January 20, 2019

‘Zimmern List’ Spotlights L.A.’s Jewish Cuisine

Andrew Zimmern has eaten his way across the globe, sampling traditional, exotic and downright strange fare as the host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” and “Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations.” Now the chef, author and food maven reveals his favorite restaurants in the United States in “The Zimmern List,” showcasing Los Angeles cuisine in the premiere episode.

“L.A. has such a large and vast food scene. I love exploring it,” Zimmern told the Journal. “To my mind, it’s the hottest food city on the planet because of its diversity. The audience gives the chefs permission to experiment. You’ve got some of the best ingredients in the world to work with. There are a lot of things that contribute to making a food city great, and L.A. has them.”

Limited by a half-hour format, the chef and producer zeroed in “on young chefs who are making a difference,” at hot spots such as Egglslut, the Thai eatery Night + Market Song, and Sqirl in Silver Lake. “But I also went to Langer’s and had a No. 19,” he said of the venerable Jewish deli, referring to its famous hot pastrami sandwich. “I can’t go to L.A. and not eat that.”

The program also spotlights the Middle Eastern fare at Kismet in Los Feliz. It’s the brainchild of two Jewish chefs, Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer. Sqirl’s chef, Jessica Koslow, is also Jewish. “Coincidence,” Zimmern said when the commonality was pointed out. [Being Jewish] doesn’t affect my food decision-making.”

Zimmern, who has German ancestry on his father’s side and Russian-Hungarian on his mother’s, grew up in New York City in “a typical Reform Jewish family,” he said. He had a globe-trotting youth, the result of his father’s job at an international advertising agency.

“Both of my parents were very food-forward,” he said. “While we celebrated a lot of food at home and it was a big part of our lives, it was traveling and eating that defined everything for me.”

That eclectic culinary education is reflected in what Zimmern cooks at home in Edina, Minn. “The last four things that I made were chicken in a pot, my grandmother’s brisket, Mexican pozole and borscht with short ribs,” he said.

“I think being Jewish and being raised in a Jewish home have made me more inquisitive, more curious, more charitable.” — Andrew Zimmern

He has gotten many comments (even from his rabbi) about the non-kosher foods he eats, “but it doesn’t make me not Jewish” to eat them, he said. “I don’t think that means I’m a good Jew or a bad Jew. I think that my higher power likes the message that I’m sending around the world.”

Zimmern, 56, said he feels “pretty darn connected” to Judaism today. “I think being Jewish and being raised in a Jewish home have made me more inquisitive, more curious, more charitable. It’s a religion that allows you to define a lot of the rules for yourself and where the instructive nature of the experience is one that’s discussed,” he said. “When you’re at services at a temple, you’re asked a lot of questions and conversation is encouraged. I think all of those things influence my work.”

He has been to Israel many times, but his most recent Middle East trip took him to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and a Syrian refugee camp. “I really like Jordan,” he said. “Does it fill me up same way it does when I’m in Israel? No. But it fills me up in other ways because I see how much the people in these countries have in common — way more than the differences. It’s a great reminder for me.”

Zimmern’s future plans include growing his hospitality and production companies and creating shows for other “great storytellers.” He’s working on a cookbook that will be out in 2019.

“The Zimmern List” premieres at 9 p.m. March 13 on Travel Channel.