Andrew Zimmern may be best known for the strange foods he’s been willing to consume on camera for his hit Travel Channel series Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, but this New York City native is no slouch in the kitchen. The two-time James Beard Award-winner spent his early years cooking his way around the world, from Long Island to Europe to Asia and back again, eventually working as a personal chef for Gloria Vanderbilt at her home in Southampton (where we’re willing to bet moose heads weren’t on the menu).
Today, the chef-turned-television personality has become a true dining daredevil who has expanded the world’s vision of what is (and is not) edible. In addition to his popular television series and appearances, Zimmern is also a best-selling author. His latest book, Andrew Zimmern’s Field Guide to Exceptionally Weird, Wild, and Wonderful Foods, was released in late 2012.
In between broadcasts and food trips around the world, Zimmern chatted with Relish about his kitchen habits and the worst thing he ever ate.
Relish: What’s the one kitchen tool you can’t live without?
Andrew Zimmern (AZ): My mortar and pestle. Addicted to it.
Relish: What’s the most high-tech device you have in your kitchen?
AZ: A knife—truly.
Relish: What’s the one cooking device/appliance/utensil at the top of your wish list right now?
AZ: I want it all! Immersion circulators and plate warmers, wood grills and pizza ovens. Sadly, I am on road too much.
Relish: What old-school cooking tool do you think is ripe for a comeback?
AZ: Table-mounted meat grinders, hand-cranked variety. Nothing more fun.
Relish: What’s the one cookbook you go back to again and again for inspiration?
Relish: What are the three ingredients you always have in your refrigerator and/or pantry?
AZ: 34 mustards, 27 Chinese chili bean pastes and 46 vinegars.
Relish: What’s the most bizarre item you’ve ever had in your refrigerator or pantry?
AZ: From rooster balls to buffalo heads, I’ve had ‘em all in there at some point.
Relish: What’s your favorite food city? And your favorite restaurant(s) within that city?
AZ: New York City is the greatest food city on earth, no contest. Too many restaurants to name, from Marea to Eleven Madison Park, from Flushing food courts serving some of the best Chinese food on the planet to Bukharan bakeries in Rego Park, from JG Melon’s burgers to Di Fara for pizza. Seriously amazing. Lots of my NYC recs are on AndrewZimmern.com.
Relish: Which still-under-the-radar U.S. city to you believe will be the next culinary hotspot?
AZ: Minneapolis. I live there these days and the food is superb, honest and real without sacrificing complexity and refinement.
Relish: What’s the most experimental dish you ever tried to create at home?
AZ: I cook a lot at home. I re-created José Andrés’ spherified olive gel once and it was pretty fair.
Relish: What’s your favorite meal to cook and why?
AZ: Roast chicken with stuffing and pan gravy, because it’s my favorite thing to eat.
Relish: What’s your favorite music to listen to while in the kitchen?
AZ: Roxy Music, Dandy Warhols, anything bluegrass, Escovedo, acoustic Jorma Kaukonen, the Dead…
Relish: What’s the last place you visited and the best thing you ate there?
AZ: I just got back from Chistochina, Alaska and ate some amazing roasted moose jaw bones, cracked to eke out the fibrous marrow inside. Glorious.
Relish: What’s the dish or item you’ve eaten once and never need to have again?
AZ: Lutefisk. Poison… truly.
Relish: Fill in the blank: It would surprise most people to know that I…
AZ: …obsessively do crossword puzzles and want to run for public office in Minnesota when my current career is over.