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I think I am quite done with Andrew Zimmern. - A little less than a happy high — LiveJournal
I think I am quite done with Andrew Zimmern.
When Bizarre Foods first started to air, I poked my head in a few times because I thought that a food-oriented travelogue built around the assumption that the best way to experience a culture is headfirst would appeal on a pretty visceral level. My hope was that Zimmern would serve as supplement to Anthony Bourdain’s explorations, but initially gave up after a few episodes because he came off (and this after editing for content) as a gluttonous American tourist who chased after shock value rather than genuine experience. Where No Reservations included everything from sublime and beautiful food traditions all the way to snarky social commentary, Bizarre Foods relied primarily on the "food dare." Unfortunately, where Bourdain would get dragged into a backstreet eatery in Tokyo to be fed a still-beating frog’s heart, Zimmern was more likely to hold a piece of braised pork belly or pickled beef tongue up to the camera and suggest that eating them was somehow amazingly weird.

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.
26 comments or Leave a comment
From: mittenstone Date: August 31st, 2009 08:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think that show should be re-titled to "Look at what poor people eat!".

komos From: komos Date: August 31st, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
If he's on one of his street or bush food kicks, fine, but when he's in one of the finest restaurants in Barcelona, it's a little harder to justify.
From: mittenstone Date: August 31st, 2009 08:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
True. Oh look, they gave him another show!

I'm not a big fan of squid, but octopus in its own ink is one of my favorite things in the universe. I've met quite a few people who find it weird, I guess. I suspect it is because it's one of those meals that remind you of its living origin. Pork Roast? Fine. Pigs Feet? BIZARRE.
komos From: komos Date: September 1st, 2009 01:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I shiver. It must be cultural misappropriation Monday.

Best octopus I had was at a place with an amazing stuffed pig trotter. True story!
prosicated From: prosicated Date: August 31st, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's an additional caveat to his approach which stipulates that if it came off an animal, it's going to be enjoyable to him (but probably not you, oh couch-sitting American) & if it's flora not fauna he's served, he'll think it's grotesque and inedible. There's a strong gendered component to his idiocy in the food-searching & -gathering segments as well that I find almost as noxious and insulting as his cross-cultural generalizations.
solipsistnation From: solipsistnation Date: August 31st, 2009 09:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Vegetarian eating has always been kind of an issue on cooking and food tourism shows in general.

If you watched Top Chef Masters, the show where they had to make a vegan meal (which was also gluten-free and soy-free, which raises the ante even higher) was the first time in 5 or 6 seasons of Top Chef that they've had that kind of challenge (that I can remember). It also depicted vegans and people with restricted diets as unadventurous eaters willing to eat, basically, boring junk in order to stick with their diets, as if they had decided to stop eating animal products as penance and wanted to suffer for it...

I wrote that bit up here, so I won't go off on that again. (I am vegetarian by choice, and have over the past couple of years developed lactose intolerance by pure foul genetic luck, especially considering how much I love cheese.)

You're right that there's something gendery about how people approach food, too-- Men eat MEAT, and women and the weak eat vegetables and pasta. That's also pretty irritating.
komos From: komos Date: September 1st, 2009 12:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
The majority of lactose is lost from the milk during the cheese making process, and in aged cheeses, what's left breaks down to the point where there is less lactose per gram than you'd find in LactAid brand milk. If you're still having reactions after eating, for instance, an 18 month Comte, it might be a full blown dairy allergy, or there may be some other issue at fault.
solipsistnation From: solipsistnation Date: September 1st, 2009 01:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, yeah, I do know this and I do still enjoy nice aged cheeses (and sheep cheese, which has very little lactose to start with). I just miss squooshy young French cheeses...
komos From: komos Date: September 1st, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's a lot of disinformation about lactose intolerance, especially as it relates to cheese. The science suggests that there should be a very narrow range of cheeses that would trigger G/I upset.
solipsistnation From: solipsistnation Date: September 1st, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, but the upset is bad enough that it's not really fun to experiment... It also comes on slowly enough that I'm pretty sure it's not an allergy-- that is usually very fast, while I can eat something and then 3 or 4 hours later have issues.

In general, very soft cheese are bad. Ice cream: bad. (Even with Lactaid tablets. They help, but not a lot.) I had some baked pasta with ricotta and romano and that was really bad (it was so tasty, though!). Aged cheddar, good. Even not-very-aged good cheddar is good. Cheap cheddar: not good. Gouda, borderline depending on age. Sheepy cheese, very good. Coffee with milk or cream: borderline. Coffee with soy: fine. Cheese pizza: bad without lactaid, fine with.

So, yeah-- it's an excuse to only eat high-quality aged cheese. (As if I needed one.) This for dinner, though? Not even lactaid will help that. :(

komos From: komos Date: September 1st, 2009 01:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Why do I have the feeling that he was pants'ed too many times when he was a kid?

Edited at 2009-09-01 12:11 pm (UTC)
solipsistnation From: solipsistnation Date: August 31st, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, that's the thing about Bourdain-- he approaches even the weirdest-ass and potentially unhealthy food with at LEAST the good grace to appreciate what is given him. The infamous Bushmen episode, in particular, featured ostrich egg cooked in ashes and bits of pig that even sausage-makers might wash a bit before throwing in the grinder, and he ate it all very politely. He was clearly a little nervous about it and may have regretted the manners he couldn't set aside even in the face of serious potential health issues, but he knew that he was a guest and had been offered a bit of the very limited food on which those people (barely) subsist, and that he couldn't turn it down just because it was (really seriously) icky.

As far as restaurants selling offal go-- people wouldn't eat it if it didn't taste good! French peasant cooking that uses leftover bits of animal didn't come about because they wanted to gross the hell out of each other for fun; they had to learn how to make this stuff edible in order to survive. (And as a result they discovered that anything cooked in enough butter and/or wine will taste good.)

So, yeah. I see what you mean there. Bourdain takes things that to American palates seem mysterious and tells you how good they are; this whole disrespect of one's hosts thing is impolite at best.
komos From: komos Date: September 1st, 2009 02:37 am (UTC) (Link)
One gets the impression that Bourdain is at least honest with the viewers. Yeah, he can be an arrogant git, but when he is invited into someone's home and he says it was one of the best meals he can remember, it's easy to believe that he's being sincere.

Primal cuts don't make up the totality of the animal, and Americans have been spoiled for not having to think responsibly about the animals they eat. The use of offal may have its origins in survival or necessity, but there's a great deal of pleasure and tradition that's tied to responsible use of every part from snout to tail. The renewed interest in the restaurant scene seems to be in part a way to reconnect with these, and in part a new palette chefs have been exploring to express themselves.
tarotchan From: tarotchan Date: August 31st, 2009 09:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
My father found the Spain episode incredibly offensive. However in one point I appreciate Zimmern because best article ever was when he had an inteview about tv chefs and he was just upfront that he loathed Sandra Lee for how everything was to destroy time in the kitchen together with people.. It was a charming moment and has won him a little place in my heart. but yes his show not so good. I especially hate the holiday shows. GOD so awful.
komos From: komos Date: September 1st, 2009 01:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Are you sure you sure that was Zimmern? Bourdain has been a pretty vocal critic of Sandra Lee for a very long time.
tarotchan From: tarotchan Date: September 1st, 2009 09:38 am (UTC) (Link)
It was definitely Zimmern. Trust me, I know the different twixt the two. As I have the Les Halles cook book (anybody who curses properly in a cookbook of all things is a borderline god to me), I definitely know the difference. Waching Bourdain is one of those things I dearly miss now that I've given up cable tv.
komos From: komos Date: September 1st, 2009 11:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't doubt that you know the difference. It's just that the statement was so similar to criticisms that Bourdain has used that has me wondering how Zimmern has made a career out of aping a more interesting personality.
tarotchan From: tarotchan Date: September 2nd, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well I'm sure to a more whie bread american audience he appeals on a broader level, less smoking, less drinking, less cursing. Its sad, but lets face it to some he's a bit easier to swallow. For the rest of us... well.. we kinda want to scrape him off our plate and into the disposal.
komos From: komos Date: September 3rd, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Great Television

Oh look honey! It's a guy who looks like the Michelin Man! Ewwww.... he's eating a ham hock! Ewwww...
cook_ting From: cook_ting Date: September 1st, 2009 12:51 am (UTC) (Link)
You should send in a video response to his idiocy. Perhaps then you can supplant him and show the world how tasty things from other places can be.
komos From: komos Date: September 1st, 2009 01:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know that I'd want that kind of celebrity. I just wish they'd replace him with anyone, or anything, else.
cook_ting From: cook_ting Date: September 1st, 2009 02:29 am (UTC) (Link)
What is it that they say about greatness being thrust upon a man?

komos From: komos Date: September 1st, 2009 11:39 am (UTC) (Link)
That he must lube well or suffer the consequences?
cook_ting From: cook_ting Date: September 1st, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
cayetana From: cayetana Date: September 1st, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well argued.

Btw, have you ever been to Pigalle?

Also, some day I'm going to show up at your house with mixed cake mix. :)
komos From: komos Date: September 1st, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't, but it looks like it'd be fun. Up for it?

Sure, bring it. We'll make it wonderful.
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