Beyond Vassar

Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern '84

By Kate Conlow ’09

Would you care for some coconut grubs (larvae that live in dead palm leaves), nutria (a large semi-aquatic rodent), or perhaps menudo (soup made with tripe and beef hearts)? These might not be typical dishes served up at a fine-dining experience, but they are a few of the offerings that Andrew Zimmern ’84 samples on his newest culinary project.

As host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern, which premiered in February, Zimmern travels the globe tasting local fare. Following his motto “if it looks good, eat it!” he has tried such regional delicacies as mangrove worms (raw worms that live off dead wood pulp), a specialty from Sabang Beach in the Philippines; haggis (sheep heart, lungs, and liver mixed with oatmeal and stuffed into a sheep’s stomach bag), a traditional Scottish dish; and goose intestines at Congee Restaurant in New York City’s Chinatown. For two weeks each month Zimmern travels anywhere from Wales to Ecuador to Tibet, “experiencing food and sharing culture.”

Zimmern takes a humorous approach to introducing global foods that might seem strange or unpalatable to his American audience. When he bites into the eyeball of a lamb he exclaims, “There are no words to describe the texture and experience,” pauses to relish the flavor, and continues, “but let me say it was the essence of the barnyard.”

Even though the show is amusing, Bizarre Foods has “a serious message about culture and preserving culture,” explains Zimmern. “The message is really that our world is disappearing and changing.” In the United States people are so particular about the look and taste of what they consume, he says, that the result is overprocessed and unhealthy food. He mentions: “The hottest trend in the food industry is sustainability—[eat] organic, and local. In the rest of the world, that is the only way people eat!” Zimmern believes that through the observation of food culture, viewers will gain a better appreciation and understanding of other people and places. He says, “The more we talk about food, the more we can understand global, social, and environmental problems.”

Before Bizarre Foods, Zimmern had been the executive chef and general manager at many top-rated restaurants, including Café Un Duex Trois in Minneapolis. Today, in addition to hosting this top-rated series, he has a radio show called “Chowhounds” and writes a food blog called “Chow and Again.” Zimmern attributes part of his success in television and journalism to his liberal arts education. “The best thing I ever did was get a Vassar education,” he says. In particular, he notes his World Music class with Willie Raff. “Raff’s class gave me an attitude about being open to other cultures in ways I hadn’t thought about before.” And his Northern Renaissance Art class with Susan Donahue Kuretsky ’63 changed his life. “It opened my eyes to the way that I could look at an artifact from a different cultural perspective.” Zimmern comments that he does not want people to start thinking “outside of the box” about food and culture. Instead, he says, “I don’t want a box at all. If we don’t have a box we will become a healthier planet and global community.”