For fans of Andrew Zimmern’s hit Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods, it’s easy to picture Zimmern setting up his office in some exotic locale. On a fishing boat off the coast of Portugal? In a remote Ethiopian village? On a cliff overlooking a Norwegian fjord?
Not so fast. On Bizarre Foods, Zimmern takes viewers on a culinary odyssey around the world, sampling local delicacies and culture on every continent. But in between long-haul flights and sea voyages, you can find Zimmern and his team a little closer to home: in their St. Louis Park office. “St. Louis Park is a vibrant community,” Zimmern explains. “It had great space for us. We think this is a wonderful place to be living and working.”
Food Works Inc.
Zimmern’s production company, Food Works Inc., oversees many of his ventures: books, a signature line of cookware, social media, articles and blog posts, and Zimmern’s popular Go Fork Yourself podcast.
The Food Works office is nondescript from the outside, but the interior is full of energy and quirky design touches, the kind you might expect from a guy whose life is one big—often irreverent—adventure. There are cookbooks everywhere, and stacks of Zimmern’s memoir, The Bizarre Truth. Posters, photos, drawings and postcards from fans cover the bright blue walls, and a bank of blaze-orange gym lockers provides storage space for books and apparel.
The office is busy. No one on the Food Works team—just a handful of full-time employees—has an official title, they tell me, since their work is so varied. A couple of assistants answer the phone, which rings constantly, and schedule meetings, trips and appearances for Zimmern.
Madeleine Hill is working on a blog post. “I do a lot of stuff for Andrew’s website,” she explains, “writing and interviewing chefs.” For Zimmern’s regular column on Food and Wine Magazine’s website, Hill tests recipes and takes photos. “It’s a really creative, energetic place to work,” she says. “It’s nice to be around a lot of people with a lot of talent. I love food and travel, so I fit right in.”
Beth Gibbs, Go Fork Yourself producer and St. Louis Park native, chimes in about the, well, sometimes bizarre goings-on at Food Works headquarters. “We get sent a bunch of weird things,” she laughs. “One day, there was a box we opened, and it was a pig’s head.”
“A real one?” I ask. Silly me.
“Yeah! It was from a butcher’s shop, to use to make headcheese,” says Gibbs. “But it was kind of a surprise.” Gibbs and Hill pull out a photo of one of their favorite office items: a taxidermied bison head—the 26th largest in the country on record, they tell me. The bison used to sit on the office floor, propped up against the wall, “but now it’s at Andrew’s house,” Gibbs says, a little sadly.
Assistant Jen Van Kaam, left, and Zimmern.
Go Fork Yourself
Zimmern launched his podcast, Go Fork Yourself, in 2012. He records most of the episodes from the Food Works office, often with collaborator Molly Mogren, a Twin Cities blogger and founder of heyeleanor.com. Zimmern and Mogren describe their relationship as father-daughter-esque, which is pretty clear the moment they start bantering.
Zimmern riffs on the question he gets asked the most: “The worst thing I’ve ever eaten was ...” He pauses for dramatic effect and adds, tongue in cheek, “My mother-in-law’s pot roast.”
Mogren sighs. “You’re not allowed to say that anymore.”
Go Fork Yourself often features conversations between Zimmern and fellow chefs, who talk about food, travel and the odd cult of celebrity cooking on TV. “It’s fun to listen to other chefs’ perspectives on things,” says Gibbs. “There’s a lot of [listener] connection with the podcast,” she adds, noting that listeners can call a hotline and leave a message with a question or comment for Zimmern. “It’s very personal, because Andrew can say what he’s thinking and talk about what he wants to talk about.”
Molly Mogren, front, and Andrew Zimmern record a podcast with producer Beth Gibbs.
Around the Table
It’s true—for all the fun the Food Works team has, they take food and travel seriously. Zimmern and Mogren speak passionately about the local culinary scene. “The Twin Cities are made up of neighborhoods and communities,” says Zimmern, who grew up in New York and moved to Minnesota in the 1990s. “St. Louis Park allows us to be part of the fabric of the city, without having to be ‘downtown.’ We love it here.”
“A lot of great [culinary] talent is coming back to Minnesota,” Mogren adds. “Some of the best chefs in the country are coming from New York or Nashville, and they’re opening restaurants.”
Zimmern adds that the allure and prestige of downtown dining is fading. “Corporations are opening restaurants downtown,” he says, “but chefs are opening restaurants where the people live. Like in St. Louis Park. In our neighborhood, Honey & Rye Bakehouse opened right down the street. We had breakfast from there today. A neighborhood bakery that’s doing things the right way says a lot about how our neighborhoods are growing and expanding.”
Zimmern makes the jump easily from global dining to his own dinner table. Using food to explore cultures around the world, he has a front-row seat for the daily life of families he meets. “Sadly, in America today, dinnertime with the family has become something that’s quick and put low on the priority list,” he says. “I think we underestimate the importance of sitting down together and sharing a meal. We insist on it in our house.” Zimmern, who lives near Food Works headquarters with his wife and son, describes a typical family dinner: “We have dinner every night at our dining room table, with a large variety of vegetables and grains, and a small portion of meat. And we adhere to that. We’re really, really sincere about the importance of that. It’s our one time to all connect and stop.”
To learn more about Andrew Zimmern’s projects and listen to episodes of the Go Fork Yourself podcast, visit andrewzimmern.com.
Bizarre Foods airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. on the Travel Channel.
Here in the Twin Cities, you can taste some of Zimmern’s culinary creations at his food truck, Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen. The menu includes favorites like crispy pork belly, gumbo, slow-roasted barbecue pork, and burgers. (Drooling yet?)