Andrew Zimmern doesn't think twice about eating stir-fried bees, “fall-off-the-bone” guinea pig, turtle testicles, and crispy dung beetles.
His show wouldn't be “Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern” without unusual, often cringeworthy grub. And while Zimmern is open to trying anything (except probably another scoop of garlic ice cream, a dessert he calls “just awful,”) he’s also just as interested in educating people about enjoying wonderfully edible clean foods.
Surprised? We were too, but these days Zimmern wants you to take note what Americans are doing to improve the ways everyone gets their nutrients without compromising on taste.
We recently chatted with the popular chef about his love for clean eating, the dishes everyone should have before they die, and what he really thinks about fast food.
FNM: What’s the one food you won’t ever try?
AZ: There’s nothing I won’t try. The reason is I like to think I’m open-minded. And yes, that includes everything (laughs). Look, I don’t want to parse definitions of words, like cannibalism or anything. I mean, that’s not my job here. Let other people find those things. But I mean, folks bite their nails, they eat their hair -- I do neither. But I just never say never. I can see cultural reasons why I would try anything and I decide those things when I get in front of the food. But unless something is actually going to physically harm me or is illegal, such as protected species and things like that, I won’t eat it.
FNM: What are three dishes everyone should try before they die?
AZ: Oh my gosh. (For starters) I think going to Bali and taking part in a traditional lawar ceremony. Lawar is a minced pork and blood dish that is served at the ceremony. Lawar is the same name as the main dish there. But there’s also 50 other dishes there. You get 20 pigs and 100 cooks and everyone goes at it all night long and then 300 people show up and feast on it. It’s the Balinese equivalent of a New Mexican mantanza or a southern hog roast. It’s just one of those big pig meals, which is fantastic. In Samoa they do the whole thing underneath the ground, traditional Pacific Islander style. It’s a whole hog meal, a real one, not one at your friend’s backyard. It’s as good as it can be. That’s something everyone should try before they die. I’m also a Japanese food freak and I think people need to have that kind of food experience. Just go to Tokyo and eat at Jiro's place or Sushi Mizutani. There are now great ones here in the United States. If you love Japanese food, splurge on yourself and do that. And the third meal that everyone should have before they die? I firmly believe that, as a life-changing experience, you should hunt and cook your own food one of these days. I think that’s really important.
FNM: Which food or dish do you wish was more accessible in America?
AZ: I’d like healthy, clean food to be more available and accessible in America. Processed food, foods that are raised under the wrong conditions by people who have no interest in anything other than making money, is something that’s sadly way too accessible here in America. That defines American food. I’d like to see healthy, clean, savory, and fresh foods more available and accessible.
I grew up in the ’60s. It was a different food world then. And I mean convenience historically started arriving in the mid ‘60s. I still remember my grandmother making head cheese and the first line in her head cheese recipe was ‘quarter head.’ She had a small saw in her kitchen. I’m not asking everyone to go back to the days of the horse and buggy, but I do think the food I experienced as a young person had a lot benefits. Wholesome, fresh, local. We have all these words to describe it, like ‘farm-to-table movement, ‘organic,’ or ‘all natural.’ When I was young we just called that food. I wish we could get back to more of that.
FNM: At this point, would finding something as odd as a frog or even a roach in a fast food meal surprise you?
AZ: Nothing would surprise me these days.
FNM: And what do you really think of fast food?
AZ: I think food that’s served quickly and inexpensively is fantastic. I think when you asked this question and used the term ‘fast food,’ you’re referring to McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Sonic, Jack in the Box, and all that stuff, which I think if it all went away tomorrow, we’d be better off. I encourage and am really delighted by the fact that so many ethnic foods in America are becoming so popular because there’s so many versions of them, as well as with street food and food trucks. Those are foods served quickly, cheaply, and people can have access to them. It’s really about education and access. If we can let people know that American fast food, corporate fast food, commodity fast food is bad for them, and educate them on where they can find an alternative, we’ll go on a great way in solving some of our food problems in this country.
FNM: How have your travel experiences impacted the way you cook for yourself at home?
AZ: Oh, it’s impacted every part of my life. Traveling is transformative. It changes your life. You cannot help but be changed forever by it. When you spend time with a tribe, and I’ve had chances to spend time with many, you realize that living in sync with nature and taking from it what it gives you has many benefits. For example, there’s no waste. In many tribes and communities, there’s no individual property. So I’ve become a better sharer or green in the ecological sense. I’m more interested in other people because of my travel experiences. I’m a better human being. The version of myself when I’m traveling is my favorite version of myself because I’m open-minded and up for anything. I’m trying to add that attitude in my life.
FNM: American cuisine -- What are we doing wrong?
AZ: You know, I used to love this question and now I rather talk about what we’re doing right. We’re encouraging entrepreneurs to solve our food problems, we’re diversifying our food sources, and we are widening the food choices in our lives. All of these are things growing again within the last 10 years. This is how it was 45 years ago and I think it’s great. I also think we need to be encouraging those trends and I think we need to make food and eating in America. You notice that I didn’t say eating well because one in five Americans are going to bed hungry. That includes children. In some states that number is higher amongst children. I think eating well for nutrition and for necessary daily requirements has become a class privilege in America. I think that is shameful, it borders on criminal, and for us to ignore that problem in this country is fiddling while Rome burns. I’d like to see that go away.