You probably know Andrew Zimmern as the guy who eats eyeballs and bats on the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods. You might not know that Zimmern, a trained chef and journalist with a love of street food, is an annual participant in the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. This year he'll host the official closing party, Trucks on the Beach, which will take place Sunday, February 26, at 6:30 p.m. in the iconic white tents on the beach behind the Ritz-Carlton South Beach (1 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach).
Three years ago over breakfast, Zimmern, a handsome, husky man with a shaved pate, began talking with festival founder Lee Schrager about hosting a party with food trucks. Schrager asked the celeb to host Carts in the Park at the New York City Wine & Food Festival. The event, which featured more than two dozen food trucks as well as live music, succeeded, so Zimmern has brought the party to South Beach. He's confident the concept will translate. "It's really organic. You have a superfun vibe," Zimmern says. "It's a wonderful global tasting of mobile food."
Choosing the trucks for the event hasn't been easy. Because Zimmern visits Miami only a few times each year, he relies on colleagues to help him select the most unique mobile kitchens. "Obviously I haven't eaten at every one of the Miami trucks, but I start talking to my chef friends and we sit there and we come up with the list."
Then it's up to him to persuade truck owners to participate, which requires lots of time and expense. "Not every truck wants to serve thousands of portions, but we've had some great success in wooing some of the better trucks," he gushes.
Zimmern likes the food truck scene because it reminds him of the global markets and street vendors he visits for his show. "Curbside cuisine, to me, is a great way to get your finger on the pulse of the people," he says. Though Zimmern doesn't turn down much in the way of food, he does have a strategy for eating in a foreign market. It also serves as good advice when trying to figure out which Miami food trucks to patronize.
"I use the same litmus test whether it's street food in Thailand or outside of the Museum of Natural History in New York. You look left, you look right, and you see three hot dog stands. Two of them are doing no business, but the third one has a line five deep. People are eating and smiling, and the guy working the cart is singing every time he opens up the stainless-steel containers. Obviously you go and buy a hot dog from that guy. When I'm in a night market in Hanoi, I look for the same thing -- happy customers. To me, that makes good sense."
It's not all street food for Zimmern. When in Miami, the Bizarre Foods host never misses an opportunity to visit Michelle Bernstein's Michy's and Sra. Martinez. Other favorites include Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, Joe's Stone Crab, and Palacio de los Jugos, for the "killer roast pork." He also likes to indulge in a bit of Miami nightlife, but last time he was in town, things got a little hot. Zimmern explains he was here to film an episode of Bizarre Foods America when he and his crew found themselves surrounded by "half a dozen supermodels who each had, you know, half a cocktail more than is advised" at Wall at the W South Beach Hotel. "They professed their undying love for me, and I think it might have been the single best moment of my year."
Zimmern, married with a son, briefly savored the moment. "I immediately turned to my crew and said, 'We just need to leave.' And I got home and I called my wife and I told her how much I love her and we had a laugh. If you're an old married dad and you have a TV show, the best possible place to go for a nice ego stroke is Wall at 1 o'clock in the morning."
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Asked what his fantasy evening in Miami (sans supermodels) would be, Zimmern replies, "I would want to do a global street food event. I'd love to dig holes in the beach and roast whole steers over open coals like they do in Argentina, and do whole pigs underneath the rocks under the palm trees like they do in Samoa, and do all of the whole animal cookery that I see all around the world... do the whole stuffed goats like I see in Mongolia. It would be a cool event. We could do it next year."
We'd buy a ticket for that.