Andrew Zimmern Dishes On Family Dinner And Bizarre Foods - Exclusive Interview

When you list off legends in the culinary world, Andrew Zimmern is always found at the top of the list. His mission to share a glimpse into people's lives from around the world, teaching patience, tolerance, and understanding through food, has been achieved in a multitude of ways. Of course, perhaps best-known for his long-running "Bizarre Foods" with 20-plus seasons and 350 shows, along with Emmy award-winning "The Zimmern List," Zimmern is no stranger to television. But in addition to exploring through food, he's also a restaurateur, a founding member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, a dedicated philanthropist, and he heads up Intuitive Content, a full-service production company. 

The latest project for Zimmern? Magnolia Network's "Family Dinner." 

Chip and Joanna Gaines will launch Magnolia Network on Discovery+ July 15, with a slew of authentic storytellers at the helm. And of course, Zimmern is part of the equation. Luckily, we got to learn all about it. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Zimmern dishes on the inspiration behind "Family Dinner," his favorite homemade dessert, his opinion on hot dogs, his work on "Bizarre Foods," and so much more.

Andrew Zimmern shares the idea behind Family Dinner on Magnolia Network

What was the inspiration behind "Family Dinner"?

Really, my life. I began as a young man that had family members taken from him and went from having a very big family to being very alone in the world. And when I started making television, because of that reason and because the first show that I created, "Bizarre Foods," was about preaching, patience, tolerance, and understanding in a world that wasn't having much of it, and the oncoming polarization that I saw, not only here in our country, but globally, I wanted to put a family meal in every episode of every show I ever made, and I did.

Fast forward 18 years after that, when the Magnolia folks came to me as a production company owner and said, "We want an Intuitive Content show on Magnolia." And I said, "Great." And they said, "Do you have any ideas?" And I immediately just blurted out, "Family dinner."

I knew Chip and Jo. I knew their value set. I knew what they stood for. I knew a lot about the network because they had sent me a lot of information about what they were trying to do, and I thought a show devoted to family dinners would be a monster hit. And it was the fastest sell we ever had. They came back to me and asked me to host it. I said, "Sure." And it has been such a rewarding experience. It's such a beautifully simple show. The simple ideas are often the best.

When someone says do a food and travel show, you oftentimes have the grand gesture, right? But the smallest thing, let's just go to towns around America and eat with families — we see incredible food. We see real-life stories that are the best ones that everyone can connect to. We laugh. We cry. Of course, we're entertained, but there's also a very large thread of seriousness woven through this, where we hear the family stories and why they insist on gathering. That is what we learn in every episode. Why does that family believe so much that they have to get together, even if it's just once a month? And I think it's something that will inspire everybody. I think their reasons are varied, but the results in their lives show us that if you're putting the emphasis on connecting with people at work, you may be trying to connect with the wrong people. Connect with the people you love the most that love you. And if that happens to be at work, go for it. But for most, that's not.

Andrew Zimmern offers advice on what it means to be a good dinner guest

Has there been a particular standout meal that you ate while filming "Family Dinner"?

Oh, way too many. Way too many. I'm so lucky. I mean, if you think about this, the best meals that I've ever had have not been in restaurants. It's always been in someone's home. Now, I'm focusing on family meals and family meals especially with families that get together with the purpose of sharing time and a meal together. Of course, they're cooking the stuff that's really, really, really awesome. Every family that's been gracious enough to invite me in is cooking their best stuff. The food has just been extraordinary. That being said, the bowl of birria that I had in a Mexican family's household in Iowa remains sort of the gold standard for "Family Dinner."

What are your tips for being the ultimate dinner guest?

Bring something to eat that means something to you.

Or make it there, right?

Well, I like to cook on the show. And so, one of the repeatable moments that we have is I never want to arrive somewhere empty-handed. I never would. I want to bring something that is a piece of me that fits their story, that I feel would work. And so, I bring food and I cook food there. It's a really, really nice moment. I do the same thing when I go to a friend's house. If it's a more formal dinner party for someone's birthday, I don't want to stand there in their kitchen while they're trying to cook. I'll bring something that's sort of ready to go. But I always bring something that's very meaningful to me.

Someone asked me once what you should bring as a dinner guest, other than the bottle of wine or flowers? And I said, "Well, bring something that's personal to you." I'm doing a meal coming up in a couple of weeks with a family that's doing a big grilled meat extravaganza. And all I'm doing is I'm bringing my family's favorite sauce to eat with grilled meat. And it's very humble, but my kid, literally, could drink it. I mean, he just dunks pieces of grilled meat into this sauce. And so, at the end of the day, it was a no brainer. What comes from the heart, reaches the heart.

Andrew Zimmern dishes on his favorite family tradition and homemade dessert

Do you have a favorite family tradition that relates to food?

Oh, my gosh. Tons of them. When I was young, we celebrated all the holidays at my grandmother's house. Then at my Uncle Richard's house in Connecticut or at our apartment in New York City, in that order of hierarchy of need, and it was an incredible experience. We cook traditional foods for the Jewish holidays. We were a family from German extraction. We identified as Jewish. My mother's family had a Russian line through it. A lot of Eastern European. We leaned everything in that direction. My grandmother's pickled tongue and onions is still one of the great dishes that I make, but it's her latkes and her roast chicken. It's her matzoh ball soup. It's her brisket. It's all of that stuff that I make over and over and over again for my family, and it's those traditions that we get most excited about.

What is your favorite homemade dessert?

My favorite homemade dessert is ... Well, it's probably my tarte tatin. It's the one I make the most often. It's the one that people seem to want me to make the most, followed by my custards, followed by my fruit crumbles.

Why Andrew Zimmern prefers hot dogs to hamburgers

If you had to choose, hamburgers or hot dogs, and why?

I'm going to give the road less traveled a vote. I love hot dogs. I eat hamburgers all the time. I mean, I love hamburgers too. I mean, it's fantastic. But I get enough beef in other forms. I love emulsified cased meat, and a hotdog is an emulsified meat and it's cased. It's in a casing. If it's got the right snap and the right flavor, I absolutely love it, and there's lots of other sausages that extend into that realm. 

I think the world of hot dogs in America are very small. And if you look to other cultures and countries, the world of emulsified cased meats becomes much broader and much more interesting, and I adore them. And you can do so many different things with them. I'll go hot dog. Do you think hot dog is a sandwich?

Do I think it's a sandwich? No.

I think you're wrong. I think bread plus meat equals sandwich. That's just what I'm saying. I always ask everyone who brings up hot dogs. I'm not trying to pick on you. It's just, most, 60% of the world thinks it isn't.

You've got to teach people that. Maybe make it your mission.

I may be wrong. You may be more right than I am. I'm just saying, I think it's a sandwich.

Andrew Zimmern shares his favorite cut of steak

What's your go-to cut for a steak and how do you like it cooked?

Oh, my gosh. I was just having this conversation with people. I like a lot of the little strange one-off muscles that are in there. There's a piece of spinalis that is very broad and it looks like a skate wing that's behind the shoulder blade. There's only two of them on each cow. I absolutely love them. I love the outside skirt. I love the cap of the ribeye. There's lots of little pieces like that, that if I had a cow in front of me and could choose, that's where I'm going. I do have a hole and a fire pit in the yard. And I do buy heads of animals and roast them and pull them out, and all the meat that comes off of them is absolutely second to none.

The other day I grilled a tri-tip – and a tri-tip, when it comes from an average producer, is good, not great. A tri-tip that comes from a really good animal and a really good butcher shop, a really nice, nice tri-tip that's well-marbled, I think is one of the most flavorful and delicious cuts. And I know that's a real sort of popular thing to say these days to pick one of those arcane things, like the outside skirt, like the flat iron, like the tri-tip, but I really do think they have superb value. I find a beef tenderloin, filet mignon, to be a mushy cut. I love ribeyes and porterhouses and New York strips as much as the next guy. Oftentimes, there tends to be too much fat in them, especially if they're corn finished.

Andrew Zimmern talks the most delicious thing he ate on "Bizarre Foods"

What was one of the most memorable and delicious things that you ate on "Bizarre Foods"?

Oh my gosh. That's-

I know it's a long list.

... 350 shows, all an hour in incredible places all over the world. I know this is a cliched thing, but I'll give you two quick answers. When we were in Ho Chi Minh City, I spent a day eating around the town with some of the best Vietnamese food I've ever eaten in my life, and I love the cuisine of that country. I had that same experience in Chengdu, China, and in Paris, France, other cities that are real temples of gastronomy. And by the way, I'm shooting there for a week. It comes across as a day in the show, but I'm there for a week. To be able to have food in those places at that level of execution ... Or Queens, New York for that matter, is something that I will never, ever, ever forget. I think I'm the luckiest guy in the whole world.

All of that being said, living with the June Taizé, I got to live with 30 other protected tribes in the making of "Bizarre Foods" around the world, over the 12 seasons, 12 years, that we made the show. In Botswana, living with the June Taizé, they hunted these giant desert porcupines. They weigh 80 to 100 pounds. They're massive. They would take all the quills off and use them for jewelry and for tools. Then they would take the inch-thick carpet of fat and skin off the animal. Then we'd take the meat and bones and throw it in a tree and let it air-dry. They would make soup with it later, or just throw meat and bone into the coals and cook it. But they would take this giant blanket of fur and skin and build this big fire. And when it was coals, they would throw it onto it, and they would let it blacken on both sides. And then, they cut chunks of it with a knife and hand it to you. And I still think that's the best thing I've ever eaten in my whole life.

If you were asked, would you do filming for "Bizarre Foods" again?

I'm counting on it.

Andrew Zimmern shares why he finally joined TikTok

A lot of chefs are turning to TikTok, and I know you just joined within the last month.

I did.

What are you looking forward to sharing there? Why'd you join?

I had no idea about what I would do if I was on TikTok. And once I had an idea that I was going to do my family favorites, my recommendations, the things that I actually enjoy in my own personal life, I sort of had an idea of what I wanted to share and there was no other medium where I was sharing that specific thing. Now, that's what I'm doing. It's @Andrew.Zimmern and folks can check out my family favorites there. We're posting at least two or three times a week so it should be a fun library of content when all is said and done.

The series premiere of Andrew Zimmern's "Family Dinner" will air on Magnolia Network beginning July 15th. Tune in on Discovery+ to watch.