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Andrew Zimmern

Chef, Entrepreneur, TV Personality

“THE ONLY REASON I work this hard is so I can be disruptive,” Andrew Zimmern explains from a deep-seated black leather couch in Midtown’s Renaissance Hotel, where he serves as a global brand ambassador. “I have to keep my platform big so that I can change the way people think about food — it’s the only reason I do what I do.”

Host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, the 55-year-old chef’s fame is predicated on one thing: “being the fat white guy who goes around the world eating bugs.” (Seriously, he once ate insect “nuggets” in Amsterdam.) But why, masochism aside, does he do it?

“I think food can change the way people see the world,” he asserts. “Can push boundaries to make us more tolerant and accepting. I never wanted to be a talking head behind a cutting board, which, trust me, was an option. But I knew that in order to have an impact, I would have to tell the stories people weren’t talking about… stories from the fringe.”

Using bizarre foods to fight prejudice.

“When I was first approached about television, I had a decision to make: Did I want to work on a kitchen or a restaurant set? And the answer, for me, was neither. I find stories about steaks grilling on the fire and turkeys roasting in the oven to be incredibly boring. Boring, boring, boring. But a tribe of Botswanan people who eat so seasonally that, for one month of the year, they only eat jewel bugs mashed with marula nuts? Nuts that drop on the ground in the Kalahari Dessert like hailstones in a Kansas summer storm? Now that’s where I want to play.”

So, seriously: Why all the weird food?

“Food is one of those universally human things, which is what makes it powerful. You know that joke about food being the way to someone’s heart? Well, I really believe that. On my show, I use it as a way of showing you what other people are like — people who are just like you, in families just like yours. Maybe their language is different, maybe their skin color’s different, maybe their food tastes differently. But they’re just like you. If people understood that, maybe we wouldn’t experience contempt prior to investigation to the degree we see today. Food can motivate people to open their hearts and their minds, which has never been more important than it is now.”

Does it serve a greater purpose beyond entertainment?

Andrew Zimmern - Host of Bizarre Foods

“Without a doubt; my show is disruptive at its core. You have to keep in mind, rockstar chefs are still a relatively new thing. The role of the chef is changing, and we suddenly have these multimillion dollar brands. Disruption — or what I like to call the anarchist mentality, or blowing shit up — is no longer an option; it’s an obligation. It’s the role of a chef to consider food’s broader place in society… to think about how we’re going to teach healthy eating in a world that just craves more garbage.”

Do you consider yourself disruptive?

“The squeaky wheel gets the most grease.” [Laughs]

Any fallout?

“Eating in America is a class issue; eating well is an even bigger class issue. When 20% of Americans don’t know where their next meal’s coming from — 19% of which are children — well, that’s criminal. But again, this goes back to what I said earlier: If we could all stretch our boundaries, maybe everyone could live a bit better. I try to educate people about alternatives. Take meat, for example. Maybe we should eat a wider variety of animals instead of just lamb, beef, pork and chicken… and then there would be more for everyone.”

In America, specifically, what other issues are you trying to disrupt?

“In an episode of my show, we featured a group called Food Not Bombs. They’re anacharcists, and not everything they do is technically legal. Motivated by the fact that 40% of our food ends up in the garbage, they break onto private property and steal other people’s waste. They go to the dumpsters at supermarkets and take fruits and vegetables that are perfectly fine — just a little bruised or nicked up. These guys were really the leaders of the “ugly food” movement…. Then they take it back to their kitchens where they cook food for 200 people on the streets in the Tenderloin of San Francisco. The police call it stealing; I call it food rescue.”

Who do you consider disruptive?


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