Andrew Zimmern Just Shared His Favorite Childhood Food Memory

Food memories are a powerful – often tasty – link to the past. As psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne explained to BBC Travel, "Food memories involve very basic, nonverbal, areas of the brain that can bypass your conscious awareness. This is why you can have strong emotional reactions when you eat a food that arouses those deep unconscious memories."

In other words, a bite of carrot cake can whoosh you back to that dinner at your cousin's house when you were 8 years old, trying the dessert for the first time. A sip of a well-made margarita, and whoosh: you're back on the beach in Mexico, drinking fresh lime juice and fiery tequila. For celebrity chef (and a bit of a softie) Andrew Zimmern, a forkful of this family recipe and he is whooshed back to New York in the 1960s, running around his grandmother's kitchen.

In a video he posted for "Spilled Milk," his Substack newsletter, Zimmern calls his grandmother's recipe "ethereal." He describes being pulled in for a hug by his grandmother, whose apron was filled with the earthy, umami smells of classic comfort foods and family meals, and explains that the memory can be instantly triggered, even now, decades later, when he prepares and enjoys this meal that his grandma used to make.

Food as a time travel device

In a generous offer to bend the time-space continuum in the name of good food, Andrew Zimmern invites his followers to pay a visit to his favorite food memory, by offering up the recipe for his grandmother's roast chicken on his website.

The dish is classic and the recipe is simple, and as Zimmern himself points out, a roasted chicken is a bow every cook should have in their quiver. But as the bird blips away in the oven, while the smells of butter and garlic swirl around with the scents of rosemary and thyme throughout your kitchen, Zimmern is betting something magical is going to happen. Or, at least, it does for him. "Not only is her roast chicken still my favorite thing to cook," he says in his "Spilled Milk" video, "but her roast chicken brings me back to a place in time that I simply cherish."

Explains Professor Krauss Whitbourne in BBC Travel: "The memory goes beyond the food itself to the associations you have to that long-ago memory, whether with a place or a person." In his video, Zimmern describes the childhood food memory as a "frozen moment in time," and one that you might even be able to recreate, using the right recipe. So, if you've ever wondered what it felt like to be kid-Zimmern, bopping around his grandmother's kitchen in 1960s New York, cook that classic roasted chicken and you might just get a taste of it.