Andrew Zimmern Told Us The Food Trend He Hates And What To Cook Instead - Exclusive Interview

"Silos Baking Competition" is back, and this time it's bringing a full season of entertainment. In 2022, the show won the hearts of viewers as contestants from all over the country baked their hearts out in a tent in Texas to win a cash grand prize and the chance to have their creations featured on the menu at Silos. Now, the competition is back with an even bigger prize and a full season.

This season will see some returning faces, including guest judge Andrew Zimmern. Zimmern is well known for introducing the world to new and unusual cuisine through "Bizarre Foods" and for showing the comfort and community of food in "Family Dinner," which is also on Magnolia Network. We caught up with Zimmern to find out what brought him back to "Silos Baking Competition" and his thoughts on current food trends. As well, Zimmern shared a selection of tips and tricks for all home chefs to improve their skills. Zimmern keeps his answers real and approachable, with simple solutions available to almost all home chefs.

The return to Silos

This is your second time as a judge for "Silos Baking Competition." Now there's the full season. What made you want to come back as a guest judge for the show?

It's a lot of fun, and they asked me. I believe you go where you're invited. I love supporting cooking. I love supporting essentially what are amateur chefs, cooks, people [for whom] it's not their primary business, although there were a lot of people who were trying to jumpstart businesses with their baking products, and we had a variety of different skill sets in there. It was a lot of fun. I think I did three episodes — the first one, the middle, and the finale. It's a blast, so of course you say yes. Why wouldn't I do it? Making food television is my job. I love it. Very lucky.

How is it different judging this season versus judging the previous one-off?

A lot more happy stress. You're choosing winners by round who are competing for a much bigger prize. It's a lot of money, and for all the contestants, these are people for whom Chip and Joanna are their heroes. To have their product with Silos means so much to all of them, so there's stress in making sure you get it right. Now, if there's one thing I trust above all other things, it's my opinions about food. So I happily take on that responsibility, but it's a responsibility. I take it seriously.

Suprises from the show

Was there one particular bake this season that was exceptionally surprising to you or blew you away?

All of them, and I know this is the expected answer, but it really is true. The level of expertise [and] flavors was so high. As someone who's competed cooking on food competition shows in the past and who does this, I don't think any amount of description [or] even watching it in recorded format on television can properly convey how difficult it is to make cupcakes on a hot Texas morning in an outdoor kitchen with money on the line while five other people are screwing around you, cooking as well. You can hear comments from wiseacres like me in the background. It is a daunting task, so I'm always impressed at how beautifully these bakers handled themselves, all of them.

Is there any behind-the-scenes tidbit you can tell us about the show?

There's a lot of things I'm precluded from telling you about. I can tell you that underneath that desk that I sit at are 14 cups of coffee, 36 bottles of water, several hot dogs and half-eaten sandwiches, and a lot of Kleenex. 

It's a tear fest there, and sometimes when the edit comes, you can't have people crying all the time. There's six competitors, and they come out. You're not rooting for anyone, but then again, it's also not a blind tasting. As you're walking around, you learn that so-and-so is a single mom with five kids and trying to figure life out. I'm a single dad with one kid, and I can't figure it out. Your heart creeps out of your chest and takes its position at the bottom of your sleeve, and it's very emotional. If you have half a conscience, you can't help but be affected by what these contestants are trying to achieve in their lives and professionally.

Joys and challenges

What is a common baking mistake that you see happen during these competitions?

In "Silos," there weren't many, and here's why. The rules and the nature of a baking show competition dictate so many things. One of the things I liked about "Silos Baking Competition" was that we were able to see people be excellent and cook their best item. It wasn't based on people's mistakes or put[ting] people [in a situation] where all of a sudden we're going to switch an ingredient on them or not give them a piece of equipment, which is a cute idea, but I don't think it's fair to the people who are cooking. 

So people weren't blowing things. There weren't mistakes made. These people, they knew, "I'm making this cupcake on that day." They did the smart thing. They knew what they were doing.

In general, I find that most people when they're baking forget about the precision and the science of what they're doing. Probably the most common mistake amongst home cooks when it comes to baking is not having a thermometer inside their oven. I'm talking about one of those $2.99 hardware store thermometers, because if you're supposed to bake something at 350 degrees and your oven is 25 degrees off, that's a problem. That's number one.

Number two — leaving an oven door open for more than a couple of seconds also causes a big drop in temperature. People measure really accurately, mix really accurately, load really accurately, and prepare their equipment really accurately, buttering pans or cutting parchment or whatever a recipe requires. Then they blow it — it's like dribbling all the way down the basketball court and not getting the layup — because their oven's not appropriate. Clean your ovens, temperature-check your ovens, and get your equipment set. It's important.

What has it been like working with Joanna and Chip Gaines?

A delight. They're two beautiful human beings. They're consistent, they're honest, they're talented, they're funny, they're warm, and I adore working with them. It's very surprising for people. People forget that ten years ago now, they got a show greenlit. They were doing home reno in Waco and got a show greenlit on a cable station. I'm not trying to make it sound too minimized, but in a decade, they have built one of the biggest brands not just in television but in American business as well. That speaks to their excellence. They understand what it's like. They're real human beings. They have real compassion and real empathy for people in their lives, and they're kind and generous.

Coming out on top

Beyond Silos, what is your favorite bakery in the U.S., and what's your go-to order?

Oh my gosh. My favorite bakery in the U.S.? Bellecour. There's two of them here in the Twin Cities, where I live, in Minnesota. I go many times a week, which is many times too often, and they have a crisp pastry stick. Kouign-amann is a very popular thing. They roll these kouign-amann sticks and bake them crisp, and I can go through a bag of 12 of them in a sitting. That's not good. It says a lot about the quality of them. Bellecour Bakery is far and away one of the best in America. ...

They make savory tarts and laminated daytime treats. Their crepe cakes are easily the best in the United States. I'm a crepe cake expert. It's an incredible bakery.

What are your thoughts on Padma Lakshmi leaving "Top Chef," and who do you think should or even could replace her?

Padma's been an incredible fixture on television for a long time. She's been an amazing part of that incredible team. I'm a big fan of the show. These people are all my friends, and I get what it's like to ... It's hard to move on from something that you've been a successful part [of] and won a lot of awards at. I've not spoken to her, but from her statements, I can infer she's ready to move on and do other things. I do think that sometimes change can be really good. 

I know that Tom and Gail are going to find someone who is a great fit for them. I'm sure the show will be as good as ever, and fans are not going to miss a beat. They'll miss Padma. She's a valuable member of that team. But they're going to find someone fantastic to step in and fill her seat. 

Obviously, the only candidate in the world that makes sense is me. The fans are screaming for another bald guy on that show as a host, and I think we need to give America what it wants.

Making tarte Tatin

In a previous interview with us, you stated that one of your favorite homemade desserts that you make is your tarte Tatin. What is your secret to a perfect tarte Tatin?

Not leaving the pan until it goes in the oven. It's like scrambled eggs, but scrambled eggs only take 90 seconds. You don't start to make scrambled eggs and then run into the garage to get something. You stand there, and you make scrambled eggs, because vigilance is required when you're cooking scrambled eggs.

Vigilance is required with tarte Tatin. You are making a caramel. You are then loading the pan with halved apples. There's a video of me doing this on my website, and the recipe's on the website – shameless plug for you for linking to the website there. It's one of the great recipes of all time, and I think I do it as well as anyone. I've been making them for 40 years. I've had them on my restaurant menus. It's one of the few sweets that I know I can replicate perfectly at any time, anywhere, unless I have the wrong apple varieties that get too soft.

What are your favorite apple varieties?

Any of the strong baking apples — Haralsons, Cortlands will do. Red delicious I don't even really consider an apple, because it's so fake. However, for most Americans who are looking for a supermarket apple that works, red delicious does work in that recipe very well. I bristle even saying that, but sometimes people go to their local supermarket. They don't have baking varieties readily available, so I've tested it with red delicious. It works perfectly. 

Anyway, you have to stand there and let the apples sweat off their juice, then evaporate that juice, then absorb the caramel, let the pan go dry, then tuck your pastry, and then bake it in the oven. Inverting it and smoothing it requires some skill and practice, although I do believe with the video, anyone can do it the first time. I've watched people do it for the first time, and it's helpful. [What's] great about video is someone can actually watch it and go, "Oh, that's what you mean in that recipe." Standing there for that hour while it's doing everything before that is very, very important.

Home and afar

You've also mentioned fond memories of both eating and making your grandmother's matzo ball soup. So I have to know, are you team floating matzo ball or team sinking matzo ball?

There's no such thing as a good matzo ball soup with a sinker, and I will debate that. Bring anybody on who wants to have that conversation with me. There are heavy floaters, as I call them, ones that bob, floaters that are denser than others — if it's too airy, it falls apart — but I believe a good matzo ball soup by definition has to have floaters.

Are there any foods yet that you have not tried that you would like to?

Oh my gosh, yes. I've been to 170-plus countries, shot television in more than half of them, but I've never been to the Czech Republic. Have I eaten the food of that culture in other places in the world? All the time. I love it. But have I really eaten it if I haven't done it on the ground there? 

There's whole categories and whole entire cultures' worth of foods that I need to get. It speaks volumes about how valuable the food experience is to those of us that live it. To do it in the country of origin is a very, very important thing. Now, I will freely admit there's not very much I haven't eaten in this world, but there are specific places I have not been that I yearn to go to.

Better than a sheet pan

What is your go-to meal to feed your family when time is short?

There was a trend a while ago that was my least favorite trend of food in the last couple years, and those were sheet pan dinners. I don't understand in what world you want everything on a pan, some things drying out, some things over-, under-cooking. All of those meals come out of a very common food tradition, which is to do it in a rondeau, or a high-sided, low pot, something that's 12 inches across and 3 inches high that has a lid on it so that you can put all your ingredients in one thing.

I'll give you an example. Brown six chicken thighs. Pull them out of the pan. Caramelize a bunch of vegetables in the fat. Add a few cups of rice. Add the chicken back in. Add the appropriate amount of stock or water or combination thereof to cook the rice and the vegetables that [have been] seasoned however you choose to season [them]. You put it in the oven for 45 minutes. You pull it out, and there is essentially a homemade skillet dinner, for want of a better expression. 

I keep pounds and pounds of chicken thighs in my freezer. It's easy to defrost. I can have dinner on the table in under an hour, and while it's baking, I can make a big salad. We have a healthy, delicious meal, essentially all cooked in one pot, whether it's rice, whether it's orzo, whether it's couscous. Whatever it is, I can combine my vegetables, carbs, proteins and tilt it using the seasoning in whatever direction I want it to go — tarragon, shallot, and lemon for a French direction. With the addition of cumin and chilies and other seasonings, oregano, I can take it in a Mexican direction. 

It's a great way to eliminate flavor fatigue and at the same time get an easy meal on your family's table that isn't pasta. The quick, easy one is pasta. The quicker, easier one is eggs. I love eggs for that reason, and I eat a lot of eggs. Doing a frittata is great, but for most families, a great chicken thigh skillet dinner that has everything in it under one roof is probably the best way to go.

No place like home

Do you have any tips for home chefs that are looking to hone their cooking skills?

Oh my God, a bazillion of them. The biggest one — everyone says recipes take too much time. The reason is they don't like chopping and cutting. No one practices knife skills — no one. Even people who golf four times a year go to the driving range as many times. If you want to get better in the kitchen, you've got to practice things, and no one practices the cutting part. If you can cut quickly and efficiently, you're going to cut your cooking time in half.

Knife skills are really important. I tell people all the time, cut a couple of carrots and a couple of onions every single day for two weeks. Get a Ziploc bag in the freezer and keep dumping them all in there, and then make soup when you're done. Your skill set will improve dramatically. Do dice, fine dice, batons, matchsticks, or allumettes. You can do all the different shapes. The onion helps you with precision. The carrot you can practice all the shapes with. You're going to improve your skill set vastly. Shameless plug — we have a great knife skills thing on my YouTube, and it's on my website, too. I did it last year because I felt so strongly about it.

Who is one person alive or dead who you would love to have dinner with or cook dinner for?

Not even close — my grandmother. She inspired me to cook. She taught me to cook. So did my mom. So did my dad. But my mom and dad got to see me in my current ... They're no longer with us, but they were able to see me be successful, and I was able to show them the sum total of their efforts put into me had paid off. My grandmother passed away when I was still an active addict and alcoholic. I was a user of people and taker of things. She did not get to see me at my best. 

I still cook a ton of her food. Literally, I cook a ton of her food. By the way, in some cases, these are the recipes that are done in restaurants, have been on magazine covers. The opportunity to cook them for her, because I've tweaked them a little bit, to make dinner for her and serve her her own food that I've interpreted and cooked, is the only dream of mine unfulfilled and one that will remain unfulfilled. I think about it all the time.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

New episodes of "Silos Baking Competition" air on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on Magnolia Network and stream the same day on MAX and discovery+.