Despite having willingly and proudly eaten deep-fried fertilized duck eggs, grilled reindeer liver and horse-heart tartar, Andrew Zimmern bristles at the suggestion he eats weird food.
Zimmern, the host of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods America which kicked off new episodes this week, was driving around rural Wisconsin with his father-in-law last week when we connected by phone. The interview got a bit awkward when I quizzed him about what he liked to eat when he wasn't eating "weird stuff," as I called his TV diet.
"I don't eat weird food," he said. Long pause. I thought it best not to mention the pig head tamales and steamed chicken embryo sampled on this week's "Hidden Los Angeles" episode.
"Bizarre Foods is not about putting crazy crap into your mouth. Our show is about interpreting culture through food and along the way we discovered that stories from the fringe are the best way to tell those stories. What's weird to some people is Grandma's comfort food."
Fair enough. Here's the rest of our conversation, which focused mostly on travel and food, with no more mention about weirdness.
What are you looking forward to on the new season?
I think we've improved a lot of user utility. I wanted to make sure people could watch where I go and then go do it themselves. It's great for people to mail-order food from some website and then make raccoon chili for themselves. I would rather Americans and people around the world go to the places I go and experience that life for themselves.
Why is that important to you?
I love for people to explore their own community and vacation in their own back yards. But I'd really like them to get to Houston and explore the Vietnamese community or Rhode Island and explore the Portuguese culture there. I want people to understand that the most amazing food city in America is Queens, even though it's really just part of a city. There are 150 different ethnic groups there. If you want to experience culture mouth first, go to Queens, N.Y.
For most viewers, the food eaten on Bizarre Foods is unlike what they eat at home. So what's the attraction?
Even when we put something unusual on the table the family still looks just like our own. Maybe people will be less inclined to judge other people (when they see that they gather around the table, too). The reason I make this show is because in a world where we always talk about differences we need to talk more about our similarities.
There are so many shows on TV about food. Why?
They say that food, math and music are universal but no one ever started a revolution over math or music. If you take away rice or bread there's blood in the streets.
How does travel change people? What does it do for you?
Travel is transformative. I am the best person I can be when I am on the road. When I am at home, I am more selfish. It's about doing things as conveniently as possible. When I am on the road, I learn about you. I am the best version of myself. For other people that's true as well.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.