Andrew Zimmer on His First Job in Boston & Why You Need to Watch His New Season of ‘Bizarre Foods’
By Amy Fischer
November 9, 2016
Lovin’ Spoonfuls hosted its 6th Annual Ultimate Tailgate party on November 6, 2016 raising more than $250,000 to support its food-rescue based mission.
We grabbed a slice of pizza with Andrew Zimmern from the Stoked Pizza food truck and chatted about his work with Babson College, family recipes, and his upcoming season of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel.
Boston Common: Lovin’ Spoonfuls was thrilled to have you back this year. What does that mean to you?
Andrew Zimmern: It’s wonderful. This is my third year here and it’s hard to say this without sounding like an arrogant b-stard but I support a lot of national and global organizations and I don’t support any micro-regional organizations outside of Minnesota where I live except this one. Because, number one I think it’s so important; number two, Ashley is a lifelong friend; and number three, she’s really designing a model that I think can be rolled out across the country. So those of us like myself who have a louder voice are trying to clear away some of that clutter so Lovin’ Spoonfuls can roll out, literally across the country. There’s no better thing to do than feed people and not waste food while you’re doing it.
What’s your view on the Boston food scene?
AZ: Boston’s become one of the best food cities in the world, not just in America. I lived in Boston in 1983 for a year and a half. My first job was as a chef at the Harvard Bookstore Cafe on Newbury Street three lifetimes ago. I have a tremendous affinity for the Boston chef community. I think more importantly, Boston is uniquely situated to offer so much to so many.
You have the immigrant heritage, which is a great bedrock on which fantastic flavors can be formed; you have all the colleges and universities in large populations; and you have a diverse eating community that wants to eat in restaurants. But probably most importantly of all you have the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the farms and fields of Western Massachusetts on the other side and I think that creates a really abundant environment for chefs at this day and age to do a lot of things with local food. I think food needs to be local.
You are the co-creator, host, and consulting producer of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel. Can you share with us a recent bizarre food experience while filming?
AZ: We’re shooting 18 more shows that are going to be bundled into a season called “The American Experience.” That premieres on January 31, 2017, and I’m recreating 18 different routes across the country that are notably famous for road trips or historical trips, so everything from Lewis and Clark’s final 300 miles on the Columbia river towards the ocean or driving down Route 66 or taking the last 300 miles of the Mississippi down to New Orleans or touring Civil War battlefields where I’m going to shoot in a week or so. We’re trying to find the idea of food that other people may not have considered as food by exploring American communities that have been birthed by these incredible journeys. It was actually the idea that I first approached the network with 15 years ago that they said was way too PBS-y to be on cable television and it just proves that it takes 11 years of having a show on TV.
We’re lucky we’re in 70 countries airing out show, but you’ve got to work really hard and get a lot of leverage before you can get back to the original idea. It kind of reminds me of what we’re doing with Bizarre Foods in the sense of introducing new ideas about food to people to get back to a time where people were really close minded about other people, how they looked, how they ate, how they talked, what they believed in. I think it ties also into what we’re doing here with Lovin’ Spoonfuls because so many people live in their own bubble and they don’t realize that 25 percent of Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from, they don’t realize that we’re wasting around 40 percent of food in our country. So they practice contempt prior to investigation.
How has teaching students at Babson College on food issues changed your life?
AZ: It is the greatest thing that I’ve ever done, bar none. My favorite relationship with anyone on any level from a business or life standpoint, other than my wife and son, is my relationship with Babson College. It is a brilliant diverse student body of young people that want to go out into the world and make a difference. I remember being 22 and thinking that I could do everything and knew everything and the Babson student body has more humility than I did. But they’re really eager to hear from people who have encountered problems along the way and solved them.
My favorite day of the month is when I’m doing office hours and working with students on their projects, when I get to go to food day, when I get to interact with the student body on any level it’s a magical place. I send so many people there every year for one reason or another because you leave the campus so energized and so on fire and so much more brave, less risk averse, and really measured and thoughtful after engaging with young people who are putting it all on the line at the very beginning of their lives.
The holidays are just around the corner, what’s your favorite food to make during this season?
AZ: I’m a nice Jewish boy from New York so the minute anybody says holidays all I think about is the first couple weeks of December when I’m going to make potato pancakes using my grandmother’s recipe as often as my wife will allow me. I’m also a traditionalist; we use all of my grandparents recipes for the holidays and I think the coolest thing that I get to hear is I love to motivate and teach and see other people cooking.
We have all of our recipes for the holidays bundled by group on andrewzimmern.com. Math, music, and food are the great cultural constants, but if you take away someone’s boombox or their quadratic equation, they’re not going to give you too much sh-t about it. But if you take away their rice or bread, there’s blood in the streets. That’s the stuff revolution is made of and it’s great to inspire on that level and to tie it back to Lovin’ Spoonfuls, that’s why we want to feed hungry people rather than throw it away. We need less revolution and more peace, love, and understanding and I think we can do that through food.
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