Andrew Zimmern was in town for a few days in October filming a Charleston-centric episode of Bizarre Foods America. We caught up with him while he was here and asked him some questions. The show airs tonight at 9 p.m. on the Travel Channel.
Q : So, I see you’ve been tweeting back and forth with Mike Lata. How do you know each other?
A: Mike and I cooked together at a stone crab festival in Florida four or five years ago. He and I became friends then. He’s a super talented guy. I wanted to hang out with him to see everything he was cooking and doing because I knew he was well-known here, but not well known outside of Charleston at that point. The first day all the chefs were prepping in the kitchen, I just looked over at him and said, “This is a guy that’s going to be a freakin’ star.” He did a lamb crépinette that night that I still make at home, that I robbed from him right away. I also gained a tremendous amount of respect hanging out with him over the weekend because he touches food, curates food, and thinks about food the way I think it should be touched, curated, and thought about. I think the vast majority of cooks in this world do not do that the right way.
Q: Have you had a chance to eat at FIG?
A: I’m going tonight.
Q: I saw you were at Husk. How’d you like it?
A: Loved it. How difficult a position it is to be those guys and have everyone who comes to your town say, “I have to eat there and I hear it’s world class.” That is so much pressure, way more pressure than I think it is to be the hot hand in L.A., New York City, or San Fran, where arguably there are a vast number of restaurants that are in that category. Now, there are other restaurants here that are very good with chefs that are superbly talented, but all you ever hear about right now is McCrady’s, Husk, and FIG, and rightfully so. And so everyone has high expectations, and to execute at that level and keep everyone happy is fantastic.
Q: Are there any other hot spots that you have been to in Charleston that have blown you away?
A: Husk and McCrady’s blew me away. Scott’s BBQ blew me away. There’s is something so unique about hog selection and the process that Rodney goes through there that has got him in a league with other BBQ Gods around the country that is truly special.
Q: We are fortunate to have a lot of people that know a lot about hog down here.
A: Yes, you do. I had some fantastic things at Husk and I’m sure I’ll have some fantastic things at FIG tonight, but what Rodney does, first with his mop sauce is fantastic. We got out there at 5:30 in the morning because I wanted to see the whole process. You talk about hand tending — he goes to friends houses that need trees moved and he and his guys pull the trees out. He basically hand selects the mix for his BBQ that way. So, all the trees and stumps are in the back and he and his buddies who run the pits cut the wood. It’s so hands on.
Q : Obviously we think other countries around the world eat some weird stuff. Is there anything we eat here that the rest of the world thinks is bizarre?
A: The biggest complaint I hear is about cheese. A lot of countries don’t understand why in America, when we are so lucky to have fresh milk, why would we let it rot and then dry it into little squares. And that’s not my quote, that’s from a friend of mine in Uganda. It’s those moments that change your food life. People say it must’ve been amazing cooking with Ferran Adrià at El Bulli. Yes it was, that was a great moment in my food life, but I think that moment when my friend in Uganda said that to me about the cheese probably changed more about my perspective in how I understand food than any other moment.
Q: So, I have to ask, what’s bizarre in Charleston?
A: What I love, and the reason why I call it Bizarre Foods, is because I get to redefine what that word is. So, we have a couple of issues. The first one is that our show airs in about 70 countries, and while I make it primarily for a U.S. audience, it does air in 70 countries and I do want people to think about what it means for something to be bizarre.
The second thing is that in some places we go I’m as interested in the culture there because it has a food identity all to its own, and that’s sort of more about what our Charleston show is all about. When I say the word ‘Indianapolis,’ you don’t taste it. I love Indiana, no knock to anyone there. The same thing goes to my adopted hometown of Minneapolis. We don’t have enough of a food identity to where people can taste it, but when I say ‘Charleston’, you can start smelling crab and shrimp. There’s a food identity here that only a couple cities in the country share. Every once in a while in our show we have an episode that is so densely packed with foods that no one in their right mind would ever think about eating let alone eating, it’s knee trembling. And then we have an episode like this one which is going to be a love letter to a food city. Now, along the way are there going to be some little oddities that we’re tasting? You bet. Are there things that are served here that are bizarre with a lowercase ‘b’? Sure. I mean look at what Sean [Brock] has done with pig ears. You tell people in Indianapolis about pig ears and they kind of laugh at you. This show is more about the exploration of people in this part of South Carolina, what they eat, and what their food life is like.
Q: Can you give us an idea of what we’ll see in the Charleston episode?
A: Sure. We’re doing stuff at Husk and McCrady’s and we shot some stuff at Bulls Bay with a bunch of seafood purveyors. I also went and did some stuff with wild boar and venison with the McClellans up in McClellanville at their 140-year-old house. And of course, we went to Scott’s BBQ and Variety store. So, those are some of the places we’ve gone.
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