The Untold Truth Of Andrew Zimmern

There's nothing quite like sitting down for a hot meal consisting of stewed lamb brains, rabbit hearts, and silkworms — just ask Andrew Zimmern. As host of the Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods, he spent each episode exploring different cultures around the world and joining the locals for some of their authentic — and oftentimes, bizarre — cuisine. Zimmern knows how vital food is when it comes to bringing people of different beliefs and backgrounds together to share in a common beloved interest: filling their bellies with delicious and unique dishes while at the same time enjoying great conversations.

Audiences know Zimmern as an always-smiling personality who has a way of immediately bonding with the people he meets. You get the sense the guy can never get enough of different cultures and cuisines, and that's what makes him the perfect host for a show where viewers are introduced to just that. However, the events we see onscreen shed just a fraction of light on the man behind the incredible journeys and crazy culinary concoctions. His passion and talent go much deeper than just a television host, and he has a philosophy about life sure to inspire anyone willing to listen.

This is the untold truth of the television host, restaurateur, producer, journalist, author, and food critic, Andrew Zimmern.

Andrew Zimmern once struggled with substance abuse

Anyone who's worked in the restaurant industry knows it's no stranger to late nights filled with heavy drinking and, oftentimes, substance abuse. Cocaine can run rampant, said to keep employees alert to handle the long grueling shifts on their feet, and alcohol abuse comes with any territory that has a bar. You'd never know it, but Andrew Zimmern succumbed to the worst of it years ago.

Even though Zimmern grew up privileged with two parents who loved him, he admits he never truly felt comfortable with himself, which led to his first experience with marijuana at age 13 while away at summer camp. He then used pot and alcohol as a coping mechanism to numb out the intense emotions that came after his mother was hospitalized in a coma after a botched surgery. This soon led to "pills, cocaine, hallucinogens." Once he reached college, he "had already experimented with heroin." And, things only got worse.

He eventually ended up homeless at one point, sleeping in a flophouse on a pile of dirty clothes surrounded by cleaning powder to ward off rodents and roaches. Though he had seemingly reached rock bottom, it never dawned on him to quit. That was until he nearly drank himself to death over the course of a few days. Not long after a failed intervention, he finally called a friend, admitted he needed serious help, and eventually cleaned himself up at the Hazelden Betty Ford rehabilitation center in Minnesota.

Andrew Zimmern took after his dad as a passionate eater and traveler

Many kids naturally look to their parents when they're young for guidance as to what career choice might interest them. Sure, plenty of kids go the total opposite route of mom and dad, but in Andrew Zimmern's case, he refers to his dad as a "legendary eater and traveler" who absolutely instilled in him a passion for all things travel and food. Even Zimmern's mom roomed with the child of Vic Bergeron in college, the man who created Trader Vic's restaurant and tiki bar. Food and travel were in his blood from the very beginning.

In fact, Zimmern's father played such an important role in his life the chef paid a touching tribute to him during an episode of The Zimmern List, a show where the chef revealed his personal lists of favorite foods, places, and experiences to viewers. On one Portland-centric episode, instead of traveling to locations that were important to him, he brought viewers to the places his dad introduced him to years before, helping to form Zimmern's love of all things culinary. Zimmern explained, "The whole episode is really an homage to him. I went to places that he first turned me on to. It was a very poignant and personal episode for me. I think it's one of the better pieces I've done for television." His father is certainly looking down with pride.

Andrew Zimmern made some controversial statements that landed him in hot water

You always have to watch what you say in public when you're a celebrity who has a lot of people listening. Andrew Zimmern, as we all know, is an overall friendly guy who genuinely cares about the culinary world. That's why it was quite uncharacteristic of him to make an offensive comment prior to the grand opening of Lucky Cricket, his first sit-down restaurant.

During a conversation with an employee from the magazine Fast Company, he explained the reason behind opening Lucky Cricket was to "save the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horsesh*t restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest." Yikes. Well, that quote certainly hit viewers like a ton of bricks, and Zimmern quickly found himself on the backfoot with Asian-Americans, who claimed the comments were "colonizing and condescending."

Not long after the backlash, Zimmern issued a sincere apology: "Let me start by saying most importantly how awful I feel and how sorry I am for my recent remarks. Food should be for everyone, and yet culturally there is a terrible and centuries-old history of white people profiting off of other cultures, in food, music, and elsewhere. The upset that is felt in the Chinese American community is reasonable, legitimate, and understandable. That is the very last thing I would ever want to do. And in this case neither intentions nor context matter. Feelings matter."

Andrew Zimmern has a passion for cooking as well as eating

Andrew Zimmern spends nearly all his time on his slew of shows traveling, eating, and conversing with the locals, but we don't often see him step behind the kitchen doors to whip up some food of his own. We know he's a talented chef, but rarely do those skills get put into play on camera. However, you better believe this guy likes spending as much time sauteing, sous viding, and grilling as he does leading audiences on worldwide culinary journeys.

His YouTube channel Andrew Zimmern hosts hundreds of videos of the chef cooking up some classic cuisines he loves, such as Chinese chicken wings, beef tataki, and sous vide spare ribs, as well as other unique dishes sure to impress guests. He's a guy who loves food in all forms, and he puts in the effort to hopefully encourage viewers to develop a similar passion.

He doesn't just cook himself either. He sometimes features guests who help craft a delicious meal, and he even takes viewers to the Minnesota State Fair to show them his favorite spots. Whether you like seafood, barbecue, pasta, or dessert, Zimmern has a recipe for you.

Andrew Zimmern's passion for food has been extremely lucrative

Not everyone has the luck to make money off of their passion. Many times people settle for a manageable job, and that's where they slave away until they retire. Andrew Zimmern was fortunate enough to dig himself out of some hardships with substance abuse growing up and find himself on an avenue that not only offered him the ability to travel the world and eat awesome food but earn quite the paycheck doing so.

Coming out of the gate, of course, people weren't throwing money at him — he had to cut his teeth for years before finally earning a name for himself and garnering interest from television studios and book publishers. But, his drive for success all paid off, and now his net worth sits at about $8 million. While filming Bizarre Foods, he was making $35,000 per episode. Of course, he wasn't just hosting; he was writing and producing, as well, which all added onto that fat paycheck. Not too shabby for a guy who loves eating brains.

Even Andrew Zimmern's adventurous culinary nature has its limits

During nearly every episode of Bizarre Foods, there's at least one stomach-churning dish Andrew Zimmern bravely tosses down like it's nothing more than a hamburger. Most mere mortals would turn and run for the hills if they even caught sight of something like stewed lamb brains, blood sausage, or fried tarantulas on a stick. Zimmern, however, straps on his metaphorical armor and steps into the culinary battledome to go head-to-head with the gnarliest dishes. Well, at least most of the time. Even for a guy with a stomach of steel like Zimmern, not everything in the world appeals to him. In fact, some dishes flat out ruin his entire appetite, which is saying a lot.

Zimmern was only able to choke down one single bite of a Swedish dish called Surstromming, which is rotted canned fish. Just the smell of it alone is enough to make people nauseous. Another food Zimmern gave a hard pass to was Durian fruit. This incredibly pungent food is banned from most forms of public transportation, smelling like "pig-sh*t, turpentine, and onions, garnished with a gym sock" according to one food writer.

Funny enough, Zimmern also despises everyday foods like oatmeal and walnuts. How... bizarre, right?

Andrew Zimmern has only succumbed to a food-related illness once

Surely someone who's traveled as much as Andrew Zimmern and indulged in such strange cuisine has battled some serious food-related illnesses on a number of occasions, right? How could you possibly ingest something raw or fermented many times and not find yourself hunched over the toilet hours later? Well, according to Zimmern, he's only found himself very sick one time, and it wasn't from something you'd ever think.

No, it wasn't the fermented shark of Iceland or the plethora of fried bugs he shoveled in down his gullet in Indonesia. The food that really tripped him up was tainted cumin in Morocco. Weird, right? Especially because Morocco is well known for its array of exotic spices. Not long after ingesting the cumin, Zimmern fell ill with what's known as "burning mouth syndrome," which, as the name states, caused an intense burning sensation throughout his mouth. Luckily, it's not deadly, and he only had to deal with the uncomfortable sensation for a bit before subsiding.

Interestingly, the syndrome never actually goes away, but it's only flared up for Zimmern a handful of times since the cumin debacle. Still to this day, Zimmern carries with him a "steroidal rinse" just in case it unexpectedly strikes.

Andrew Zimmern talked a popular late-night host into eating brains

When you have the kind of adventurous palate Andrew Zimmern does, it's not exactly easy to convince others to try dishes you're willing to. But, that doesn't mean Zimmern won't at least try to share his favorite foods with friends. That's why he couldn't wait to dine on some bizarre foods with Stephen Colbert when he was a guest on Colbert's late-night talk show. And, surprisingly, Colbert handled the whole thing like a total champion.

Zimmern brought with him four dishes. The very first consisted of various pieces of a pig, including the intestines, blood sausage, tripe, and foot. Colbert tackled it like a champ. Next up was raw goat, which Colbert grabbed between chopsticks and tossed down like a piece of delicious sashimi. Easy peasy. The host then eagerly took down the third dish, possum, and it seemed like he was on his way to the finish line with ease. Now, it was time for the fourth and most appetizingly difficult challenge.

Pulling off the final lid, a sheep skull sat on a cutting board, staring out at the audience with its dead eyes. The brain of the sheep was cut into slices resting next to the skull. Amazingly, however, Colbert dove head-first in, took a huge bite, and even grabbed a glass of Pinot Noir to finish it off while smiling. Well played, Colbert.

Andrew Zimmern hates the name 'Bizarre Foods'

You'd think a host of a television series not only approves of the material viewers watch but the name of the program as well. A name is so important because it gives audiences an idea about what they're getting into without walking in blind. Well, the words "bizarre foods" definitely encapsulates what Andrew Zimmern does every episode, but according to him, he never liked the name and would "rename it tomorrow" if possible. Interesting.

It's nearly impossible to rename the show now because it's lodged in people's brains. Everyone recognizes the Bizarre Foods brand, and to change it would throw off tons of fans, which is never what a television network wants to do. Bizarre Foods also wasn't the original name Zimmern came up with when bouncing ideas around. He said, "One of the show's titles I threw out there was 'The Wandering Spoon.'" He then admitted, "Thank God that didn't happen."

As Zimmern pointed out, "I haven't eaten a bug on that show in five years." The host loves to give people unusual and bizarre experiences along his journeys, but he doesn't want to label the important cuisine of other cultures "bizarre," even though it may seem that way to many. It's simply different, and that's what makes the world such an interesting place.

Andrew Zimmern won the most prestigious award a foodie could win

Andrew Zimmern is a decorated chef, there's no questioning that. His books have sold millions, his shows have dedicated fans who tune in every week, and he's won awards for his work in the culinary landscape. But, no award is more coveted than the James Beard Award, and you bet your bottom dollar Zimmern has landed himself several of them over the years. Yea, he's just that good.

The James Beard Foundation defines itself as a "nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America's food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone." Zimmern certainly fits that criteria, and over the years he's won three different times for his television hosting personality (2010, 2013, 2017), and once for Bizarre Foods (2012). There are few people who have just one James Beard Award, and this guy rocks four of them. Keep doing what you're doing Mr. Zimmern. The world needs your knowledge and enthusiasm now more than ever.

Andrew Zimmern says Covid-19 revealed a dark underbelly of the food industry

The Coronavirus pandemic brought so many aspects of the world to its knees. Andrew Zimmern, being one of the most important figures of the hospitality industry, wants people to understand how this pandemic sheds vital light on the systemic problems with the entire food industry, from the way America harvests food to the way they consume it, as well.

One of the things Zimmern brings up in a Zoom conversation with Esquire's food and drinks editor, Jeff Gordinier, is how demonized the people who grow America's crops have often been, even though they were supplying millions with food. Then, after the pandemic struck, they were labeled "essential, front-line workers," but no measures were taken to offer them extra protection. 

Zimmern also explains it's not that the United States will ever run out of food; we'll figure out ways to keep the harvests coming no matter how dire the situation may seem. The problem is not having enough people to do the job, especially when COVID hotspots keep creeping up around farming communities and processing plants. It's a terrifying truth we all need to come together to figure out, or, Zimmern says, major issues could arise.