Andrew Zimmern is just how'd you expect someone who's paid to travel the world and eat crazy things for a living: really laid back and fun.
So, when we found out that Andrew was bringing his Travel Channel show, "Bizarre Foods," to tour the USA during its sixth season ... you know we had to get him on the phone to learn all about our domestic culinary weirdness.
We also got the scoop on where he likes to eat when visiting President Obama's back yard ... Washington, D.C.
So, how did this idea to do a season of "Bizarre Foods" in the United States come about?
"We made 92 shows in countries all over the world before we turned our attention to America, and it wasn't because we ran out of places to go. It was because after 92 shows outside the United States, we kept coming across stories that ... were representative not only of the American aesthetic, but also so representative of the ethnic experience in this country.
"And we had such an overwhelming number of stories that we finally said, 'You know something, we need to spend a little time exploring our own back yard!' And, what we found was the things that you know, you find in little pockets of enthusiasm around the United States from Iowa to Chicago, from New York to San Francisco, is twice as surprising as what you would find in tribal Africa, or you know, the wilds of Amazonia."
Is it about more than just food?
"It's a fascinating subject to explore. I'm more about the culture than I am about the foods themselves. The foods are the vehicle. The food is the telescope. It's the lens. It's the divining rod to tell the stories that make up our shows that give you a better impression of the culture than when you first arrived at the beginning of the program.
"So, you know, the shock that even I have to see the Vietnamese community in New Orleans, it's like being inside of Hanoi. It's almost impossible to separate it. It's such a staggering and impressive thing to witness the - you see, you know, food is a common thread that lets people reestablish here in the United States when they're trying to, you know, feel like they've never left home. It's the first thing you do, is cook a meal. Then, you make the bed after you move into the house."
When you were outside the USA, were people were like, what's the deal with hot dogs?
"Oh, God, yes, all the time. I mean, look, in Argentina they don't eat peanut butter. It's repulsive to them. Kids won't even try it. In most places almost all tribal cultures, when - if they've had any run-in with a - or European, they run away from it like they're scooting away from live fire. I've actually had tribes of people in Uganda who've sampled cheddar cheese tell me that they don't understand why Americans are so crazy and would let perfectly good milk rot."
You're kicking off this season with your 100th episode, which is retrospective of all the previous seasons. Were you stuck with any kind of self-reflective realization about the past five seasons?
"I was staggered. Who gets to work on such great material for so long and how did I get so lucky? I also was struck with the importance of getting back outside of the USA for content - not for any reason except that when I am eating turkey I crave roast beef ... grass is always greener."
Have you developed a taste for any "bizarre" dish that you've tried while on the show?
"Always. Tiny little birds, deep fried - constant craving. Kokoretsi and other dishes like it around the world, I miss them."
Do you have any advice for someone who watches your show and thinks, "I want to do stuff like that!"?
"I am not a thrill seeker, I explore culture through food and I use stories from the fringe to do so. I suggest people go out to eat and let someone else do the ordering."
You're actually filming an episode for this season in Washington, D.C. -- is that right?
"We're doing our second show from there. The great thing about D.C. is that with, you know, with being the government town and being the, you know, the diplomatic capital of the world, we have some incredible opportunities to explore culture through food."
Are there any specific examples you can share with us?|
"Well, I mean, you know, from the Ethiopian community to the Salvadoran community, there's some really vibrant, vibrant pockets of culture there, and you know, of course, you know, head west out of D.C., you don't have to go very far to be in the wilds of woolly Virginia. So, yes, it's a great place to explore."
And, do you have any non-bizarre places to recommend getting a bite to eat?
"I like MiniBar, Jaleo, Chiquitas, Komi, Obelisk, Eve, Rasika, Fiola."
Thanks, Andrew, for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us!
TONIGHT: Catch Andrew's "Bizarre Foods" (Vegas edition) Mondays at 9/8c.
VIDEO: "Bizarre Foods" - Korea
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