Last week, TV personality and eater of bizarre foods Andrew Zimmern was in town to tape an episode of his MSN webseries Appetite for Life at the Crescent City Farmer's Market. The appearance on Thursday, in which he shopped the market and cooked crawfish etouffee with local radio personality Poppy Tooker, was just one stop in a whirlwind of activity that included a similar appearance in Baton Rouge on Wednesday before leaving the state on Friday. Luckily, the guy really likes the South and seems to be relishing the opportunity to use Appetite for Life as an excuse to pull a Great American Roadtrip across the region.
On top of the webseries, which will begin airing this leg of the road trip in the end of February, Zimmern's Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods premieres tonight with the New Orleans episode he shot last summer. Speaking in a phone interview from the road somewhere outside McComb, Mississippi, he talked with Eater about his love for New Orleans and the South and raved about tonight's episode of Bizarre Foods, calling it "one of my favorite episode from the whole season."
Last week's rush through Louisiana was brief, but Zimmern says he makes it down here fairly regularly. Obviously he was here last summer to shoot Bizarre Foods, but he says he also came down with his wife at the beginning of the year. When in town, he gravitates towards Mid City and the Treme, saying, "I never miss an opportunity to say hi to my friend Leah Chase," adding that "I'm always at Willie Mae's Scotch House. I can't come to town without having a meal there."
For this most recent trip, Zimmern arrived on Tuesday and took his crew to Herbsaint, raving about the meal that his friend Donald Link made for them. "The really cool thing about the meal we had is that a lot of chefs that don't quite have the ability that Don has use a lot of different effects to cover up the food," he said. "I haven't had a meal in a long time that was from start to finish as stripped down as Don's, but was still cooking."
The thing that separates Appetite for Life from Bizarre Foods, aside from the road trip concept, is its fundraising component. Each appearance for the webseries doubles as a fundraiser for a local organization. In Baton Rouge, it was the United Way; in New Orleans, it was the Crescent City Farmers Market itself. Addressing the "flak" he gets sometimes from people who accuse celebrities of "hubris" when they make appearances like this, he said, "more important is the fact that, when this show airs on MSN.com, ten million people around the world will see it. And to inspire other people and the legacies that those stories are able to leave, I think it's really, really important. So it's not just about the dollars." At the time of the interview he didn't know yet how much money they had raised for the Farmers Market. But he did argue that while farmers markets abound in so many cities, The Crescent City Farmers Market "should be a model for markets all over this country."
But why the South in particular for this "road trip for good?" Zimmern says, "most of it is because, number one, the food is fantastic, but number two, there's something very special about the people and their relationship to their culture and also their relationship to the country as a whole. ... I just think it's a magical part of the world. So when my producer asked me what ideas I had, what resonates with me, I was like, 'Let's roll through the South.'"
About tonight's New Orleans episode of Bizarre Foods, he returned again to the idea that, while that show is much more oriented towards pure entertainment, he still has a "responsibility because of the platform I've been blessed with." As such, he described himself as being very proud of the show's ability to "preach stories about environmental and economic sustainability."
But in the end, the show is still about entertainment, and he thinks tonight's episode is going to stand up in that regard: "in our New Orleans episode in specific, we got a chance to take people out into places that I don't think even many Louisianians know exist. Tiny little bayous and little sloughs with kids catching frogs. I think people are really going to be excited, it's one of my favorite episodes from the whole season."
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