Andrew Zimmern, chef and host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, was in town for South by Southwest while making the rounds to promote his new show, The Zimmern List (which features an Austin-centric episode). Eater had the chance to sit down with the star chef and get his thoughts on topics from Austin’s open-mindedness to how José Andrés inspired him to help others. (Zimmern was on a panel with Andres and former Food & Wine editor Dana Cowin yesterday.)
On where he’s been eating in Austin:
“My first free time to eat was last night at 10:30 p.m. So Sunday night in Austin. There’s Sixth Street, and there’s places with really crappy food, so I’m not going to eat there. I was with José and a bunch of our friends and his daughter. So I go to the place that I always go on Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. because there’s nowhere else that’s good and fun and has people in it: Justine’s Brasserie.”
On the Austin food scene:
“Switches, keeps growing, keeps expanding.”
On what Austin’s food says about the city’s culture:
“People have eclectic tastes. People here come from a large number of backgrounds, but the Latin impact on this town is most strongly felt. People because of the music and arts scene here are tolerant of newcomers and they’re willing to be experimented at. People are open-minded.
“You know, pound for pound: Is there another city in the south with as much highly heralded and publicized and award-winning Asian food over the last ten years than Austin, a landlocked city, small city in Texas? I think that speaks to the nature of who’s living here and what they’re doing and in a really good way. That’s that open-mindedness.”
On José Andrés:
“I’ve known him for 15 years, and he started to get involved with social justice causes and started to devote a significant part of his time to that before I did. We were judging Iron Chef together, it’s 10 at night, it’s Sunday or Monday and he says, ‘What are you doing now?’ and I said, ‘I’m going to the hotel and going to sleep, you know, I got an early day tomorrow’ and he said, ‘No, you’re coming with me.’
“The conversation was about serious food issues, and when we walked home that night, he gave me the lecture that we all need to get involved, we all need to get active and be examples. He told me, ‘You have an opportunity to do that that most other people in our industry don’t have.’ And that conversation changed the direction of that experience. That night changed the direction of my life.”
On how to cultivate the open-mindedness of traveling without buying a plane ticket:
“Go across town to a neighborhood you haven’t been to [...] the problem with that is that when we’re home, we just want to do what we want to do, and a lot of our selfishness and bias comes out. I think traveling forces you to ask questions, like directions. Try to speak another language, do non-verbal communication that some people are embarrassed by, maybe have to point to something that’s someone else’s eating because you want it. It takes you out of your ego.”
On his new web series:
“My new video series on my web site [AZ Cooks] is aimed at trying to teach people culinary literacy so that it’s easier for them to spend time in the kitchen [...] It’s something that I think is the solution for people. I teach them how to break apart or chicken and make chicken stock and then grill the pieces and roast it. People actually can make sense of their time and better use of their money.
“We think we really hit the ball out of the park with this one [...] I think people are gonna enjoy the change they’re seen on the air. It’s easily the best show I’ve ever done.”