A GoPride Interview

Andrew Zimmern

TV's culinary explorer talks weird and wonderful foods

Thu. January 10, 2013  by Jerry Nunn

What is happening is that places in the gay community, with neighborhoods where everyone felt okay being themselves now are places where everybody else seems to flock to.
Andrew Zimmern
Culinary explorer Andrew Zimmern has traveled the world tempting his palete with weird and wonderful foods. The celebrity chef and food writer is host and consulting producer of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel.

In 2010, Zimmern received the Beard Award for Outstanding Television Food Personality. The television personality, chef and food writer is also a contributing editor at Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine and senior editor at Delta Sky Magazine.

Having explored the cultures around the world Zimmern, a New York native, focused on the U.S. in the sixth season of the show. In the 100th episode he traveled to Las Vegas where he sampled a $5,000 hamburger at the Fleur de Lys restaurant.

Recently, Zimmern was in Chicago at Rare Tea Celler - that's where Jerry Nunn caught up to him.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Andrew. How many seasons has it been for Bizarre Foods?

AZ: (Andrew Zimmern) We are filming what I think is our seventh, the network calls it the sixth but it's our seventh. They shoot 30 episodes one year in three sections of ten so they do all this weird kind of stuff. We are up to like 120 episodes now and counting.

JN: Do you feel like you have the best job in the world?

AZ: It's crazy.

JN: How much of the places are picked out for you or do you pick them?

AZ: I'm a control freak. I don't think you can be successful in life doing stuff like this without being one. The people who do what I do that are not control freaks don't have the passion for it. They are just hosting a program. They could care less. They find it interesting but just trying to ask questions. (He yells at a crew member) Don't drop that!

I'm involved in everything. Even the things I shouldn't be involved in I force myself to be involved in and that's a problem because I'm so anxiety ridden about the whole thing.

JN: Where are all of the places you have been able to go to in Chicago?

AZ: We showed up at Publican Quality Meats then Next then I went out to three or four places at night. I had dinner at Au Cheval with Dave the chef from Next. Yesterday we did Joong Boo in the morning then we went for lunch at Lula then we went to El Ideas and were there all night long. I went to Dante's Pizzeria and Supreme Lobster then this afternoon here with an interview at Butcher & Larder. Tomorrow we shoot at Zaragoza doing some Birriera then I go to Alaska.

JN: What part?

AZ: We are going to the western villages outside of Sitka.

JN: Is there any place you haven't been to?

AZ: I've been to over a 100 countries. I've been to every state. I want to go to China another 100 times and Russia the same. I want to go to Suriname again, a tiny little country in South America, because of what I found there. I want to go to Uruguay so I can cross South America off my list and be done with that continent. I think of travel in a different way than most people do. I think I still treasure and appreciate every little moment of it but I think of it differently.

JN: Do you get sick of it?

AZ: Oh yeah, of course, but then I have inspiring moments like this or when I'm in an Amazon jungle and it's amazing.

JN: Tell me about this $5,000 hamburger you ate called the FleurBurger 5000.

AZ: It was one of the best hamburgers that I had ever eaten but not because it was five thousand dollars. Hurbert Keller is one of the most amazing chefs around. The thing was constructed brilliantly. Everything from where the meat was cut by hand to the fat that was put into it, the sauce, the bun that is baked to order in the oven, everything that was about it was extraordinary. The burger itself can sell on a menu for $150 by itself with ingredients with a particular type of beef that was minced a certain way with a certain type of fat that was paddled into it. It was brilliant. But it comes with a free bottle of Petrus wine that is why it's $5,000.

JN: Are there any LGBT specific places you have traveled to?

AZ: In my family there is wonderful gayness all around me. I struggle sometimes having as many gay family members and loved ones as I do. I know the spirit in which that question is asked and I love it because we sadly have to talk about those things. I have just found great destinations but I know what that means because I'm also Jewish. There are places that are tough for Jews to travel in. Austria for example, a country that I love and have been to seven or eight times, I've gone skiing there and to the nude body painting festival and shot television there but I have a very hard time with my Jewish-ness there and being accepted as a loud noisy American in a country that is really struggling with a lot of these nationalistic issues that traditionally have not been friendly for Jews.

It's the same thing by watching members of my family deal with not being comfortable with not being who they are in the world is very hurtful to me. There is a part of me that wishes there didn't have to be that question but I also understand it.

JN: I was even asking if you have been to a restaurant in Boystown.

AZ: Oh, you are thinking smaller picture. I have been to neighborhoods in Rio and San Francisco with everything so freaking fabulous from Key West to P-Town. I have been there, done that fantastically. I wish we didn't have to have a division though. What is happening is that places in the gay community, with neighborhoods where everyone felt okay being themselves now are places where everybody else seems to flock to. We are not done with it yet, all you have to do is watch the news at night to see how far away we are from everyone being accepted of their skin color, language, politics, spirituality, and sexuality, but at least a lot in our cities and enlightened parts of the world it's better.

Look I grew up in the ‘60s and I am 51 years old. I had friends that were involved in violence down in the West Village at the beginning of the gay civil rights movement. I even had family members that were involved in it so it's a very personal issue for me. It is very hard to be a public person and not over step your boundaries in that arena then you cease to be useful but I wish we could all just get along. I fight for that everyday, publicly and privately, but I am always pleased to get the opportunity to talk about it.

JN: I'm so glad I asked that. What are your future projects?

AZ: My food truck just rolled out. I have a kid's book that is coming out. We have a new season of Bizarre Foods that airs in January. We have lots of really cool stuff.

JN: They are finally changing the food truck laws here in Illinois. It is different in Hawaii when I went there.

AZ: It's because they cook on the trucks.

JN: Where is yours located?

AZ: It debuted in Minnesota and then we will have a couple more in the United States. It should be very slick. Andrewzimmern.com has information on everything from where I travel on Trippy to Facebook. It's all linked to there.

JN: I saw you are active on Twitter.

AZ: I am very active on there. I believe I am the only two-time James Beard Award winner that tells people to look me up on the Internet as Pandora Lexington during my great turn as a drag queen down in Florida during our Florida episode!

JN: I have to look that up.

AZ: It's good. What can I say? I tried to bring it all into an episode where I could show that there are kids, and grandmas and look at how happy everyone is. This is not men dressing up as ladies. This is people having fun. It was a great episode, so check it out.

Follow his blog Chow and Again at www.mspmag.com. More information about Bizarre Foods can be found at www.travelchannel.com.

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.