“Food is good. Food that tells a story is better. Food that tells stories no one has heard is the best.”
I just had the very exciting opportunity to go to a lecture by Andrew Zimmern from Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods at a very unseemly local community college, and it was a fantastic experience.
Now I know what everyone is thinking so I’ll just come out with it right at the beginning…
Yes indeed I ate … duck testicles.
…And I liked it.
I didn’t know what to expect from this whole thing, and I certainly did not expect to try any bizarre foods myself, but I felt like I owed it to myself, my readers, and my community to try something unexpected. Now I did not necessarily love the duck nuts, but I loved the idea behind it. Andrew is a brilliant man with profound ideas regarding the food world, and a knack for story-telling. He talked a lot about “alternative proteins”, and how we as Americans could eat our way out of our overcentralized reliance on unsustainable, low-quality food sources. He shared stories with us about tribes so in harmony with nature that they would not kill an animal during the fruit-bearing period of a particular tree. They only take from nature what is absolutely necessary and only when is necessary, and use all parts of the animal. In America, we can barely go a day without a burger from a cow whose sacrifice was unappreciated as half of the animal ended up in the trash.
These stories were full of lessons, but also entertaining. Not only is he inspirational for the work he is doing, but he is also an inspiration because of where he comes from. He has recovered from a very low point in his life, and now he’s an internationally known figure who has great impact on the world. I left the auditorium thrilled that I came, and validated in what I’m doing in following my passions.
The lecture was absolutely fascinating and kept me fully interested for 3 hours, which is crazy considering I’m the guy who fell asleep at a Cavs game. Zimmern discussed how he weaves in important messages and stories into his show “Bizarre Foods”, which in fact is a much deeper show than just “the guy who eats weird things.” He does not eat “weird things” for weird sake; he seeks to explore untold stories from remote parts of the world using food as a lens. He never refuses offerings by locals because oftentimes it is a substantial part of their net worth. One of the most amazing things he talked about is how in over 100 shows in every part of the world, even those where he would expect to be least welcome, nobody ever expected anything in return. In fact, they would refuse reimbursement or payment and even be slightly insulted. He has to weave around delicate situations sometimes, and he told some truly remarkable stories, those of which I have not heard on the show.
When he started cooking the duck testicles, he let his pan pre-heat for too long and almost set off the fire alarms. He reacted in a very cool, calm way and pointed out a lesson that I try to teach other home cooks: when something goes wrong, fix it, don’t just go along with it. He started a new pan on the heat.
He browned the testicles in butter, added tarragon, salt, lemon juice, and finished it with white wine. The room smelled wonderful. Zimmern was very excited, as was I, that many people were chomping at the bits to try his “bizarre” creation. Amazingly the first person to try one was little Brad, who couldn’t have been older than 8 years of age. Completely unphased, he turned to face the audience and comment that it was good, and even had seconds. I think this was a proud moment for Zimmern, who is also a father of a boy about the same age. I managed to snag one of the last few, and I was also surprisingly unphased by it. You could taste all the flavors he used to prepare them, and it resembled sausage with the texture of a kidney bean. I probably wouldn’t have wanted a second one due to the bizarre factor, but it was in fact pretty good. Many ball jokes were also made. The audience was loving the whole ordeal, which was a beautiful thing to behold.
After the demonstration and a few more stories, he fielded a Q&A session. Unfortunately the questions were endless, and rarely worthwhile, so it came down to luck and I did not get selected. I also did not purchase the VIP meet and greet tickets which were overly pricey and even still there was a big line after the show to meet him. I was not interested in getting an autograph, or asking about where is the best place to get my grub on in Dubai; I had a question I wanted answered on behalf of my readers. I had been thinking about it ever since he first started talking about alternative protein sources, and although someone did ask a question regarding sustainability, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
So Andrew Zimmern, I ask you now, If you are reading this…
What are the most interesting, unique, or uncommon alternative seafood choices that you have come across in your travels? Have you found anything that could serve as an alternative to popular but unsustainable sushi choices such as unagi?
We would love to hear from you in the comments section below, and thank you for an unforgettable experience.
And to everyone else..
May the fish be with you, young rainbow trout!
~Maki Zavelli, over and out <(^_^<)