Andrew Zimmern on Eating Austin Food
People of Austin Profile Series
Andrew Zimmern calls Minneapolis home, but the James Beard Award–winning host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern has clocked some serious time eating his way through Austin and Texas. I know this firsthand—Andrew is an old friend, and for two episodes of Bizarre Foods America I played tour guide, drove him around the back roads of the Hill Country (in a vintage canary yellow pickup, sans power steering), and feasted on belt-busting amounts of smoked brisket in Lockhart. Zimmern returns to Austin this month for the Austin Food and Wine Festival, April 25–27, when he’ll join chefs like Tyson Cole and Tim Love (along with top winemakers and sommeliers) for hands-on grilling demos, the crazy competitive “Rock Your Taco,” and a knockout feast under the stars. Given his significant time on the road (Zimmern travels about 240 days a year), I couldn’t resist asking about how he plane-hops in comfort and style—and about the dishes on his Austin short list.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO EATING WHEN YOU TOUCH DOWN IN AUSTIN?
Frankly, belt-busting amounts of brisket . . . I also love exploring the places my local food-focused friends send me. I always want to hit Barley Swine, Uchi and Uchiko, and Foreign & Domestic to see what my chef pals are up to. This year, of course, I am going to check out Qui and Rene Ortiz’s new menu at Fresa’s.
WHY DO YOU THINK AUSTIN FOOD IS IN THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT?
Austinites don’t mind being experimented on in restaurants. They are patient with works in progress, and they don’t hold grudges for a misstep. There are several cities like this across America, and it keeps creativity at a highly ramped level. Over time, it creates an atmosphere for great dining to thrive.
TELL US A FEW DON’T-MISS MOMENTS AT THE AUSTIN FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL.
The taco competition is unlike any taco events at any of the big fests. The level of creativity and expression of “taco” blow my mind. It’s superb. The music attached to the events is beyond cool, and the intimacy of the festival makes it one of my favorites.
WHAT MAKES AFW UNIQUE AND PARTICULARLY FUN FOR YOU?
The intimacy, the immediacy, the meat always roasting in the center of the tented site, the easy laughter of the crowd, the insanely cool lineup of local chefs that I only get to see here, the Food Republic lounge, where I get to answer questions about REAL FOOD ISSUES that other places don’t ask me. Eating pretzels from Easy Tiger . . . I could go on forever.
YOU’RE A VORACIOUS READER. (A) WHEN DO YOU HAVE TIME, AND (B) WHAT’S ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND?
I am, but I’m also a workaholic insomniac with a hard-on for literature. I am just finishing Command and Control, Eric Schlosser’s riveting new book about nuclear warheads aimed at our faces. I love short fiction, and George Saunders’s Tenth of December is insane. Check out William Boyd’s new Bond book. I have that started on my iPad.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOU IN 2014?
Hopefully more of everything! I am expanding my AZ Canteen restaurant work, and I have a new line of kitchenware coming out based on oven/fire/stove-to-table products that I have seen around the world. I’m also expanding my production companies’ work and will be producing more talent that I find around the world . . . and I am working on several new shows for myself, along with more Bizarre Foods.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
My wife and son, and playing in this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game Celebrity Softball event.
OF ALL THE PLACES YOU’VE TRAVELED, WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO BUY A FEW ACRES TO RETIRE ON?
Colombia is a place I just visited, and there are some pretty amazing islands just off the coast of Cartagena.
I CAN’T RESIST THIS QUESTION: WHO IS AT THE TABLE AT YOUR DREAM DINNER PARTY, AND WHAT’S ON THE MENU?
I would host a stag including Teddy Roosevelt, Truman Capote, my kid but 20 years from now, Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson, Winston Churchill, John Lennon, Leonardo da Vinci, and a few others I’m blanking on. We’re probably dining on take-out Chinese and hopefully playing cards late into the night.