December, 2010 Archive
At the beginning of every new season, I always like to take a moment and answer the most FAQs and one always rises to the top of the inbox: Yes, I have always been an open-minded eater, but I think some explanation is needed.
I had parents who believed in the power of travel to inform, challenge, educate and illuminate, but mostly we liked to eat. As a 9-year-old, I ate with my dad at Botin in Madrid, following his lead and trying the angulas, the risotto nera, the roasted pigeon and the milk-fed baby piglet. Our food and travel lives kept growing, and when I started cooking professionally after college, and then operating restaurants in NYC, it was the stories behind the food that drove a lot of my passion. Black bean spare ribs were a delicious item to run at our restaurant, but it was even better when teamed with the story of eating that dish in Beijing for the first time (and how I got the recipe…a bottle of whisky is always welcome as a gift/bribe in any kitchen!). I worked the risotto station at a restaurant called La Colonna, very fancy Italian joint that was quite the chic place to be back in 1984, and knowing what risotto was supposed to taste like, and having some perspective about the restraint and technique that was required to execute those dishes helped me immensely.
In the late 90s, I began branch out beyond the kitchen– cooking while telling a story on local TV. It became so popular I decided to spread out a bit, and I started cooking on some national cable shows (Rebecca’s Garden and Tip-ical Mary Ellen) and got a job at the local Fox station, the local radio station and the monthly that I still write for, Minneapolis St Paul Magazine. I pushed a lot of tape at networks over the years and finally found a production partner who wanted to do a show called Chew on This. It was essentially the show you watch now called Bizarre Foods except a little edgier. It took us three years to sell that show to Travel Channel and finally five and half years ago, we started shooting our first pilot. I am still that kid, parachuting into Spain, looking for a good meal, with a good story. From where I sit, a good story in one from the fringe, and often times the foods that are shocking to some are most indicative of what a culture is saying about themselves, where it’s going or where it came from. The people, not just the food. Eating whole goat, stewed skin on, guts and all, with the Himba in Namibia (stay tuned for that episode!) says so much about their pastoral tradition, and how they eat it and who gets what piece tells you all you need to know about their social structure.
Food is the best lens through which to view a people and a culture. And I think you can learn more by sharing a meal with someone than you can wandering down the aisle in some museum. This season of Bizarre Foods is our best ever, and I can’t wait til the 18th. Syria to Namibia, Finland to San Francisco, it’s a brand new 22-pack that everyone will love. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.
A little holiday cheer from Food Works– aka the three person shop that keeps Andrew’s schedule, projects and life organized. I think our 2010 card pretty much summed up our best year yet. From the top left, going clockwise…
1. AZ hit up Syria for the latest season of Bizarre Foods. This episode is currently slotted to kick off the new season on Jan. 18. I’ve seen a lot of photos from the trip and can say there were a lot of camels, sand, and amazing ancient ruins involved.
2. Andrew also won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Television Food Personality (shown with Adam Richman, Kelly Choi and AZ’s smokin’ wife Rishia). Between you, me and the walls, he was so caught off-guard and honored when he received the nomination that he got a little weepy in the office.
3. Going tribal in Nimibia. Can’t wait for you all to see this episode. It’s a good one and I’m not giving anything away.
4. Me, Andrew and his stellar assistant, Dusti post-dinner at Red Cat (NYC). Dusti is the third person in the Food Works office, and she’s the lynchpin. Need anything from AZ? You gotta get through her first. Bribery can be effective; she loves potato chips.
5. Andrew posing with the wildebeest he hunted, butchered and ate in Namibia. I know this was one of his most difficult shoot days for Bizarre Foods to date– which had something to do with a non-life threatening rifle wound, oppressive heat, and the physical exhaustion associated with gutting an animal of that size.
6. Last but not least, AZ and Chef Michael White chowing on their “tongue and cheek sliders” from Carts in the Park @ the New York Wine & Food Festival. Hope we’re doing this event again next year. It was one of my favorite of the entire weekend.
What were your highlights of 2010? New Year’s resolutions for 2011?
Nice to officially meet you Bizarre Food fans! I’ve been spying on you all for years from my desk at Zimmern headquarters; now we can finally get a conversation going. A little about myself and how I ended up here…
In 2005, I graduated with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from UW-Madison. After carelessly tossing my cap in the air, I immediately put my degree to good use making hundreds of meatballs a day (literally) in a catering kitchen. The whole point? To save up some cash so I could travel. In next year, I spent a month in Europe, a month in South Africa, and did a quick one-weeker in Barcelona. I also spent five days driving a street-legal monster truck around Des Moines, Iowa, but that’s another story for another day.
I eventually found myself a full-time gig as a “guerrilla marketer” (read: I doled out a lot of promo key chains to strangers at sporting events), but found handing out freebies unfulfilling. Always up for an adventure, I quit my job sans plan. While unemployed, I stumbled upon a brand new show on Travel Channel called Bizarre Foods. I loved the premise– discovering the globe through food– and thought the host, Andrew Zimmern, was pretty funny. I found out he actually lived in my city, and that got me thinking.
Just like 98 percent of people, I love food and travel. My mom is a flight attendant (just retired after 35 years), and my dad explored Europe and Australia for months in the 70s with nothing but a backpack, some dirty bell bottoms and a lot of charm. You could say a strong sense of adventure is in my blood. The food thing is pretty much all mine (we weren’t a big foodie family; I remember eating a lot of Tombstone pizza as a kid), but ever since I got a part-time kitchen job in high school, food is probably at the forefront of every decision I make. I’ve always thought the perfect gig for me would be eating, traveling, then writing about it. It seemed Andrew was already doing a version of that, so I sent him an email. Basically, a well-written version of “I want your job, can we meet for coffee?” Before sending, I attached this photo from a recent flight:
Three days later, I received this message:
Thanks for the kind words, I am actually in St Petersburg. Russia, not
We have lots going on in our office, and Dusti will make a time
for you to come meet with us, could be some intern work for a month until we
see what you can do, but there might even be some paying work as well.
Call Dusti, see # below.
That was 3.5 years ago, and I’ve been working for Andrew ever since. I run his website, social media stuff, and am his editorial assistant (which means I get to eat, travel, and write about it). It’s fantastic. Now I get to be your behind the scenes guide to all things Andrew. Feel free to ask questions and post your comments on this blog, the Bizarre Foods Facebook page, or via Twitter @in2BizarreFoods. I’ll make sure you get legit answers. And if you want to know how I landed my dream job, I will confidently tell you: I simply asked. But don’t get any ideas— this one’s already taken.
Welcome to the new season of Bizarre Foods. And to a fresh and ever-changing digital experience here on the Bizarre Foods blog, and in our social media as well. Like a proud parent, let me introduce you to the new home page that you are gazing at right now. Pretty impressive I think! And like the new season premiering Tuesday, January 18th, there are a lot of new features. Syria, Greece, Venice, Pennsylvania, Hungary, Finland, Chicago, San Francisco, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Namibia and the list goes on and on….we got new cameras, new toys on the road to play with, a new attitude and most importantly the best stories and best characters we’ve seen yet. Offers of offal at tribal dinners, offers of teenage wives, offers of severed flesh in coming of age ceremonies and offers to stay and live as a Roma or a Lapplander…it all goes down starting in January.
As for the people we met? Take Jama for example, captain of a small fishing canoe, who paddles and sails his pirogue 22 klicks into the middle of the open ocean to fish, and doesn’t come back until the canoe is full…he often sleeps out on the open sea waiting for fish. Eking out a living is hard work in Madagascar, a lawless ungoverned country where our adventures included losing luggage and our minds as we grappled with a country in the throes of defining itself and struggling with the endless stream of hopelessness and poverty. Which made our learning moments so acute. I asked Jama as we sat eating some fermented dried shark meat, if he was happy and if he thought life was easy. He laughed at me, and said of course it was. He had his boat and his family, that’s all he needed. Jama is quite a man and taught me more than I ever bargained for in our time together.
Speaking of which, let me introduce the “other” voice of Bizarre Foods, Molly Mogren.
Molly has been my friend and colleague for years, and works with me at my office, cheek to jowel. Molly knows more about me than me, and more about what really goes on at Bizarre Foods than anyone I know. Welcome to her world. She’ll be blogging here, keeping an eye on our Bizarre Foods Facebook page, and passing along behind the scenes tweets at @intobizarrefoods.
So think of this as our Christmas present and Auld Langs Syne greeting rolled into one. A well-wrapped bon bon with which to start the new year, new premier date, new Bizarre Foods. Travel Here.