Television
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'Bizarre Foods America' host Andrew Zimmern on Chicago, drinking blood and inspiring foodies

UPDATE: Set your DVR! The Chicago episode of "Bizarre Foods America" airs Monday, March 18.

As the host of Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods," Andrew Zimmern jets around the world, tasting some pretty weird, uh, treats.

Recently, his travels have kept him closer to home as he films for Season 2 of "Bizarre Foods America," which will premiere in 2013. The series wraps its first season at 8 p.m. Aug. 27.

He’s already eaten barbecued armadillo and pigeon pie, so we asked Zimmern during a recent phone call what he possibly could have found to top that during his filming earlier this month in Chicago. Turns out, there's plenty of strange stuff to be found here--if you know where to look.

You've said that Chicago is at the pinnacle of ingredient-driven food. Can you explain that a bit?
Chicago is a Midwestern city. There is a camaraderie and an open-mindedness where chefs are creating and sharing ideas with fewer walls than exist in other major food cities in America ... It's a jewel here. Being in the Midwest means an intersection with dairy and hoofed animals. I mean, look at the history of selling meat in this part of the world. Not everyone is buying a crapload of [bleep] off the mainline purveyor truck.

People associate Chicago with meat and dairy, sure, but what about ethnic foods?
To keep ethnic food vibrant and alive in a big city, you need subsequent waves of immigrants who demand to be cooked for. They are demanding the quality because the Lutheran grandmas ... aren't going to say "Hey, this injera's no good!" Whether it's Filipino or Middle Eastern [people] coming to Chicago in larger numbers, they keep that food authentic. We were just at Joong Boo Market. They're doing massive business; they're preparing their own foods in the back, doing fermented bean paste and kimchee in a way that does not sacrifice honesty and authenticity or quality. They were cooking for an 80-90 percent Korean audience just a few years ago, now that's dropped down to about 65 percent of a Korean audience.

Word on the street is that you were at Publican Quality Meats drinking whole glasses of blood. How was it?
[Butchers] Erling [Wu-Bower] and Cosmo [Goss] are just fantastically talented young men with incredible passion and great natural ability. They've tasted pork blood and beef blood and worked with both, and I think I've tasted blood from about 60 different animals in countries all over the world. So at one point, they dipped their fingers into the blood and tasted it before they were going to use it as an ingredient in something, and I needed to show them that they needed to put on their big-boy pants when they're tasting food.

Is it like wine to you now? Do you pick up different notes in it?
Actually, yeah, you can. The problem with a lot of blood in this country is, for health reasons, it has to be a commercial cleaned product, so they salt it and they have to treat it certain ways. Obviously, I'm consuming it illegally in many places, and I'm not advocating that. It's dangerous; you have to know your supply.

Is there anything that unifies all the different regions you've been to in the U.S.?
America is always looking for the next new thing. A place like Publican Quality Meats that does a mortadella with blood pushes the envelope in a couple of areas. The food freaks get there first and popularize it, and then someone goes in there and tries that sandwich--it's a scrambled egg and blood mortadella sandwich on the brunch menu. It's so delicious, I don't think that there's anyone who would taste it and not want to order it. The sum total of this experience is expansion.

Does that really trickle down from the foodie elite to the mainstream?
Of course it does. Look what's being served on food trucks. Plus, kids are really into it. I have a kids' book coming out Oct. 30 about all this. That I have one of the biggest publishers in the country wanting to do a kids' book about this shows you how far we've come.

@kbernot@tribune.com | @kbernot

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