Some days I have to pinch myself when it comes to how lucky I am to write this blog. A few weeks back I saw Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods, was coming to town to film for a Chicago episode. The show airs on the Travel Channel Thursday’s at 8cst. The opportunity to meet and follow him for a bit was one opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up.
I’m a fan of the show because of his casual nature and childlike enthusiasm for every location and every bite he takes. He describes it as the fringe element of the culinary world but I think only in the realm of the American palate. We see a lot of international cuisine but to eat Chinese here and think you don’t need to go to China is absurd. The food locally has its own distinct quality you won’t easily find close to home even in a metropolis the size of Chicago. Or as Andrew puts it, “Skinless chicken breast is boring for me.”
You may wonder if he is a TV personality and what you see every week isn’t the real person. You’d be betting wrong! Andrew is a casual, laid back, funny guy who has a lot of fun doing his job. He flew in for the day. I met up with him early on at Navy Pier and as you walk with him and the crew people stop and gawk, or shout, “I love your show!” to which he replies, “thank you.”
We found a spot to do a web promo and in no time a small circle of people stopped and watched. He graciously takes photos and says hello to everyone. When we got to talking, I found that he knows his stuff and isn’t a spoon fed TV bobble head. Andrew cooked with some big names and comes from a generation of American chef’s who cooked before TV, when your main motivation was a passion for food.
He gets to Chicago often whether it’s to meet up with family friends or work. You might find him enjoying Paul Kahan’s food at Blackbird, or Avec possibly even Hot Chocolate! A few of his favorites will be highlighted in the show come November. There is one favorite spot he’ll hit after a long night of work to read and enjoy some great oysters. Seeing firsthand how popular he is, that secret is safe with me.
After, some “B roll” at Navy Pier we went over to the Millennium Park Bean for the next shot. Again, barely out of the van and already camera phones are whipped out and people saying hello. I joked with him how fun airport security lines must be for him. His response was if I keep moving it’s just easier. He calls himself a “public person” shunning the word celebrity. The humility is very genuine.
Like any good visitor he was getting some shots at the “bean.” A group of hip hop dancers filming noticed and asked if he’d do a quick web promo. Without flinching, he did a perfect 30 seconds for their portable camera. It’s impressive to see people do their job well.
As we walked back toward the van, he made sure I had everything I needed. While he no longer cooks, he films 22 episodes traveling the globe and has a children’s book coming out. My last question was, “Do you have any advice for new chefs or at home cooks?”
To the at home cook – cook something new every week. At the end of the year you’ll have 52 experiments and start cooking better.
To the next generation of chef – get out, eat and try new things. Don’t get the same dish at different restaurants – General Tsao’s chicken is General Tsao’s chicken. Branch out, try new food. Go travel, see the world. Don’t stop exploring. The new generation of chef thinks you’ll get or deserve a restaurant or show after a year or two. It takes time to learn and grow.
I couldn’t agree more with both points. Andrew’s been doing the show for 5 years and reminds himself how lucky he is regularly. He said, “I’d eat it all again!” Nothings turned him off completely. You might see the same ingredient but done a different way giving a totally different experience!
Andrew has found a way to combine his passion for food and his talent for storytelling. I wish everyone could be as lucky and find their way. His genuine humility is refreshing in a world of ego and pseudo-fame. So, if you see him out and about, don’t be afraid to say hello or ask for a photo, just realize it may be the 100th one that day and be respectful.
I can’t wait for the Chicago show which will air in November.
Big thanks to Amy Guth and Jimmy Greenfield for helping me get in touch with Diane McNamara. Diane thank you for getting me connected to Andrew and Tammy. Andrew thanks for letting me wander the city with you for an hour. Tammy thanks for helping me locate you all.
twitter @ chifoodsnob