- American with global influences
You know him for his fearlessness: From bats to bladders, Andrew Zimmern has eaten all sorts of oddities in over 150 countries on his Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods. But Zimmern has more than an iron stomach: He’s also a journalist, a businessman, and a damn good cook.
“I love food,” he says, adding, “What I love even more is food with a story.”
And the story of how he became one of America’s food moguls is just as bizarre as the things he loves to eat.
As a young chef in the ‘90s, Zimmern was on the fast track to success, cooking in New York City restaurants helmed by Anne Rosenzweig, Joachim Splichal, and Thomas Keller. He helped open and run a dozen restaurants—but he was also an addict and an alcoholic. Eventually he lost his apartment, and lived for a year on the streets, stealing to support himself. His friends intervened and sent him to a rehab program in Minneapolis, where afterward he found a job as a dishwasher at Café Un Deux Trois. One day, when a line cook missed his shift, Zimmern took over his station; seven weeks later, he was executive chef. During his six-year tenure, he transformed the restaurant into a thriving bistro.
His reputation caught the attention of local news stations, which eventually led to regular appearances as the “in-house chef” on HGTV’s early slate of programming produced in Minnesota. In 1997, he sent a pilot to the Travel Channel for a show that eventually became Bizarre Foods, and hasn’t stopped traveling the world, mouth first, ever since.
Along the way he’s gobbled guinea pig in Peru, grasshoppers in Oaxaca, and pufferfish in Japan—while also getting nominated by the James Beard Awards for his blog and rising to the top of Adweek’s “30 Most Influential People in Food.” His strange snacking habits, however, are not just for shock value. Zimmern is all about demystifying and destigmatizing the culinary traditions of other cultures. “I have absolutely no qualms about eating somebody’s pet,” he says. “Or their perception of pet; that’s a cultural totem… If we just took one or two meals a week from those animal groups...it would be a radical quick fix to some of our food problems.”
You’d expect a lauded chef and insectivore like Zimmern to cook rarefied recipes, but as a Midwesterner at heart (and a Panna contributor), he sticks to familiar flavors he grew up with: flattened slices of white bread wrap his crunchy, fried crab rolls; chunks of kielbasa add smoky depth to his grandmother’s split pea soup; and his homemade corned beef tastes like (dare we say, better than?) the Jewish deli classic. We know you’ll definitely fall in love with this kind of grub, versus the actual grubs we’re used to watching him eat.