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Andrew Zimmern's Family Meals
By Anna Staropoli
Frozen meatloaf may not exactly classify as a “bizarre food”, but for TV host and chef Andrew Zimmern, it’s a chance to bring people together.
The personality behind Bizarre Foods and Family Dinner just launched a frozen entrée line at Walmart, using his own recipes across four microwave-ready meals. Zimmern specifically wanted to work with a large distribution channel to keep prices low — and access high. In addition to meatloaf, the options include pulled pork macaroni and cheese, turkey, and Swedish meatballs.
Broken Palate caught up with Zimmern to talk about those all-American entrées, his own family meals, and everything that’s currently in his freezer.
Broken Palate: You continually play off this idea of family dinner both in your TV show and now with your frozen food line. What about this theme resonates with you?
Andrew Zimmern: I've never done an episode of television where we didn't picture families eating. In every episode of Bizarre Foods, one of the six acts that made up each hour was always a family dinner. I thought at some point people would start to notice, but they never did. Before that, I had my own family dinners, so family dinner has always been a part of my life and a very important piece of what I do. I think it's because I had them when I was little, little, and then my own family story exploded. Parents divorced. Mother got ill and never recovered. I found myself as a teenager going to my friends’ houses for family meals and experiencing what I wanted in my own life through other people. So I think, without getting a little too Freudian, I've always been a man in search of a family meal somewhere, and I think that's driven a lot of my curiosity and a lot of my passion in my professional career.
BP: Why do you think dinner, specifically, has this spotlight? What about, say, family breakfast, family lunch, even family dessert?
AZ: Family dinner is the time that we have the most possibility for. Are there parents who work a second shift and aren't available for dinner every night of the week? Absolutely. Are there kids in after-school activities? Absolutely. Are there a lot of hurdles to cross for family dinner? Absolutely. But I think we can still make it happen multiple times a week, and that's more than I can say for lunch or breakfast. That being said, if there are families that can do it easier at breakfast time than dinner time, go for it.
BP: Let's talk about your frozen entrées. It seems like you're flipping the idea of a TV dinner, which has historically been a frozen meal, on its head. Do you think TV dinners and family dinners can be one and the same?
AZ: One hundred percent. The most important thing about family dinners isn't what's on the plate; it's spending the time together. I think people have really treated the idea of frozen entrées with a small shade of a type of elitism that disturbs me — and here's what I mean by that. Everyone is time-poor; not everyone is cash-poor. So if a convenient meal that tastes good and happens to be inexpensive can allow us a little bit of time to convene, I think that's a good thing. I hear from a lot of people: ‘Is it nutritious?’ Yes, it is. And they're like: ‘Well, it's big food. It's made in a factory. It's processed.’ We have 20 different types of societal needs in America, and not everyone can afford to have the food life that is in the centerfold of some of the food magazines that are out there. We are living in an Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook society where folks are putting images out that give people the implication that their entire life is backstage at a U2 concert. And that's just not the reality for everybody.
BP: Your frozen entrées are quintessential American dishes, right? You've got mac and cheese, meatloaf. As someone who travels frequently and dives into foods across cultures and places, why did you focus on these particular foods?
AZ: I wanted to create meals that the most number of people would find appealing. Now a lot of times, chefs create menus for restaurants and those menus have many components. And there's always a joke about, well, 60% is for the customers, 30% is what the chef would make for himself, and 10% is experimenting. I didn't want to do it for myself, and I didn't want to do it to experiment. I wanted to come out with comfort food classics that I thought everybody would find appealing.
BP: I was watching your show and started thinking about my own family dinners. My family has a running joke that our freezer is full of ‘surprise food’ because my mom often forgets to label her containers, so thawing anything frozen comes with uncertainty. What is the most surprising food in your freezer right now?
AZ: Everything in my kitchen freezer is in half-pint and pint containers, and it's things like stocks and compound butters and sauce components. So that when I'm cooking, I can defrost it under running water in 15 minutes, and I can have a poultry gloss for a sauce when I'm doing something fancy at home. I have a freezer and a refrigerator in the garage that is filled with all of the frozen meals that I've made. And — sorry to your mom — I do label my stuff, but old habits and chefs die hard.
Then, I have one of those freezers I got at the appliance store. That's the one that is the catch-all. There are a few gas stations in Louisiana that sell some of the best boudin in the whole world. That’s a sausage casing stuffed with pork and pork liver and rice and hot chili peppers. It is my favorite food in the whole world — one of my top five, and I always have to have it. I get nervous when I go below five pounds of it in there. So that's where that all sits — and all of the back-up ice cream. And I have all of the meat from my duck hunting trips, so I have a lot of duck parts.