Grandmothers of chef and TV host fostered his exotic palate
Acclaimed chef Andrew Zimmern has traveled the world, learning about different cultures and sampling exotic regional dishes. As the host of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” and MSNBC’s “What’s Eating America?,” Zimmern’s work has taken him to over 150 countries. But the James Beard Award winner honed his unique palate at home in New York City with the help of his grandmothers, Pauline and Henriette.
Though she wasn’t a cook herself, Pauline, who lived with dementia, helped Zimmern discover the seemingly unlimited cuisine available to them in the Big Apple. Zimmern’s emerging interest in the culinary world encouraged them to explore the city’s vibrant restaurant scene of the 1960s and ’70s.
“We would go to restaurants where she wanted a simple piece of roast chicken and I wanted a lot more than that,” Zimmern says. “She was willing to put up with my experimentation.”
During regular weekend sleepovers at Henriette’s house, Zimmern developed his skills as a budding chef. He accompanied his grandmother on shopping trips through her neighborhood, gathering ingredients to prepare an elaborate family meal.
“Shopping with her was such a delight, and there were so many different nationalities and ethnicities represented on the Upper West Side,” Zimmern says. “It was fantastic to spend time with her and then to go back into her kitchen and watch her transform food.”
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These early experiences with his grandmothers not only shaped Zimmern’s career as a chef, journalist and television host, but also his philosophy toward food. “It makes a difference. It influences lives. It changes the world, sometimes just by changing the attitude or outlook of one human being,” he says.
In Minnesota, where he now lives, Zimmern cherishes opportunities to share his culinary zeal with his son, Noah. Though Noah seems to prefer baking to cooking, Zimmern reports that his son has been “expanding his repertoire outside of baked goods.” The two have even begun preparing the family’s Thanksgiving dinner together.
Pauline and Henriette’s distinct approaches to sharing a meal helped foster Zimmern’s appetite for learning, enabling him to become a presence in homes — and kitchens — across the world. “And I learned it all and got a passion for it sitting on a stool in my grandmother’s apartment,” he says.
Grilled Shrimp with Coconut Rice and Rum Glaze
2 U/15 count wild caught shrimp, deveined with the shell left on
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 lime, juiced
1 minced serrano chile
3 cloves garlic, grated
12-ounce jar of guava marmalade or other tropical fruit jam
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons dark corn syrup
3 tablespoons molasses
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Coleman’s mustard powder
1/2 cup dark rum
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons minced onion
3 cups basmati rice
2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons raisins
6 tablespoons crushed pistachios
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
6 tablespoons clarified butter
4 cups milk
2 cups water
- Devein the shrimp, but leave the shells on for cooking on the grill.
- Combine the oil, lime juice, chile and garlic. Add the prepared shrimp, and marinate for 6 hours.
- To make the rum glaze, combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer in a small saucepan. Cook at the barest possible simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The finished sauce should just be able to coat the back of a spoon when hot. Cool the glaze and season with additional lime juice and salt.
- To make the coconut rice, mix together the rice, coconut, salt, sugar, raisins, pistachio, bay, cinnamon and cardamom. Place in a large pot and sauté in the butter for five minutes over medium heat. Add the water and milk to the mixture, turn to high heat and bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cover and cook for 20 minutes over extremely low heat. Remove pot from heat and let stand for 20 minutes, then fluff and season.
- Place shrimp on skewers to make handling easier, and grill over high heat for a few minutes until charred. This only takes a few minutes per side; be careful not to overcook.
- Remove the shrimp shells, and season the shrimp with salt when it comes off the grill. Serve with the glaze and rice.