Andrew Zimmern Shares What It Was Like To Be A Judge On Silos Baking Competition - Exclusive Interview

If you know food, you know Andrew Zimmern – and probably at least one of the series he's appeared on. These days, there are a plethora of shows for foodies, cooks, or people just looking for wholesome and good television. Food competition shows can get intense, but when you're playing for a cash prize and a spot at a renowned bakery, the pressure is really on. "Silos Baking Competition" premiered on June 12, and if you haven't watched the one-hour special yet, you should add it to your list. Magnolia Network featured six bakers competing for $25,000 and the winning dessert to be sold in Chip and Joanna Gaines' bakery, Silos Bakery Co. (per a press release sent to Mashed).

During an exclusive interview with Mashed, Andrew Zimmern spilled the real details on how judging a baking competition works, what his favorite dessert is, and why the food shows he has been a part of are so important. For the "Iron Chef" fans, Zimmern also dished on all things "Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend," which is a current hit on Netflix. The television personality explained the best dishes he tasted on screen — claiming some of them even made him cry.

Why Andrew Zimmern joined Silos Baking Competition as a judge

Could you tell me more about what inspired you to join "Silos Baking Competition" as a judge?

I was invited. I usually go where I'm invited. It's funny that I get this question a lot — not regarding "Silos Baking Competition," but about a lot of the things that I do. They're like, "Well, why did you decide to do this?" It's like, "I was asked to." Just because I'm asked doesn't mean I acquiesced, but if I'm asked to do something with a current partner that's fun, that's one day of TV shooting that is going to bring entertainment to people that is going to provide what I call adventure learning, that is going to be fun for me to do, it's an automatic yes. 

It took me all of three seconds to say yes, barring scheduling and stuff like that. At the time I was asked ... If I remember, we were still looking to lock in dates and stuff like that, but I said, "Yeah, I'd love to do it, sounds like a blast."

I love adventure learning. That's a great phrase to use. I've never heard that before.

It's actually on the mission statement of all of my businesses that we only do things that provide and acknowledge for adventure learning and leaving the world a better place after the project is done. We don't do anything frivolous that isn't meaningful in terms of its impact on the world, even if it just impacts a couple people positively. We like everything to be about adventure learning. It's the best kind of learning.

I totally agree, and especially from you being such a mentor for people, I'm sure you've left an impact. What makes "Silos Baking Competition" different from previous shows that you have been a part of?

It was a first, which is always fun. I know it's frustrating for some people — [when] you do the first of anything, you don't know what's going to happen. The producers had the hard job. I had the easy job.

Andrew Zimmern names the one dessert he can't live without

What was it like judging outside in front of a live audience?

It was super attractive because of the live audience and [being] outside. That was a really interesting challenge to throw in the way of the competitors because you start the morning [and] it's 50 degrees. By the time we were eating, it was 85 or 90 degrees.

You can imagine what that does to icing or buttercream or cake or ... It's covered, but being out, doing a baking competition outside in front of a live audience that was very sizable — that was a blast. I thought that was a super fun part of the whole thing.

Because "Silos Baking Competition" is all about sweets, is there one dessert that you find you can't live without?

I'm a citrus — tart, not too sweet — kind of person. If there is a dessert on a menu that has chocolate cake, crème brûlée, ice cream, sorbet — I always ask what the sorbet is and if there's grapefruit or lemon. I like something tart and not too sugary to end my meal. If it's something that's got citrus in it, that's my sweet spot. That's where I sit. I've always been more of a savory guy, but I like a couple bites of something sweet at the end of a meal.

Zimmern explains the judging criteria on Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend

Switching gears off of the baking competition, let's talk about "Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend," as it just became available for streaming this month. What are the criteria that go through your head when judging a dish?

It depends on what the show's criteria is. All shows have different criteria. I'm 60, not 20, so I take that really seriously. People have been working — in some cases, if you ask them — their whole lives to get to a point where they're on a show like "Iron Chef" or "Silos Baking Competition." Even competing will change their lives. Winning will really change their lives.

With that comes a tremendous amount of responsibility to take it very, very seriously. That doesn't mean I'm not funny or [making] jokes, because we're trying to entertain people too. We're making television. But within that, it's very important to acknowledge exactly [and] be very clear on what the production expectations are of my role. We talked about that in the show [Silos Baking Competition] — it was a product in the bakery, so that means you have to have stuff that fits what that bakery's style is.

One of those things is it has to travel well, because they do so much ... You can imagine it. Down at the Silos, it's one of the largest attractions for tourism in the state of Texas. People go in there and they leave — they don't buy a cupcake, they buy six. There's this really sturdy box, and they have a constructed element to keep your cupcakes safe for when you're driving home or going on an airplane. You couldn't have something super fragile or something that needed constant refrigeration. 

On "Iron Chef," it's different. There it's taste, presentation, and how they dealt with the secret ingredient. That's a much different set of criteria. In the past, before network exclusivities and other things prevented me from it, I judged episodes of lots of other television cooking competitions. You pay attention to pre-production and production notes about what the rules are so that you can judge appropriately. More importantly, it allows you to be consistent.

What Andrew Zimmern wishes fans would know

That's so interesting. I feel like a lot of the time, especially when it gets from television to audience, the audience doesn't think about the process behind all of that, and especially the pressure that comes with judging. 

It's funny that you say that because "Silos Baking Competition" was one episode. It got a huge rating, and it aired on Food Network and Magnolia. I know it was very successful — full of quote tweets and Instagram questions on social media about why I voted a certain way. [With] "Iron Chef," I get a hundred queries a day, and it's usually in the form of, "How could you give that person the win? This dish on that person's thing was the best thing I've ever ... " Well, you didn't eat it. It's one dish out of five, and what you're saying about it is true, but that's not part of our judging criteria.

The passion of fans in all cooking competitions is amazing. My poor friends on Bravo — "Pack your knives and go home" ... [There are] fans who are crushed that their favorite is sent home, especially the further it gets into the competition. There's a lot of questions about it. Someday, they'll invent a way for everyone to taste and eat along — that's 50 years in the future. 

Here's the thing: You try to be consistent. It's impossible. It opens up a whole other can of worms, but I love the idea of transparent judging in real-time so that everyone knows that by the time the fifth dish is coming down, the pressure would be on. They'd have to score a perfect score to get ... I love the idea of building the drama that way. 

It'll never happen because they want to keep the story, the suspense, and the drama in another way. But as someone who's writing numbers on a card ... we do it independently, and we take it very seriously. It's always fascinating to me — what would happen if you did an episode where they could see you judge in real-time?

That would be interesting because it's definitely easy for the audience to sit there and say, "That's wrong, that's wrong, that's wrong." But if you saw how it actually worked, I think they would be more susceptible to understanding.

It opens up a different can of worms. It would probably cause more problems than it solves, but it is an interesting theoretical idea.

Zimmern reveals his favorite dishes from Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend

Is there a favorite dish that you tasted this season on "Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend?"

So many. There were some dishes that overwhelmed me. I cried three times on camera, and I cried another four times that they didn't put in the show because they don't want me to be the crying judge. 

It was Gabriel Kamara's chocolate tamale that took me back to my grandmother's house. Claudette Zapata made an aguachile that absolutely slayed me. Yia Vang did a version of a larb that was ... There were some really important moments in the show. Possibly the most important moment for me — living in Minnesota, where the largest Hmong community in America lives — [was] seeing a chef who is Hmong, who was born in a refugee camp, cooking food that is of an ethnic people. They do not have their own country, and are doing it on a global stage. I started crying like a baby. It was culturally and historically so important for people to acknowledge the food of the Hmong people for what it is, which is delicious and valid, and part of our global tapestry of cuisine.

Curtis Stone and Dominique Crenn had so many dishes that blew my mind. It's hard to pick clear favorites. I was a big fan of the curry that Curtis made in the first challenge and the game pie that he made in the medieval challenge. Dominique Crenn is flat out one of the 20 best chefs in the world, full stop. She's playing three-level chess in all of that stuff. She made a soup that was covered in a puff pastry that she cracked for us that I still think about to this day.

Zimmern hints at more judging appearances

Can fans expect more episodes from this series? Is that something you're able to share?

Well, that's not my decision. Networks take a lot of time to decide. I will say two things about that: Number one, that's up to Netflix regarding "Iron Chef," and they have so much content it's usually not a two-week process. The show's been on ... [it] premiered June 12, so we're not even at two weeks. But it's still in the top 10, if I'm correct, and it's number one or number two with young adults and kids, which means it's getting a lot of traction and family viewing. I would be surprised if they don't want to make more because it's been a big hit for them.

Congratulations on that. That's awesome.

We'll see. They have to make a decision. In terms of the "Silos Baking Competition," same thing. It was a monster hit for them. It got huge ratings, but again, it just aired this month. I'm sure if they want to make more, they'll let us know. But I would also imagine, knowing TV — if something is a hit, you make more. If something doesn't work for the fans, you don't make more. I'll let you interpret that however you like.

All right. That's a solid answer.

But I don't know anything you don't know.

If they're hits, then hopefully we'll see more of it soon or next year.

Yeah. If I was running a network and something was a big hit, I would want to make more of that.

Zimmern divulges on his favorite dishes right now

Do you have a current go-to meal or dessert that you find yourself making the most right now?

Oh, my gosh. Now that the weather has turned warm, I make giant salads at night at home all the time. Frequently it has grilled meat of some kind — fish, chicken, or red meat — as part of it. The other night I unloaded the tomatoes and cucumbers and endive and watercress and red onion and toasted rice powder and an orange citrus and fish sauce vinaigrette with chilis, and then sliced some ... What did I have? I grilled a piece of lamb and sliced it on top of that and shared that with someone. That's very typical of what I make at home.

Dessert, I do not make at my house unless I'm entertaining. I've made the same dessert the last three times I had people over for dinner, and that was a strawberry rhubarb crisp, because I make a really good one. Our farm markets are exploding with rhubarb and strawberries here in Minnesota. It's June, so I cook what's at the farm stand. Strawberry rhubarb will be in my dessert wheelhouse probably for another week until it fades away and you move on to the next fruits of summer.

That sounds delicious. You mentioned having people over; with the 4th of July coming up, do you have any advice for people who may be hosting large dinner parties or barbecues?

Keep it simple. Home cooks who typically don't cook for a crowd sometimes bite off more than they can chew. They're like, "Let's do X, Y, and Z," and they've never done it before. That makes you nervous the day of — there's always a surprise. Something doesn't go right. You learn from your mistakes. I stick with the classics. It's funny that you mention that — shameless plug, but I'll stick it in there anyway.

On both my Substack and my website, we posted a very lengthy list of clickable, no-paywall recipes and ideas for cooking for a crowd during the summer, whether it's 4th of July, Memorial Day, someone's birthday, high school graduation, or wedding event. [In] summertime, there's lots of reasons, or a pool party. Here's what you should do, and it's the classics: Here's great potato salad, great coleslaw, great fried chicken, great grilled ribs, great roast pork shoulder, the stuff that you can have some fun with. Variations on hamburgers [or] things that'll feed a crowd that are not complex are the way to go. We've featured a lot of that at

I love your website. It's so informative. I've gotten a few tips off of there recently.

Thank you. I would appreciate you leading people there. We don't have a paywall on our website, and I do like people to see what we're doing.

I've seen you tweet about it quite a few times, so I always click.

I always do. It's an award-winning website. We're very proud of it.

Zimmern dishes on the food he will never eat again

You've clearly tried a lot of "bizarre foods." What is one food that you will never eat again?

Raw cookie dough. The taste of raw flour is awful. I don't understand. When you cook it, you take raw cookie dough and it makes a cookie, which is delicious. If I have a raw cookie dough ball and a cookie, I go for the cookie every time. It doesn't taste as good uncooked. Why would I eat something that has raw flour in it? It tastes terrible. Just stick it in the oven and cook it for 10 minutes. You don't even have to delay your gratification. It turns into a cookie as if by magic.

That's really interesting. I was honestly expecting a much grosser answer.

Oh, I think the taste of raw cookie dough is pretty foul.

That's a fair opinion to have.

Thank you.

Is there one particular dish that you have made throughout your career that continues to stick with your fans?

I'm always surprised at how popular ... I'm not surprised anymore, because it's such a popular food to eat, but my Sweet, Spicy, Sticky Chinese Chicken Wing Recipe that's on our website is ... Every time we put it up, it a hundred thousand people download it. We have my crab cake recipe ... It first appeared in Food and Wine Magazine. I think it's their most-downloaded recipe on their website in digital. It's one of their 40 best recipes in the last 40 years; [it's] wildly popular. Those two pop to mind. My brisket recipe is extremely popular. Those are all really big ones.

If you could use only one kitchen tool for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

The obvious answer is I need a knife. I'll give you two answers. The obvious one is knife. But assuming I have knives, cutting boards, and all the various hand tools, I literally can no longer live without my mortar and pestle. 

I have a very big mortar and pestle. I grind all my herbs and spices in it. I make mayonnaise in it. I grind everything in it. I make salad dressings of certain types in it. It's a multifunctional tool that crushes by hand; that connects me to the food more than hitting a button on a blender does. I adore it.

Tune into Food Network or Magnolia Network for shows like Silos Baking Competition, and head to Andrew Zimmern's website for his newest recipes.

This interview has been edited for clarity.