Andrew Zimmern Chef Chat with the Bizarre Foods czar, Part 1


After traveling the globe, conquering the world one plate at a time, Andrew Zimmern brings the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods home to roost. This season, which premieres Monday, Zimmern focuses entirely on food in the United States.

To kick off the season, he's highlighting food from Minnesota. He took a break from his stuffed schedule to chat with us about travel, home, and the huevos of one particular local chef.

For the season opener you're returning to your adopted home, the Twin Cities.  Having already done an episode featuring Minnesota, what prompted you to return? It seemed logical to shoot the season opener at home, and it made the travel load easier to bear this season. What better way to kick off a new season? Plus I wanted to shoot fish with bows and arrows.

Do you ever miss being a New Yorker or consider moving back to the East Coast? NYC is the greatest city on earth, and I am now and always will be a New Yorker, but the Twin Cities are my home now, my family is here, and after 20 years of living in the Twin Cities I am still waiting for my green card from the governor's office.

Of all the places you have been in the United States, what would be a couple of cities you would really encourage people to visit that you don't think they are visiting so much? I've been on this rant about West Virginia for about two or three years. The mountainous topography doesn't even have big cities. Its two largest cities are still measured in the low single-digit hundreds of thousands. Ninety-nine percent of the population lives in small, teeny little towns hidden and tucked away in little hollers and notches and gulches. September through November there is no better place that I'd rather be than traveling through West Virginia. If West Virginia had an ocean next to it the entire country would be living there.

I absolutely love Texas. Obviously there's a huge amount of tourism for the music and the food scene in Austin. But I can't get enough of it, and I still bump into a lot of people that don't go.

Central Florida is infinitely charming. And they are very proud of their cracker culture.

I love the islands in coastal Carolinas without actually going there. South Carolina to me is one of those hidden gems as well.

I think that the Minnesota/Wisconsin/Iowa tri-state area is today one of the most vibrant and exciting places to visit in our country. What used to be flyover country is now dictating what is taste making. It's warmly ironic that the things that we've been doing for years there in Minnesota--canning, pickling, the home arts, making your own bacon--is stuff that, you know, everyone's grandma does in Minnesota. And I think the Twin Cities are now the 14th-largest metro in the country if I'm correct, with a food scene that takes a back seat to no one regardless of what style of cooking you want. I think three of the last four regional James Beard winners in our category came from there.

How do you decide what to highlight on a visit? The thing that's most important to me are stories that are relevant to the culture. That's what we're there to do. And I like to tell those stories through food, so I have to be able to find places that are relevant to that and that achieve my goal, right?

We tend to develop stories first, and when we get enough of them we can then go to that place, if that sort of makes sense. Nowadays with research techniques and the advent of the Internet certainly it was easier to research this season, because you can hop on the phone and call a lot more people in today than you can where you're trying to network with people in Mongolia. We were able to find some really, really vibrant stories. But that's basically how it works.

In the last MN Bizarre Foods episode, you dined with friends at the old Heartland location and feasted on testicles (among other things). Can you give us a taste of the sorts of items we'll get to watch your try this time? Hot dish, Hmong cuisine, 50-pound lake carp, Doug Flickers Piccolo menu, Hola Arepa's cuy cones, snapping turtle, elk, and lots more.

In that clip, the testicles arrived as prepared by Lenny Russo, who serves exclusively local cuisine. What are your feelings about the local/sustainable trend? Do you think it is a trend or a shift? It's neither, it's simply where we are. It's a return to what was popular and how we lived and cooked two generations ago. Food styles are like hemlines, they change. That being said, I think people realize our food system is broken and that slow food, local food, sustainable practices and the like can help fix it.

Our talk with Andrew Zimmern continues tomorrow.

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