I occasionally watch Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. I occasionally am entertained. Additionally, I occasionally learn something. And lately I am noticing that occasionally I am really bugged. It is only after watching a marathon of the show that the latter occurs. Mr. Zimmern is obviously thoroughly knowledgeable about traveling and world cuisines. He is entertaining too. I gotta admit, the guy gets to see and experience some amazing stuff that I would love to do and he is blessed with a job that allows him to travel and experience life in ways that few of us will ever get to enjoy. But like all of us, he has his quirks.
In a recent episode starring Miami, it got to the point I finally became annoyed and more importantly realized why. Being a chef by trade, I can really understand where he is coming from on how he tries to explain the intricacies of bleeding edge cuisine to the layman. He was in his element at Azul restaurant enjoying a multi-course fare prepared by Chef Huff. Mr. Huff knows his stuff (no I didn’t set out to make that funny when I typed it). Huff’s fusion of West Coast and Miami cuisine was amazing in the tiny snippet we got to see. Granted, what we saw of Azul was a monthly underground culinary high-wire act for Miami foodies. Huff was getting to do what few chefs get to do; basically play in a sandbox of the world’s best ingredients and serve it to the few people who can really appreciate and enjoy it all within the bubble of fantastic PR. A tiny sampling of the dinner was a course of sea urchin with a sorbet of monstera fruit and hibiscus with fresh wasabi. While monstera deliciosa can be a decorative Floridian vine, it’s corn-shaped fruit (which in an unripened state contains toxic levels of oxalic acid) has a pineappley texture and a taste that’s been described as everything from apples to jackfruits, bananas, cotton candy, and pineapple. If that wasn’t enough, another course was the forest floor risotto, which was a bowl of risotto sitting atop a larger bowl of heated moss, stone, herbs and dried mushrooms. The risotto itself was made with basil-fed snails, chanterelles, nasturtium leaves, salicornia (a salty herb known as samphire or sea beans) and topped with a soft cooked egg. Hot tea was then poured onto the stones and moss to give the aroma of a forest. Truly remarkable and I wished I could have been there.
As I was saying, this is Mr. Zimmern’s element. His compulsive logorrhea (excessive and often incoherent talkativeness or wordiness) of adjectives like smoky, floral, savory, nutty, creamy, gelatinous, silky, contrasting, succulent, gooey, buttery and earthy were right at home in Chef Huff’s dinner extraordinaire and it made sense since it was the only way to describe this culinary three ring spectacle.
Cue eye rolling. What get’s me is Zimmern’s propensity for this logorrhea I spoke of. He can’t help himself. In the same Miami episode, he visited the tiny unremarkable Nicaraguan eatery of Raspados Loly in Sweetwater, Florida. The food here looked just as tasty as Azul but in a completely different way. It was simple. The contrast between Azul and Loly to put it mildly, was staggering. I have always held that the simplest food is the hardest to do well; vanilla ice cream, a plain cheese burger, a glazed doughnut. By the lines of people waiting to eat at Raspados Loly, it was obvious they were doing simple food extremely well. Simple is the operative word here and why Mr. Andrew is now driving me nuts every episode. It all started with the dulce de leche raspado. Ah the dulce de leche raspado.
Dulce de leche is one of the most beloved sweets in Central America. Argentina and Uruguay are still arguing over it’s origination and other countries claim the mythic yummy stuff as their own as well. Quite simply, it translates to milk candy, candy made of milk or milk jam. It’s basically milk and sugar, although everyone puts their own slant on it with different ingredients, slowly cooked until it becomes thick. Consistencies vary from fudgy to creamy to dry and crumbled. Loly’s desert takes their own version and drizzles the thick caramel like dulce de leche over alternately layered chunks of pound cake and shaved ice in a small cup. Simple. In the Miami episode we watched them make a few for the horde of waiting people on a warm day and it looked delicious but certainly unpretentious.
As the smiling, wide-eyed and certainly sugar crazed owners, employees and customers gulped the stuff down we got to see Andrew Zimmern go into his long winded list of adjectives, again. Again? Seriously? It was such an uncomplicated, straightforward and lovingly crafted confection. It didn’t need to be called nutty nougaty creamy savory sweet icy crunchy velvety and … I’m just grimacing while typing all these nonsense words to describe something you can just sit back and enjoy on a hot summer day.
Needless to say, ever since my discovery of Zimmern’s long-winded pseudo intellectual descriptors of every food item he eats, I cannot stop being annoyed by it. What was once interesting and endearing about the show is now an overused schtick. Don’t get me wrong, I do really want to hear what those balut, pastillas or tlacoyos taste like when made well and I love seeing the local flavors and cultures for sure. And I can only imagine that Bizarre Foods viewers are on the intelligent side, so it’s even more disappointing to see him pandering to the what might be the lowest common denominator who doesn’t understand anything about food or cuisines by constantly over describing everything. Obviously the whole idea of the show is telling us poor unlucky souls about the foods and cultures that he sees, but c’mon. There’s no denying that what was once taboo like sushi and frog’s legs is pretty tame fare nowadays. And while I do believe there is a trend among gastrophiles to push the boundaries more and more as we become a world culture, and certainly Mr. Zimmern was at the front of that movement, Bizarre Foods is becoming an unintentional cliched parody of itself.
Where once I used to stop at Bizarre Foods while channel surfing, more and more frequently I end up changing it after the dreaded descriptors start. I wouldn’t care at all that Zimmern was regurgitating his own stuff if I never liked the show to begin with. It’s only my enjoyment of the past shows that has caused me to turn my nose up now. Okay, maybe I’m being tough on Andrew. Okay, I can admit it. I can admit I’m in the minority who already knows something about food. I can admit most people don’t cook ever and don’t know what ice or pound cake is and we need to know exactly what those common things are like with as many descriptors as possible so we can understand them. Oh wait…