Andrew Zimmern has lived a life. He’s an renowned chef, a hugely successful TV host, and a prominent voice in the world of food writing. In an age when hovering PR teams and staying “on message” have made being famous seem bland, Zimmern calls it how he sees it and isn’t afraid to let words fly. On the phone, he comes across as both down-to-earth and big-hearted. He’s also very open about his more difficult times — in order to help those struggling with addictions of their own.
Zimmern participated in our Uproxx 20 series back in April, but with Bizzarre Foods: Delicious Destinations set to premiere tonight on the Travel Channel, we caught up with him again to talk entrails, travel philosophy, and building a culture of tolerance.
Travel and food have become synonymous. Do you think that this interest in new foods, jumpstarted by shows like yours, has turned people into more thoughtful, experimental travelers?
I think we’ve always traveled that way. It’s just that it’s never been fetishized like it is now. People collect food experiences the way they used to collect baseball cards — it’s an unbelievable experiential collectable. As American travelers, we absorb other cultures first through our mouths. Then we’ll allow ourselves to be exposed to their music, and their dance, and, God forbid, their people. Sarcasm intended. So yes, I do think we’re becoming more culturally aware and the way we’re becoming most culturally aware is through food. I’m flattered to be considered part of a group that’s created interest in that.
Do you feel like people watch you thinking, “That guy will eat whatever! I’m not going to eat that, but I like to watch him do it.”
I sold Travel Channel a Trojan Horse. One way to look at it is “fat guy travels around and eats bugs.” There are some people who still view it that way. But after the nine or ten years I think people have seen that the food is irrelevant. I don’t care if it’s a taco in Mexico City or a piece of rotted bushmeat in the Aha Hills of Botswana. The show is about the people. More importantly, it’s about increasing patience, tolerance, and understanding with people around the world. My show is about the things we have in common like food and not the things that divide us like skin color, religion, or sexuality.
Have you eaten foods where you think “Okay, I’m game to try this, but it’s awful”?
Every day. There are a lot of times in the show where I’d much rather be a better guest just trying things and less of a snarky TV host who has to react. I want to continue to encourage people to be a noble traveler and a great example of their own culture. I’ve also had plenty of experiences where I didn’t immediately like something then, over time, came to like it. Something like the thousand year old egg, where I’ve come to love it gradually as an ingredient in other dishes and now I’m finally able to enjoy it on its own.