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Culinary Explorer

There are few other epicureans who are as well-traveled as Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern.

Last year, Andrew Zimmern did something that many prominent people with blue-checkmark Twitter accounts do: He got himself in some hot water with a flippant remark. The offending tweet in particular was about Orlando. Replying to a food critic’s plea for restaurant recommendations in the City Beautiful, Zimmern, a four-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality, wrote, “You’re kinda screwed.” Ouch.

His words didn’t go unnoticed by passionate Orlandoans who promptly responded that Central Florida’s culinary scene is booming with plenty of good eats. For his part, Zimmern offered up a mea culpa and promised to take another look at our city. And he made good on that vow, visiting Florida a few months later to shoot an episode of The Zimmern List. The show, now on its second season, takes viewers on food culture tours through cities in the United States. The Orlando-centric episode premieres 10 a.m. on Feb. 2 on the Travel Channel.

Zimmern first made a name for himself eating bugs and animal intestines for his TV show Bizarre Foods, which went on to become a successful long-running series for the Travel Channel. To date, it’s aired 23 seasons. But he is also head of his own production company, a chef with a newly opened restaurant in Minnesota and the author of a number of titles including a new children’s book, AZ and the Lost City of Ophir.

Zimmern, busy zipping around the globe for his TV shows, told us about how he copes with being on the road so much, his new children’s book and what he discovered on his recent trip to Orlando.

Can you tell me a little bit about what you discovered while you were here in Orlando shooting for The Zimmern List?
I found a really robust food scene that seems to be evolving rapidly and doing so with high-quality food and an eye for local/fresh/best product. I was really impressed. A far cry from the last time I dug into this city almost eight years ago. My opinion of the Orlando food scene is that it’s quite impressive and driven by some great culinarians.

Bizarre Foods has been on the air for about 12 years now. How was the idea for the series conceived?
The show began with me trying to escalate the size of my platform for storytelling, and evolved from a series of ideas I had about how to do a show about demonstrating patience and tolerance in a world that was increasingly defining itself by its differences rather than by its commonalities. I needed a hook, an entertaining idea that would allow me access to the best food stories, the ones other people weren’t telling. I found those stories on the fringes of the cultures from a western/American perspective and used the bizarre foods meme to launch the show. Over the first several years we were able to move away from bugs and offal and explore culture through food in a broader sense.

You travel a lot for your TV shows. How do you cope with being out on the road so much?
It’s very hard, and managing a successful series is harder than a lackluster one. The show’s success, like they all do, came at a price—like my time and having to put work ahead of a lot of other choices. The key to navigating that is awareness and a desire to put other mechanisms in place to help ameliorate the difficulties. I traveled with family at times, did a lot of emotional sobriety workshops, stayed action-oriented on my spiritual growth, and [made]other adjustments. It really became more of a self-care issue than anything else.

Last year, you opened a Chinese restaurant called Lucky Cricket in Minnesota where you live. What compelled you to get back into the restaurant game?
A love for serving the public and a selfish desire to cook more food. I love the restaurant business and wanted to get back into something community based. I love Chinese food and culture and thought this would be a fun project. I am delighted with the results so far. It’s really exciting.

You’ve spoken publicly about your past as a drug user and an alcoholic. What advice would you give to anyone out there who is currently struggling with addiction?
Talk to someone. We are only as sick as our secrets. Don’t wait, do it right now. There is a solution to the seemingly unsolvable problem.

Your children’s book AZ and The Lost City of Ophir hits bookshelves this month. Can you tell me a little bit about the book and what inspired it?
My friend and business partner Tom gave me the idea 10 years ago to do a kids book and I loved the idea. We found a great writer, Heather McElhatton, to work with me on co-authoring the book and I am so thrilled with it. I want to bring some adventure learning to everything I do—always have. It’s one of my guiding principles and what better place than to do it than the kids’ grade level reading space. The book is designed to be a series under the Alliance of World Explorers tent and I can’t wait to see where our young heroes go next, time traveling and trying to save the world and make it a better place.

Did you give the book to your son? What did he think of it?
I gave the book to him and about a dozen other kids and the learning was immense. They all loved it and all had valuable insight that was reflected in the final edit. Noah, my 13-year-old, was particularly vocal about getting his own time traveling device but we think he needs to be 16 to have one.

What do you think people would be surprised to learn about you?
Wow, I don’t know. I am pretty public and transparent in life … I love to ski and snowboard, I am laser focused on growing my hospitality business and production company, Intuitive Content, and I am really anxious to start my next few TV projects. There are so many great stories out there in the world to tell.

What other projects are you working on that you are able to share with us?
New book, new restaurant means more books, more restaurants for sure. I am expanding my roles with some serious globally impactful NGOs working to help refugees and reduce global hunger. I’m working on some great new TV projects. … 2019 is going to be a big year.

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s February 2019 issue.

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