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Andrew Zimmern on SoBe "Horse-Sh*t Restaurants," TV, and Miami's Creative Spirit

Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods America and Appetite for Life.
Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods America and Appetite for Life.
Yesenia Hernandez

Andrew Zimmern had been sitting all day.

On a recent wind-lashed afternoon, while his film crew prepped the outdoor set at Wynwood's Blue Starlite Drive-In, Zimmern sipped a Starbucks Frappuccino and yearned to stretch his legs.

Earlier that day, he had taken an airboat ride across the Everglades, hunted for alligators, and eaten the white-fleshed meat skewered on a stick. But that simply wasn't enough for the host of Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods.

So when he finally sat down again, he spoke in bursts of energy -- quoting Malcolm Gladwell, discussing the ethos of the millennial generation, and talking smack about all the "horse-shit restaurants" in South Beach. And though you probably know Zimmern for his intrepid appetite, there's something you might not know: He's a pretty wise guy.

See also: Andrew Zimmern Filming Appetite for Life: DIY Kitchen Around Miami

The writer, celebrity chef, and TV host was in town last week filming Appetite for Life, an online series sponsored by Toyota and broadcast on MSN. We sat down with Zimmern and chatted about his shows, storytelling, and the rise of Miami's dining scene.

Short Order: What do you look for when selecting chefs and cooks for Appetite for Life?

Andrew Zimmern: People distill it down and say it's a long car commercial, but it's actually not. We don't set out to make commercials. I've made plenty of those in my life.

In this round in Miami, we're featuring the Toyota Corolla, which is an entry-level car for young, aspiring professionals -- people who are older millennials that are looking at the world in a different way than my generation looks at it now. When we're looking for stories, we're looking for people who are doing interesting things with their lives.

We did some stuff yesterday with Sam Gorenstein of My Ceviche -- perfect guy, young chef, worked for Laurent Tourondel in New York and here. He could have gone the more traditional route and stockpiled some investors, tried to make a swanky little restaurant down in South Beach, and instead he decided to go back to his own roots and do something that's much, much different. He's about to open his third location. Those are the stories that intrigue us.

You have the ability to showcase local businesses on a national -- at times, international -- level. Do you think this platform comes with some sort of responsibility?

I do with Bizarre Foods, because it's all my say. We have a crew of ten or 12 people, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I've said out loud in many, many interviews that it's shameful that a lot of people who have achieved the success that I have don't use their platform for greater good.

What stories are you trying to tell when you feature Miami on your shows?

When we were down in Miami a few years ago, and we did this thing at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink -- we were telling the story about his fishermen. We ended up bringing some pretty unusual species back to the restaurant. His divers go diving for them and shoot them with a Hawaiian sling.

There was a creative spirit that was alive then -- to show the sort of unbridled passion that people down here have for food. My favorite story was the one with the old Greek sponge divers. Actually, no, my favorite one was dressing up in drag at Lips in Fort Lauderdale and singing. That was great.

 

What do you think defines Miami's creative spirit?

I think it comes from all the Latin influence. There's a joy of living down here, and I hate to sound like a cliché, but it comes from the weather. When you're in a warm-weather environment, people spend a lot more time outside. I think sunshine equals happiness, and I think there's a biodynamic quality to that.

The influx of Caribbean, Central American, South American, and other Latino communities in Miami -- the music, the food, the attitude about life that comes from those cultures -- is much more exuberant than it is in, say, Minnesota, where I live. People are very much living their life out loud here, and Miami has unofficially become the capital of the Latin world. It's a fantastic thing to see, and I think that it provides a bossa nova beat to the lifestyle here.

Do you think this spirit is expressed equally at small, neighborhood restaurants and expensive, chef-driven ones?

Ten years ago, everything in Miami was, "You gotta go to Joe's Stone Crab, Michy's..." There was this handful of amazing restaurants that Miami was known for. Then there were a bunch of see-and-be-seen places that charged a fortune for their food, but the food wasn't really any good -- like Barton G. -- just horse-shit restaurants. I can't think of a worse excuse for this kind of place. It's showing off for the sake of showing off.

And then you have these incredible little ethnic restaurants, where if you spoke to local Miamians about them, most of them had never been there. I discovered Fritanga Montelimar, and we'd go there every six months. The last time I was there, a couple of weeks ago, 30 percent of the faces looked like me. That made me really happy -- that Miamians are discovering their own city. They're going to those places in search of really good food and really good experiences. I think it allows for a kind of growth that turns a place from a good restaurant town into a really great food city.

Do you think this shift at Fritanga Montelimar comes from the exposure you've given it?

Oh, I don't think it's the exposure I've given it, although that helps. It helps in the same way that if someone writes an article in your newspaper. It's the tipping point. Malcolm Gladwell defined it perfectly: You get to a certain point where the frequency and the pitch of places has become popular.

I think more than me saying to go to this place, it's more like the net effect of ten years of shows like mine and a dozen others. It's also food writers gaining popularity and readership in magazines and websites, where people are now looking for that kind of thing and talking about that kind of thing, like, "Hey, where should I go?" That's cool.

As far as my contribution, I'm part of a larger group of information deliverers about the joy of eating that have gained a great amount of popularity. I'll leave it to other people to decide who makes that tick more than others, but I think my opinion is that we're all a bunch of noisy birds, and people are listening to us in the trees at night.

Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.

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