The way some media sees it, Detroit’s most “Bizarre Foods” might be raccoon steaks. Let’s hope TV foodie Andrew Zimmern (and his editors) doesn’t portray us that way.
For the past week, the Travel Channel host has been cruising around Detroit proper. He has eaten barbecue with the Mower Gang, sampled sausage with a Hungry Dude at Eastern Market and enjoyed a traditional Ramadan meal with a Dearborn family.
Zimmern, who is known for eating guts, bugs and worse on “Bizarre Foods,” joins other top chefs who have been touring Metro Detroit of late. The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri was here last week. And in recent years, Anthony Bourdain feather bowled at The Cadieux Café while Adam Richman tried to eat a burger bigger than his head for the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food.”
But of all those visits, Zimmern’s may be my favorite. I never got to meet the man (not for lack of trying or Tweeting), but hearing and reading of his travels thrilled me to the gills. I cannot wait to see the finished product when it airs sometime in February, according to the fine gentleman from Minnesota, who emailed me to say so (and promised an interview for the blog closer to the air date).
If you followed Zimmern’s Twitter feed, his 140 characters were loving tributes to the food, culture and people of the city. He praised the Bosnian eats at Palma, drooled over the Polish sausage at Srodek’s in Hamtramck, went gaga over the beef at Super Greenland and couldn’t stop raving about Supino’s pizza. The pictures were grainy but made you want to drop everything and grab a plateful of whatever that guy just ate.
Joe Hakim, one of the Hungry Dudes, and Tom Nardone, leader of the Mower Gang, both spent significant time with Zimmern during his trip. The longtime foodie photographer and PriveCo. president raved about Zimmern’s quick wit (he’s willing to insult anyone within the first three sentences of meeting) and instant rapport with pretty much everyone.
Zimmern’s producers contacted Hakim to help set up possible locations. They then asked him to tour Eastern Market and more with Zimmern. The goal, Hakim said, was to learn about the city’s unique offerings. Traditionally, “Bizarre Foods” focuses on the outrageous items Zimmern puts in his gullet. This time, it is about finding great foods in a great city (yahoo!).
“The flavors (in the food Zimmern tried) aren’t typical; they are special. And they’re special to Detroit,” Hakim said.
Nardone invited Zimmern to a Mower Gang ride and cookout. They ate meat. Lots of meat like pig, rabbit, pheasant and cow tongue (yes, there was raccoon. Truth in journalism, baby). They ate, rode around on large grass-cutting machines and cleaned up a city park that otherwise might never see a lawn mower at all.
“(Zimmern) was really funny and nice,” Nardone said. “He was getting his hands dirty picking up trash like old socks from the park and he didn’t just do it in front of the cameras.”
Then, Zimmern just hung out. He bought about $70 worth of ice cream from a passing vendor for the neighborhood kids. He sat down with people, talked about life. He teased, taunted and tormented anyone within earshot. All in all, Nardone said, Zimmern was a good guy to have at your table. Or in your office – because Zimmern then visited to taste test some flavorful personal lubricants (that’s what Nardone sells…but I don’t necessarily expect to see that on the show).
There’s positivity to “Bizarre Foods” and Zimmern that resonates with his audience and the people he meets every day. And it shows in his writing. “The truth is he’s very passionate about what he does,” Hakim said. “He Tweets a lot. He’s excited to be where he’s at – even when he’s at home.”
As always, we feel compelled as journalists to note that “Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern” isn’t going to change Detroit. It isn’t going to fix a darn thing. But it brings another angle to the narrative people are creating about this city. We are not just a down-trodden, bleak place. We are people that love to break bread together. We appreciate a meal on our tables. We work hard for good food. And, as Hakim put it, “there’s an excitement brewing” about Detroit because it is a viable place to dine and live.
Nothing bizarre about that.