authentic doesn’t necessarily make it good but it surely gives you the best opportunity for it to be good, especially if you’re a food and culture junkie like myself.

So as I was examining sort of what makes our show tick, one of the things that I always put up on the bulletin board when I’m trying to teach people about the culture of our program is the idea that we make the unfamiliar familiar.

And at the same time we found that there was an insane level of curiosity about domestic locations. Whenever we would do them they would rate extraordinarily well. There was a fascination that Americans have with seeing pictures and stories about themselves. It dates back to (Alexus Detofield)’s time. I mean, we are – in America we are obsessed with ourselves. So I decided to merge all those things together and do a domestic season of Bizarre Foods.

The network thought it was a good idea, everyone got really excited about it. And I think what makes it even more charming is that, you know, when I’m in tribal Africa and I’m, you know, eating grilled, you know, wild giant porcupine people are fascinated with it but there’s a little bit of a disconnect I imagine because to them it’s good watching but it’s not possible to be doing.

Here in this country when I go down to New Orleans, for example, and take people on a tour of the largest Vietnamese community in the world outside of Vietnam — yes it’s in New Orleans — and all you hear is Vietnamese spoken and in the backyard gardens you could swear you’re in Central Vietnam.”

“One of the burning questions on my mind was, how does one just look at the guts of a pig and go, ‘you know, I think I want to saute that up!’

“It’s like a painter wanting to know about more colors and more types of canvas or other types of media. It’s like a musician with different instruments or notes or something that can make certain, you know, new sounds.

The second thing that I found most interesting as, you know, a closet intellectual is, you know, why is it that in our country when you say the word bat nobody, you know, thinks it’s possible to eat one. But in northern Vietnam or Cambodia or the Pacific Islands, you say the word bat and everybody gets excited and the children start running for the kitchen.

It’s a cultural thing. And that intersection of what makes food possible to me is the most central part of why we do what we do — to examine that question and be able to tell stories about a culture through the food to me is what it’s all about. I am obsessed with food and with eating. You know, I have been in the food business since I was 14 years old. So to have the opportunity to sit on, you know, in a street corner in a suburb of Louisiana and have a Vietnamese grandpa make me duck blood pizza the same way his grandparents made it for him when he was a kid in Dien Bien Phu is to me what a food life is all about.

And I think it makes for great television and it makes for great teaching. I mean, I have a responsibility to tell stories. At a certain point in my career I developed a platform and once you have a platform I think you have a responsibility to tell certain types of stories and illuminate certain pathways.”

Some of the highlights for this season included going digging for frogs and crayfish and cooking up a bunch of rabbits in Louisiana , going to Austin Texas for some of the world’s greatest barbecues, getting six-year old geoducks out of the ground in Seattle, hunting with a bow and arrow in Minnesota.

I’m a very basic meat and potatoes person, if something looks or smell weird, it isn’t going into my mouth. Just looking at some of the stuff this man eats gives me the willies. How does one know what is edible and to get over that fear?

“I just ask the people that I’m with. I mean, I’m not just, you know, strolling down the highway and, you know, putting bark that I find on the ground into my mouth.

I mean, it’s, you know, I’m with people that I’m – there is a greater purpose to my visits. I’m with people who are experts and they are exposing me to things. Sometimes I’m exploring on my own. Certainly we do more of that in this season because it’s a little easier for me to navigate America than it is the jungle market in Laos.

But in terms of how I get over the fear, I never had any. I mean, as a little kid growing up in New York I ate, you know, tongue at my grandmother’s on the weekends and, you know, sauteed calves liver, you know, and did all the things that I think we sort of lost touch with in this generation with awful and with certain foods that aren’t as popular these days.

And, you know, I would always tell my friends when I was in high school and they were ordering a roast beef sandwich at a deli and I ordered a tongue sandwich and they would look at me like I’m crazy. I’m like have you ever tried it? And they’re like oh no, it’s gross. I’m like it tastes like pot roast. The best cut of beef on the animal is the tongue. And, you know, if they weren’t interested so be it.

But I was always fascinated by those types of foods. And you’ve got to remember, what’s weird to some people is wonderful to another. Famously I sat in Africa one day and had a (Lawaneka) tribes person insist that Americans were crazy because we let milk rot and then dried it into little squares and ate it.

And, you know, if you told Americans that there were people who thought cheese was disgusting they would laugh at you but there are a lot of people who do think cheese is disgusting. And, you know, that’s fine. They don’t like it.”

According to Jim, the most disgusting bizarre food of them all, is the good old American hot dog. Saying, he loves them, but the government has laws that protect the companies who make them from telling us what’s in them.

When he eats some of the more bizarre foods like raw Water Buffalo with lime juice, he knows “that animal was super fresh, it was delicious, you know, I knew what it drank, I knew what it ate, I knew where it came from. I butchered it myself and that’s more than I could say for the, you know, ground up nightmare that he’s holding in a bun.”

Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern, premieres on the Travel Channel, Monday, January 23 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT

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