Entertainment Television

'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

Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has sued Chicago's former red light camera operator, Redflex Traffic Systems, for more than $300 million on grounds the entire program was built on a $2 million bribery scheme at City Hall that has already led to federal corruption convictions.

  • Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    The four musicians in Marrow know quite a bit about bringing diverse influences to the table. After all, three of them, singer-guitarist Liam Kazar, singer-keyboardist Macie Stewart and bassist Lane Beckstrom were in Kids These Days, a now-defunct septet that combined jazz, funk, rap and rock in...

  • The Kids These Days family tree

    The Kids These Days family tree

    From its 2009 beginnings to its 2013 demise, Chicago's Kids These Days seemed like one of the most promising acts the city had seen in years. While the band split up at the height of its hype, its members have since gone on to do bigger and better things—seriously impressive considering the hip-hop/rock/jazz...

  • Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    After the dissolution of Kids These Days, the much-buzzed about Chicago fusion-jazz-rock-rap septet that split in spring 2013 just a few months after releasing its only album, “Traphouse Rock,” some of its members spent what seems like all of 20 minutes bandless. "We were driving back from the...

  • Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Welcome to RedEye's "Song of the Day," an ongoing feature where music reporter Josh Terry or another RedEye staff member highlights something they're listening to. Some days the track will be new, and some days it will be old. No matter what, each offering is something you should check out. Check...

  • GrubHub's weekend customer-support issues made people hangry

    GrubHub's weekend customer-support issues made people hangry

    Technical difficulties at GrubHub and Seamless over the weekend drove hordes of hangry would-be customers to air their grievances on social media. The food ordering and delivery sites, which merged in 2013 and use GrubHub’s back-end technology, errantly accepted payments on Saturday evening without...