Andrew Zimmern Talks Everything From Experimentation to Fake Chicken

We chat with the celebrity chef to discuss how food ties us together

Andrew Zimmern (Photo by Rod Machen)

Andrew Zimmern, the television personality and chef, has a lot going on. He runs a production company, Intuitive Content. His current television project is Family Dinner on the Magnolia Network, and he’s kicking off a new series Wild Game Kitchen, streaming on the Outdoor Channel.

Zimmern is also a staple at SXSW. He loves the event, and he loves Austin. This year he's especially interested in a concept called blue foods, an initiative that looks to drive sustainable practices in seafood production. He’s also representing a new plant-based chicken product called TiNDLE.

He sat down with the Chronicle over a tray of smoked meats to discuss SXSW, Austin, and how food ties the world together.

On the relationship between our food system and privilege:

So many food systems exist around the world in a meatless nature or low-meat percentage of diet mixture. There are more pescatarian cultures than most people realize. You have several billion people around the world who nearly their whole source of animal protein is fish. Most of the people who have choice in what they eat are a very minuscule part of our global population. To have choice in anything has become the luxury of a very small percentage of human beings. That's the biggest problem with our food system and with our culture is how everything is related to privilege.

On SXSW:

Number one: platform, audience, the ability to get a message out. Number two: I learn a lot. Down here I know my audience is interested in what I'm trying to talk about. Not all will agree with me; most don't. That spreads idea making, teachability, solutions out into the world at a huge pace. Everything that this festival, for want of a better expression, stands for I believe it. Number three: It takes place in one of my favorite cities in America.

On what makes for a good food city:

One is diversity. Two is a dining population that's willing to be experimented at. That might be the most misunderstood aspect of all. You can quantify it by size. How many good Thai restaurants are here. You don't have to check every single box to be an important food city. If you just look at barbecue restaurants, this part of Texas has a massive amount of absolutely phenomenal barbecue restaurants. For people who love barbecue, you come down here for a weekend, make a pilgrimage, make sure at least one meal a day and sometimes two are taken at a barbecue spot, and have an absolute blast. But if you started to tell me that some of the best Japanese restaurants in America are here, to the uninitiated, they'd probably laugh, but it's true.

On how Austin fits the bill:

The last generation and a half of Austinites are used to being experimented at. You go into a pop-up gallery. You go into a leather-goods shop. Or a bar that's got music, and there's three local bands that night. You might not like everything in the store, but you're going to like something. You may not like all three of the bands, but you're going to like one of them. It creates an open-mindedness when it comes to these sorts of experiences, and I think diners here over the last 15 years, when you look at some of the early successful restaurants that were here, they were experimenting at their customers. Can you experiment at your customers in New York? Absolutely not. You have to be a hit immediately. I'm not saying it's a good thing, but if you don't catch fire, there's no such thing as growing your audience over three years in New York City. You'll be out of business. But if you can come to a city that is used to a maker community of some kind, an artist community of some kind, they don't need every dish on the menu to wow them. They'll still come back. When you think about earlier days of restaurants that first started doing what I would call more experimental, chef-driven foods, taking some risks. We're not just doing meat, potatoes, and green veg. We're not doing barbecue. When I think of what happened when a restaurant like Barley Swine opened, or Foreign & Domestic, that generation of restaurants literally the game here. What Tyson Cole [of Uchi] did changed the game here.

On the state of our food ecosystem:

The one thing that unites us all is that for those of us with access to it, we take several meals a day, and we need food to survive. We can make such a difference by engaging people on civic issues through food. Anywhere you want to talk about immigration, climate crisis, city development, social justice and equity, economic development, international diplomacy, national security at home and abroad. All of those issues… you pick any one and a dozen others, and I can talk to you about food solutions and how food can make those situations better because we participate in it every day. I define this set of issues as a Möbius strip. They're all interrelated. If you're an immigration reform advocate and you jump in on the wave, and you ride the Möbius strip, that twisted circle that only has one side, eventually you will bump into climate crisis, hunger, food waste. You will touch all of those things. They are all inextricably linked, and you can't touch one without the other. There is not one solution to any of these issues. There are hundreds, but there are probably ten or twelve pillars, and we should be talking about all of them at the same time. The solution to all of our problems is not plant-based chicken, but I can tell you that of the 40 that I've tried, there's this one [TiNDLE] that I think is vastly superior for a lot of different reasons: flavor, texture, aroma. It has a chance, because of the way it's designed, to be used in wholesale, in the family home, and in restaurants, to be a real game changer and relieve the pressure off of these horrific poultry factory farms. I believe once you get into that conversation, you start to touch immigration. I've been in these mass-produced chicken farms.

We are talking to people who believe that we need to make changes in America and in the world or else we are causing ourselves existential and extinction-level problems. So yes, in a sense I'm preaching to the converted. I'm just not sure the converted understand how quickly the clock is ticking and how active we all need to be.

For more information about blue foods, visit www.fedbyblue.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

SXSW, SXSW 2022, Andrew Zimmern

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