From a voodoo ceremony to dancing in a burlesque show to drag racing in an RV -- this is the truly strange and exciting life of Andrew Zimmern. And we haven’t even mentioned the goat’s brain yet.Photographs by Jeffery Salter.
IT’S HOT, NAUSEATING, AND A BIT CREEPY.
Overwhelming conga drumming echoes throughout the voodoo temple I’m in, and it smells like a mix of must and mint. The otherwise dull concrete floor is stained with sweat and unknown substances.
A gaggle of white-robed Haitian women circle the space, chanting ritualistic songs. A barefoot man with what looks like a World War II officer’s cap on his head and a machete in his hand stands convulsing. Putrid smoke from a sacrificial ring of fire fills the terribly lit temple basement, and the walls are emblazoned with African and Christian graphics.
Only moments into the ritual, the group starts swigging from a jug filled with rum. Subsequently, some shake and tremble as their eyes roll back into their heads and others begin to tumble recklessly and aggressively.
The room is bursting with oddities -- that’s a given. But today, one thing is especially out of place: A wide-eyed, white-skinned, middle-aged Minnesotan stands amid all the commotion, observing and smiling with excitement.
This is Andrew Zimmern on a typical Saturday morning.
The 48-year-old TV host, author, chef, and world-famous foodie isn’t even remotely fazed by the hubbub around him. Zimmern is in Miami to shoot an episode of his new show, Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World, an hour-long travelogue series on the Travel Channel that’s in the same vein as his previous hit, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and it’s actually his third day in the city.
Today it’s Little Haiti, yesterday it was hunting giant frogs in the Everglades, and next month he’ll be in Mongolia doing various activities and eating things altogether unimaginable.
Spending even a couple of days with the guy offers a world of experience and indigestion. In just 24 hours, he zips from a hush-hush voodoo ceremony to an all-drag-queen burlesque show, where he stars as a special guest performer. And that’s not to mention what he does in between.
“Our goal is to show authentic experiences. It’s not that I ran out of things to eat with the other show; I just wanted to branch out and show what other peoples’ lives are really like,” Zimmern says. “There’s more to life, for me, than playing it safe and sticking to the tourist’s path.”
And Zimmern doesn’t take his thrills in small doses. Only moments before his attendance at the voodoo ceremony was expected, Zimmern was tucked neatly behind a checkered-tableclothed four-top at the hole-in-the-wall Haitian eatery Chez Le Bebe, a quiet restaurant known for one specific dish: goat-head soup, a bold, blood-resembling delicacy made with just about every part of meat from a goat’s head. In the grand scheme of things, though, I suppose nothing better prepares a person for a day of Haitian high jinks than the tirelessly prepared brains of a barnyard animal. Zimmern’s stomach seems hardwired to take just about any punishment.
“As a globally tested, world-famous eater, I can say that I am physiologically balanced to handle some of these things better than most,” he says. “But it also helps that I tend to enjoy what I am eating, no matter [how] seemingly bad it is.”