By J.P. Anderson | September 1, 2016 | People
Celebrated Travel Channel star Andrew Zimmern shares the details on his new show Driven By Food, the last truly strange thing he ate, and why he thinks Chicago has evolved into “one of the best food cities on Planet Earth.”
With shows like Bizarre Foods, Bizarre World, and Bizarre Foods Delicious Destinations, three-time James Beard Award-winning Travel Channel personality and global traveler extraordinaire Andrew Zimmern has been the king of all things kooky for a decade. Now, he turns the wheel over to true local experts—cab drivers—in cities around the world in his new series, Driven By Food. With the show’s Chicago episode set to premiere September 6, Zimmern chatted with Michigan Avenue about the power of travel, the places he’s dying to visit, and his latest, “eww”-iest bizarre food find.
What inspired you to create Driven By Food?
ANDREW ZIMMERN: I came up with the idea of doing an overnight show in New York—what does New York City look like between dinner time and breakfast?—and one of the things we did was, I hopped in the back of the cab and hung out with the cab driver and went to a place he liked to eat. The network head at the time and I really liked the connection between the cab driver and me, so we decided to create a new series that started with me throwing my bag in the back of a car. I absolutely love it; the dynamic is fantastic.
Can you give us a preview of the Chicago episode?
AZ: One of our cab drivers is from Pakistan, and he showed me a side of the city in terms of Pakistani cuisine that was phenomenal. He shared the car with another driver who’s from Uzbekistan, and we went to an Uzbeki restaurant on the edge of what used to be Cabrini Green. You walk into this tiny little 20-seat Uzbeki restaurant with three sisters and a grandmother doing the cooking. There’s no sign on the door; it’s a difficult place to find because the guy’s like, It’s full all the time, why bother with a sign? I never would have been able to find that on my own, and I’m not sure—as much as I love central Asian cuisine—that I would say to the concierge of a hotel or a friend, Are there any good Uzbeki restaurants in town? But once it’s found, you’re in heaven. We also, just on a whim, took an improv class at Second City, and the results were pretty hysterical.
You’re known as a food guy, but this show also incorporates other aspects of local culture. Why is that important?
AZ: The world is not made up of food—the world is made up of people. People define the culture and the experience, so doing things with people is the most valuable thing you can do as a traveler. Eating is something I enjoy when I travel, but you only do it a couple of times a day. I love it because I love trying to deduce the thousand-year-old history of a people by staring into a bowl of their soup. But not everybody does that. The larger point that I’m trying to make is that travel is transformative; it’s got incredible power. On the road we’re more curious, less risk-averse. We are less selfish, we’re more interested in others, and we take those experiences and bring them back into our own lives—that’s just the way it works.
You’ve been to so many different places around the world; where haven’t you been that you’re dying to go?
AZ: On the outside it looks like I’ve been everywhere and done everything, [but] on the inside it feels like I haven’t even scratched the surface. I’ve been to 160-something odd countries and have made television in 60 or 70 of them; the number of places we haven’t been dwarfs the ones we have. I have not touched the Baltic States. I haven’t been to Poland. We’ve only done one show in Russia; I could do 40. I’ve only been to China 10 times to make television; I could go another 30.
What do you think of Chicago’s food scene?
AZ: Over the last 25 or 30 years, Chicago has gone from being one of many decent American food cities to one of the best food cities on Planet Earth. The horizontal spread of the city and the availability for young entrepreneurs to get leases that aren’t back-breakers has created a fantastically deep roster of restaurants of all kinds.
What thrills you most about being on the road?
AZ: I like me best when I’m away from home because I’m learning the most—I’m out of my comfort zone, I’m trying new things, I’m learning. Left to my own devices at home, I’m lazy. I do what I want to do when I want to do it. I get kind of mundane. I have a car in my garage; I get in it and I do errands; I don’t take the bus. In Minneapolis it’s inconvenient for me. [But] put me in Ecuador and I’ll take a bus for 14 hours across mountains with a 12-year-old driver that paid 5 bucks for his license. If you tell me that I’m going to go someplace where I’ve never been before and you’re not going to tell me and I just have to find food and lodging by my wits, I’m delighted. I can’t think of anything more fun.
What was the last really bizarre thing you ate?
AZ: My last trip was to Cyprus and Stockholm and I don’t think there’s a weirder food in the world than surströmming, which is a fermented fish in a can that even Swedish grandmothers shy away from. The smell is comparable to the worst dumpster juice you can possibly imagine with a little mermaid aroma thrown on top. I will tell you, I’ve developed a great taste for it.
November 15, 2018