Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern is hoping to “create a national conversation about food.” General Mills is honoring 20 categories of the best food experiences America has to offer – from the best food city, to the best food truck, to the best chef – by calling on the public to award the most deserving with the 2013 Munchies: People’s Choice Food Awards.
Andrew opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about some of his favorite restaurants in the country, family life with his 8-year-old son Noah, and the joys of building LEGO and cooking with his foodie-in-training.
CBS: Tell us about teaming up with General Mills for the 2nd Annual Munchies: People’s Choice Food Awards. What’s it all about? How did you get involved?
AZ: “The Munchies: People’s Choice Food Awards are an effort on the part of General Mills, Tablespoon.com, and myself to create a national conversation about food. This is done via a mechanism that celebrates food across twenty different categories. I wanted to be personally involved because before there were two types of generic contests and awards programs available. One was purely crowd-sourced and meant nothing to anyone. You would have an award category like Italian and people would choose a crappy chain restaurant in a mall. This restaurant might not be the best Italian restaurant in the city or even in that mall complex, but it still wins.
On the other hand, there are also awards programs celebrating food excellence for experts, by experts, but they were so arcane that they created a disconnect with the general public. The Munchies is the exact opposite of these two kinds of awards programs, yet, it shares a lot in common with them; it takes the good of both and eliminates the bad. For The Munchies, experts put names in the nomination and whittled them down to five nominees per category. Every nominee in each of the twenty categories is worthy of winning, as well as the fifteen others that didn’t make it. There is that much quality in the world and certainly in our own country.
After whittling down the names, we put the remaining nominees in front of the general public and allow one month to vote. The key to voting for an entire month is very simple. People can take that list and say to themselves, “Oh, I already listen to two of the five food podcasts, so I’ll download the other three that are in the running.” Or they will say, ““I’ll be in Chicago next week and will definitely try out that taco stand and that restaurant in the running for a Munchies Award.” They might also say, “I’m going to look at those food magazines and go on Hulu to check out these food reality TV shows.” By allowing one month to vote and by setting up the nominees like we do, we give people the opportunity to interact with the voting process the way no other awards system does. We allow them to participate in that conversation with their friends, family, and loved ones. I think it is a fantastic set-up.
I got involved because they asked me. We get asked all the time, as companies like General Mills and Tablespoon.com ask different types of talent to do different projects. It’s the same concept as when you have a toilet that’s overflowing and you need a plumber. You may ask a lot of people for help, but you need to find someone who can come to your house and who has the skill to fix your toilet. There are so many things that go into it. I started talking to General Mills about The Munchies a couple of years ago and we were all giddy with excitement. We were all getting into it for the same reason, so the connectivity and relationship were there. I live in the Twin Cities and worked with a lot of these people before, so we were able to enter a trusted partnership almost immediately. The success of The Munchies is a testament to that.”
CBS: What are some of your absolute favorite restaurants to eat at with your family?
AZ: “When we are in New York, we love taking our son Noah to a night of theater and a late dinner down at Balthazar. French bistro has extremely family-friendly options, such as roasted chicken and onion soup. We also love going to Chinese food restaurants anywhere. He especially likes Dim Sum, so when we are in New York City we go to the Golden Unicorn Restaurant, which is spectacular. I also took him to The Slanted Door the last time we were in San Francisco for more of a pan-Asian, Thai, Vietnamese-influenced experience.
Hamburgers are my son’s favorite food, so we like Father’s Office in Los Angeles and JG Melon in New York City. When Noah was a baby, we brought him to restaurants and put up with the extra work that was involved with that. We had to get up from the table every ten minutes, bring him around the restaurant, hold him in our arms, show him the kitchen, and make funny faces at waiters. It really worked, because now we have an eight-year-old who’s very at-home in restaurants.
He absolutely loves going to Japanese restaurants that serve sushi. We go to Fuji-Ya here in the Twin Cities, and he’s a big fan of the Nobu and Morimoto restaurants. You really know you’re raising a ferocious food-kid when the sushi chefs at Nobu and Morimoto know him by name. [laughs]”
CBS: You’re a chef, host of Bizarre Foods, and author. Is there anything else you’re still hoping to accomplish in the foodie world?
AZ: “Oh my gosh, I’m just getting started! As you grow up, there are four or five cycles in your work-life. I was in the restaurant business for a long time and I left it to do media. Now I am getting back into food service with my food truck, opening some restaurants, and writing different kinds of books. I’ve written four books, but I haven’t done my first cookbook yet. This is odd, considering that I have been a chef for thirty years.We are now doing that. It’s wonderful to see how everything cycles. We are trying to time it with how we’re building my brand and empire. Timing and sequencing is everything for us, and we are doing a whole bunch of things. The greatest joy in my life is that the work I do in the food space is meaningful and makes a difference for families in America. If the work doesn’t do that for me, I don’t do the work.”
CBS: What is Noah into these days?
AZ: “Noah love LEGO, superhero movies, gymnastics, eating, traveling, and playing tag. These days, he is also really into playing basketball.”
CBS: Do you and your son like to cook together? What are some of the other things you enjoy doing together?
AZ: “We really enjoy cooking together. When my wife is away we do “man-cations,” where we make sure to break all the rules that she makes. [laughs] We also like spending a lot of time at the ocean, sailing together, and building LEGO together. I try to spend as much time with him as possible, because I am on the road an awful lot.”
CBS: How has fatherhood changed you?
AZ: “It has increased my patience by a factor of about fifteen, and it has also made me increasingly aware of the problems I have with my own selfishness. When I am just thinking about me, I am not being very useful to my son or my wife. Having a child is a supreme motivator in that regard.”
CBS: What do you and your family have planned for the summer?
AZ: “We are going to take a road trip through some of our state parks out west. We are also going back east to visit my dad in Portland, Maine, and we always wind up in New York for a while. It’ll be fun.”