Andrew Zimmern has made his mark on the television world by eating things most Americans won't. His Travel Channel show, Bizarre Foods, brought attention to the fact there's a whole wide culinary world that ranges far beyond that of Big Gulps and burger franchises.
At a time when the world, as well as our nation, is more divided than ever, the dinner table is a place to bring people together. Indeed, Zimmern, a three-time James Beard Award winner, has traveled to more than 150 countries with the goal of demonstrating and promoting cultural acceptance through food.
The chef and writer is a longtime friend of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. His prolific roster of six dinners and parties this year includes a topical discussion on whether politics belongs at the dinner table and hosting Lucky Chopsticks: An Asian Night Market. The popular event was introduced into the festival's lineup last year. It is the perfect foil for Miamians to try exotic offerings found in the night markets of Singapore and China. "I have a love for Asian foods that knows no bounds," Zimmern says, "so I'm excited for the guests to try our boneless chicken feet with fermented black bean vinaigrette." He takes his duties at the festival seriously. "The thing I care about most is that our guests have a great time. As the host, I truly feel like I'm responsible for their happiness."
Zimmern is also one of the chefs who was chosen to create a menu for this year's Tribute Dinner, which honors chef José Andrés as well as Jean-Claude Rouzaud and Frédéric Rouzaud, who own champagne maker Louis Roederer. And Zimmern will cohost a dinner with TV personalities alongside Chopped judge Scott Conant and Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais. Zimmern describes it as an evening of camaraderie — with a touch of friendly competition mixed in. "I wouldn't do the dinners if I didn't get to cook with my friends," he says. "Plus, I get to learn a lot from these amazing culinarians."
The old chestnut of too many cooks spoiling the broth doesn't apply if there's genuine teamwork, he says. "The key to success is working out the menu so it's a group creation and the courses can compliment one another."
Zimmern, who calls Minnesota his home base, is looking forward to much more than a respite from a Midwestern winter. When in town, he seeks out some serious Miami eats. "I like to hit Palacio de los Jugos," he says. He also hits up two of Miami's most venerable chefs: Michelle Bernstein and Michael Schwartz. Also on his list: Wynwood hot spot Alter. "I've known Brad [Kilgore] for a long time and always enjoy his food."
Zimmern, who spends most of his time eating his way through different cultures, imparts some sage wisdom to people who would like to climb out of their dining ruts. "Find a style or genre you like and try to order new dishes at those restaurants."
The chef advises picky eaters to find their own comfort level. "Try cooking only new meals at home and seek out the help of the most adventurous eater you know." He suggests substituting a familiar favorite with something more exotic. "If you like seafood, try geoduck clams," he says. "If you're a red-meat eater, try freshly killed and aged deer." In other words, take baby steps at first, and one day you'll find yourself eating everything on the menu.
Speaking of menus, how do you know what's good to eat when traveling? Zimmern suggests being wary of internet review sites when looking for the most savory meal in a new city. "Never use an online site unless it's a reliable resource for expertise — underscore expertise." Instead, talk to people who live and eat there. "I ask cabbies and friends and everyone I can." There is one way your smartphone can assist in finding that hidden gem: "Look up the accounts of the best chefs in the area on Twitter and Instagram and cross-reference where they're eating."
Finally, Zimmern says there's pleasure in simply breaking bread with friends, so don't fret if you can't be a gourmand every day. What informal foods is he talking about? "Gas station pizza, Bagel Bites, Jeno's Pizza Rolls," he says. "It's all good."
As his own TV tag line says, "If it looks good, eat it."
TV in the Kitchen Dinner
Hosted by Scott Conant, Andrew Zimmern, and Richard Blais. 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, February 23, at Scarpetta, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $250 via sobefest.com.
Politics Belong at the Dinner Table
10 to 11 a.m. at Wolfsonian-FIU Auditorium, 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Admission is free, but seating is limited. RSVP at sobefest.com.
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Badia Spices' Fun and Fit as a Family
Featuring Goya Foods Kidz Kitchen. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, February 25, and Sunday, February 26, at Jungle Island, 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Miami. Tickets cost $20 via sobefest.com.
Goya Foods' Grand Tasting Village
Featuring MasterCard Grand Tasting Tents and KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations. Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, February 25, and Sunday, February 26, at the Grand Tasting Village, 13th Street and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $225 each day. MasterCard Demo Pass tickets cost $275 each day. A special "3-5 p.m. on Ocean Drive" ticket — good for admission Sunday, February 26, from 3 to 5 p.m. — costs $100 via sobefest.com.
Tribute Dinner honoring José Andrés and Louis Roederer owners Jean-Claude Rouzaud and Frédéric Rouzaud with Master of Ceremonies Anthony Bourdain
Presented by Bank of America; part of the NYT Cooking Dinner Series. 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, February 25, at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, 1601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $500 via sobefest.com.
Lucky Chopsticks: An Asian Night Market
Hosted by Andrew Zimmern. 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday, February 26,at North Venue: Beachside at Ritz-Carlton South Beach, entrance at 1 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $85 via sobefest.com.