Though I didn’t completely dismiss him as a low-rent Bourdain (that honor was held for Food Network’s Adam Gertler), I did opt to pass on the show because it didn’t really seem to my tastes. When I saw that he had done an episode on Spain, however, I decided to give him another go. I love Spanish food, and V and I have talked about spending some time there within the next couple of years. What could go wrong?
It was unwatchable, and I didn’t reach that conclusion while Zimmern was talking through mouthfuls of his food (even though no one needs to see that), or listening to what sounded like his crunching through a chicken’s rib cage when I knew he was eating meat from a roasted suckling pig (they either need to mic him better or he needs to find a new foley artist... it was just gross). What broke the show for me, what made me ultimately lose any respect I might have had for Zimmern, was when a plate of Chiparones Rellenos En Su Tinta (stuffed squid cooked in its own ink) arrived at his table. He explained that when his father had brought him to Spain as a child, he remembered him ordering this. Then he said that this dish was not for the faint of heart because, "...it probably tastes like it looks, but I love it."
Chiparones Rellenos is served in a sauce that is as dark, luscious and murky as one might expect for having been crafted from squid ink, but it is outrageously delicious and easily one of my favorite tapas. Given that I’ve shared plates with friends not usually into tentacley things who have come away loving it, I would even go so far as to say that it’s not a dish that takes a rarefied palate to enjoy. Zimmern, however, deemed fit to make it utterly alien, suggesting that it was unpalatable to all but those crazy enough to appreciate it in spite of its inherent weirdness. His statement felt disrespectful of his hosts, of the culture he found himself in, and of the food. The worst of it? It was a big fucking lie.
I realized while I was watching him stuff his face – again – that this man’s philosophy on food is entirely antithetical to mine. Food can be a means to bring people together, or to communicate across cultural bounds, but Zimmern uses it to demonstrate how he is some kind of special snowflake because he’s incapable of turning down anything that’s set in front of him. He manages to make what is entirely normal and delicious fare in the cultures he visits appear unappetizing and inaccessible. I can't abide by it.