By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
December 27, 2011
To television viewers, Andrew Zimmern of “Bizarre Foods” fame is known as that guy who’ll eat anything. And he’d like Americans to give it a shot, too. “Open up and expand your horizons, people!” says the James Beard Award-winning chef and author. “My favorite mixed metaphor is, ‘Put on your big girl pants and man up!’ I am unable to comprehend a place on the planet where the food is ‘too different.’ If you don’t eat fish and you are in Japan, there is plenty to enjoy. Most people are too wound up to simply ask for what they need. Unless you are looking for lettuce in rural Iceland, you can be happy food wise.” Born and raised in New York, Zimmern, 50, resides in Minnesota with his family. The latest incarnation of his series, “Bizarre Foods America,” debuts this winter on the Travel Channel.
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. Any beach that’s sparsely populated. I spend so much time traveling — in cities, on safari, on treks through jungles — that I am always most desperate for peace, quiet, tranquility on a beach somewhere with my family. We rent houses a lot, typically in Hawaii, Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands), Mexico or Puerto Rico.
Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. We go to the Four Seasons in Palm Beach as often as possible. It’s easy to get to, has a great beach, a great kids program and is perfect for a long weekend of unwinding. Just as often we will go for a shopping and eating weekend in New York City. We love the Ritz on Central Park South or the big apartment rooms at the Ace Hotel. That place has the best stocked room fridge in the United States of America and I can eat at the Breslin every night, if I am snowed in. It’s very comforting. We go to Disney World in Orlando three or four times a year and always stay at the Beach Club there. It’s our family hangout.
Q. During your travels, what have you been offered to eat that you just couldn’t bring yourself to chew and swallow?
A. The only thing I have ever refused was a bowl of chaat on the streets in Delhi. Chaat is something I eat regularly all the time, but on this occasion they were using some brown water coming out of a cracked public spigot to moisten the little snack bowls. Eating it would have meant a week in the hospital, so I passed.
Q. Are people in other countries grossed out by things we consider normal?
A. Argentineans hate peanut butter and many tribal peoples in Africa feel that cheese is way too horrifically textured to be worth eating. They wonder why we let milk spoil and then dry into tiny little squares and eat it.
Q. What are some of your favorite cities?
A. In America, I like visiting Portland, Maine; Charleston, S.C.; Fayetteville, West Virginia; Austin, Texas; and Santa Barbara, Calif. New York City is my favorite city on the planet. If I want to travel abroad, I like Venice, Cape Town, Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.
Q. Where have you traveled to that most reminded you of home?
A. In the Aha Hills of Botswana, I lived with a tribe for a few weeks and had the most unforgettable travel experience of my life. The people were kind and honorable and spiritually fit. They were what I imagined people could be like everywhere if we all tried a little harder, and it reminded me that we are all alike in some way.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. Peru. Still haven’t gotten there yet.
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. My phones, my iPad, my laptop. … I really like being connected to my world wherever I am. I also need some good books, and if I am lucky, I take my wife. She’s the best travel must-have I can think of.
Q. What would be your dream/fantasy trip?
A. Sailboat trip through the Mediterranean, Aegean and out through Gibraltar up around Spain and on to France. Give me one summer to accomplish it all, nice and slow.
Q. What are your favorite restaurants?
A. That’s the most unfair question of all time! I can list hundreds and never stop. Mugaritz in San Sebastian; Yu Bo Family Kitchen in Chengdu; Kau Kee in Hong Kong; Uchiko in Austin; Alinea in Chicago; Marea in New York City; Scotts BBQ in Hemingway, S.C.; Husk in Charleston; Museo del Jamon in Madrid; Chez L’ami Jean in Paris; Rockpool in Sydney…
Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you’re on the road?
A. Necco wafers. Never leave home without them.
Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A. I am researching trips and experiences 24/7/365 and the production company has three people that are on it 12 months a year. In my office we are constantly evaluating and planning trips. It’s all we do.
Q. What is your best and/or worst vacation memory?
A. Best trip ever was a two-week getaway with my wife in East Hampton, L.I., the first summer we dated. There was perfect weather, empty beaches and lots of down time. We stayed at my dad’s house and did nothing. Worst vacation ever was two years ago when we got rained out on a beach vacation. It was pretty tedious.
© 2011 JAE-HA KIM
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.