Is there any city in America that evokes such a profound salivary response as New Orleans? Just listen to the name, and you can taste it. Every time I visit New Orleans, I’m reminded of how truly special this city is. From the amazing food to the robust music scene, there is serious passion pulsating through the Big Easy.
A mix of influence from Europe, Africa, the West Indies and the American South, you can’t really put your finger on what New Orleans feels like. It’s unlike anywhere else in the US, or the world for that matter. Bringing Bizarre Foods America here was a no-brainer. I could shoot 10 more shows in NOLA and still not run out things to talk about. We never got to half the restaurants, markets, family homes, 2nd line parties, dives and joints as I would have liked to, and before I die I am going to get John Besh on one of my programs if it’s the last thing I do. But, moving on!
I’ve spent a lot of time here, and it wasn’t until this last trip that I learned this fun fact: New Orleans is home to the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. Literally right outside the city proper, you could easily convince yourself that you’ve stumbled into Southeast Asia. Makeshift backyard gardens fronting the canals that run through the neighborhoods, markets specializing in fresh Vietnamese produce and traditional Vietnamese cooked foods. What I especially love is how this enclave has adopted many local ingredients like boiled peanuts and made them their own. Conversely, locals have come to appreciate Vietnamese cooking traditions. It’s a cross-cultural pollination of the best kind, and will only help the city continue to grow and evolve. I met a few duck and chicken farmers in the parking lot of a Viet market one weekend morning and walked up to chat with them. They looked like they were straight out of a Hee Haw skit, the spitting image of every rural Southern stereotype you can imagine. And they were eating rice noodle pancakes with chopsticks. I asked them if they ate a lot of Vietnamese food and they said that yes they did, every day. They said it was spicy, flavorful, healthier than their own cooking and cheaper than eating at a fast food joint. Music to my ears. They also said that Post Katrina the Viet community sheltered their friends and family, fed them (the Viet survival skill package is pretty awesome!) and helped them rebuild. What’s more , is that the Vietnamese buy hundreds of fresh live poultry every week from their farms…that’s an amazing story.
Other highlights? Cooking this with musician & amazing Creole cook Kermit Ruffins. Don’t recognize this furry creature? Hint: you may have seen it rummaging through your trash.
Hunting frogs in the bayou with my friend, Chef Don Link. I spent the next day cooking and eating with his family. They were the most gracious hosts, and I was touched that they let me, a Jewish guy form New York, try his hand at Cajun cooking for the day.
A big shout out to the folks at Rick Phillip’s Seafood Company for some of the most amazing crawfish I’ve ever had. Cleaned my sinuses right out. And let’s not forget this amphibious treat [photo]. Whole-cooked gator seasoned with Cajun napalm (their intense homemade spice rub), cooked in a ‘Cajun microwave’– basically an impressive homemade version of the famous Cuban-Chinese Caja China. Now that’s some ingenuity.
Feasting on po’ boys (lots of debris, please), shucking oysters, eating the best fried chicken–ever (thanks Willie Mae’s), making boudin and hog ponce from scratch with a guy named Bubba Frye (you can’t make that up), and I even got a cooking lesson from the Queen of Creole, Leah Chase.
This city never ceases to amaze me. Watch the episode and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Catch the Bizarre Foods America: NOLA premiere on Monday, January 30 at 9|8C.
Bizarre Foods America, your time has come. The need for Americans to see themselves as we really are (talking ‘bout you Kardashians!), the desire I have to make the unfamiliar familiar, and the bloodlust for the type of insider information that is actionable makes this the best season of Bizarre Foods ever. I mean really, how many of you went to Maun Botswana and from there to the Aha Hills like I told you to? Now there are no excuses, especially since we kick off the series in the Twin Cities– the place I’ve called home since 1992. I leaned on lots of friends and family, former and current colleagues to make this episode happen, and couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out.
Minnesota winters can be brutal (but I still love ‘em). The summers, on the other hand, are unparalleled. We filmed most of this episode in July– at the height of our growing season. Folks here don’t take a single sunny day for granted, and from May-September, you’ll find Minnesotans outside biking, running, walking, fishing, or swimming. Chefs take full advantage of ingredients grown locally (sometimes even in their own backyard); diners love eating al fresco. Most Minnesotans are nudists. Look for the gratuitous montage shots of some of our favorite hidden beaches near end of the show.
Our hotdish cook-off at the Uptown VFW was one of the most fun segments to film. My wife and son were there, along with my in-laws.
Molly brought her 85-year-old grandmother, Arlene. She’s the mother of 12 boys (yes, you heard me right!) and relied heavily on these types of no-fuss hotdishes for the better part of her cooking life. Grandma Mogren has hung up her apron strings for the most part, so Molly offered to whip up her grandma’s Pizza Hotdish recipe for her. Slaving over boiling noodles and a hot oven sans AC when the heat index hit 105 degrees… that’s a labor of love.
As for other entrees, you won’t believe the things people submitted. Maybe it’s my jaded New York upbringing, but I don’t think lime Jell-o, olives and cottage cheese should ever go together. Ever. Oh, and I can’t wait for you to meet Lola, whose extreme cleavage slightly upstaged her Jell-o salad. Play a game at home when you watch this act and let me know if you can tell which of the ladies who made Jell-o are hammered. Answer: Most of them.
But let me just say in complete honesty that the best moments of this show, some of the absolute best moments in the history of Bizarre Foods, wound up on the cutting room floor.
Anyone who has ever eaten hot dogs at The Gopher Bar and Tilia can imagine how that little ‘compare and contrast’ moment played out. (the ones shown above are from Tilia, by the way).
The guys at Travail surprised me with “Durian Eight Ways”– meaning eight bite-sized courses featuring one of my least favorite foods. I was simply stunned, and props to Bob who made four separate durian desserts. They were so well executed that I almost forgot they were made with durian… almost. We also failed at capturing Dusti, Molly and Beth (the ladies from my office) talking ad nauseum about the “hot kitchen staff at Travail.” Apparently these gals can’t resist the tatted up, bandana-wearing young chef type. I am seriously worried about them.
My day at the Hmong market– I loved the green papaya salad so much that I served it at my 50th birthday party.
Manning the kitchen at Haute Dish and slinging the special I came up with– Andrew ZImmern’s Offal Hotdish (though I loved it, diner’s mixed reviews leads me to think it won’t be back on the menu any time soon).
Doug Flicker blowing my mind in the kitchen at Piccolo. The man is a genius.
I felt like a total badass fishing for garbage fish with a cross bow, even though my aim was abysmal. And look at the lake at night. Heaven.
Checking out the Twin Cities budding food truck scene. They legalized it last year in Mpls (and can still only be downtown for whatever dumb reason), and I couldn’t be happier. I was very sad we only visited one truck.
Two words: Juicy Lucy. Whether it’s at the 5-8, Matt’s Bar, the Blue Door Pub or at home, we love those suckers here. Just try to not burn your mouth on molten hot cheese.
And these are just a few highlights from the Bizarre Foods America premiere. Watch it Monday, January 23 at 10|9C on Travel Channel.
Hello World, we are back. See our air dates below for the FIRST HALF of our most amazing season yet. We went All-American for a few reasons.
First, after 5 years on the road overseas I wanted to see if my theories about food and culture applied at home the same way they do in far off lands. I wanted to see if Darwins theory about islands as preservation points applied to inner cities and the immigrant experience. I wanted to see if social change and entrepreneurism could solve the food crisis in our country. I wanted to see if I could get a good bowl of laksa in the Midwest. I wanted to show you the ins and outs of the cities I love and travel to all the time, introduce you to friends old and new, famous faces and anonymous food genius’. I wanted to explore the world of alternative foods in my home country to see if I could get YOU to eat more of them in your daily life. Hard to do that when I an showing you all about Icelandic Hakarl or Samoan sea cucumber intestines fermented into a table condiment. But you can access all the foods in this special season, and we prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that one mans weird is another mans wonderful, even if that man is your neighbor.
Check in at end of week and I will give you the behind the scenes scoop on our Twin Cities episode that kicks off the new season next Monday night.
Episode Premiere Date
Twin Cities Jan. 23*
New Orleans Jan. 30
Seattle Feb. 6
Boston Feb. 13
Detroit Feb. 20
West Virginia Feb. 27
Charleston March 5
Savannah March 12
*The Twin Cities premiere episode will air on Monday @ 10|9c, but starting Jan. 30, Bizarre Foods America moves to it’s regularly scheduled time, at 9|8c.