Andrew Zimmern: How a Food-Crazed Kid Became a Chef
Where were you born?
I was born and raised in New York. My family has been in New York City since the Civil War. I have a ton of NYC in my DNA, from both sides of my family. I had a wonderful childhood in the city.
Who had the biggest influence on you growing up?
My father. He was larger than life. He loved travel, eating, food culture, exploring. My parents divorced when I was six, but stayed close. My dad moved downtown—it was kismet—to the West Village, where he befriended John Clancy, the Balduccis, James Beard—there was a whole sort of food mafia in the West Village. I went with my father when I was seven to have brunch at Jim Beard’s house. Stuff like that sticks with you. I see it now in my son. My wife and I do food-centric things when we travel. If parents get excited, so do kids.
What kind of food did you like eating growing up?
Even as a kid, I ventured out to ethnic restaurants all the time. We would go to Bo Bo’s in Chinatown and eat squab and salted dried shrimp in lettuce. I also went outside Manhattan to the other boroughs. Manhattanites didn’t do this in the 1960s. Brooklyn was a different country, Queens even more so.
How did you start working with food?
I worked summers on Long Island in restaurants. I wanted to be at the beach with girls during the day, so I worked in restaurants at night. By college, I had a fairly healthy alcohol and drug problem and couldn’t handle school. I was at Vassar. So I took a semester off and went to Sarah Lawrence to keep my credits. I didn’t have much to do after that, so I ended up cooking my way around Europe for nine months or so. Then I went back to school for another year, then I took another year off. I went to Asia, spent a couple of months cooking in hotels in Hong Kong. Then I came home again. I got a cheffing job for the summer working for Gloria Vanderbilt in Southampton. It was like running a small restaurant. It was a wonderful experience for me. Then I went back to school. After graduation, I had goodconnections and skills, so I dove into the food business.
What was your first job after graduating?
The summer after college I got a job as a chef at Conscience Point Inn in Southampton. I spent the summer on the water and cemented my expertise with seafood. I’ve always gravitated toward places that do seafood. I finally came back to New York City in the fall of 1984 with several chef jobs under my belt.