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Andrew Zimmern under fire for insensitivity, appropriation, after 'horseshit' Midwestern Chinese food remarks

Jim Gehrz/Star Tribune

Jim Gehrz/Star Tribune

Last week was a big one for local celeb chef Andrew Zimmern. 

In St. Louis Park, the Bizarre Foods host opened the doors to Lucky Cricket, his highly anticipated Chinese restaurant-slash-Tiki bar. 

On the internet, he was the subject of a lengthy Fast Company interview in which he says some things that prompted other outlets—first Eater and later the Washington Post—to wonder what business he has opening such a restaurant at all.

"Why Does Andrew Zimmern Get to Create the Next P.F. Chang’s?" Eater asked after the video dropped Tuesday. Here's what restaurant editor Hillary Dixler Canavan had to say (emphasis ours):

"Zimmern opened Lucky Cricket with the explicit goal of starting a chain, with 'putting 200 restaurants across Middle America' being the dream. 'I think I’m saving the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horseshit restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest,' he says [to Fast Company], implying that Chinese-American restaurants throughout the region are somehow illegitimate. (The statement also ignores the culinary output of the Hmong community in and around the Twin Cities—which Zimmern himself has highlighted before.)"

Zimmern later questions the cultural legitimacy of Philip Chiang, the Chinese-American co-founder of P.F. Chang's, whose mother, Cecilia, is "credited with broadly introducing San Francisco, and America, to traditional Chinese regional cooking through her restaurants and book." Those remarks, Eater calls "deeply misguided, if not outrageously offensive."

"Andrew Zimmern missed an opportunity—to honor, rather than insult, Chinese cooks," is the headline of a Washington Post editorial that ran a few days after that Eater story. In it, Ruth Tam—a Chinese-American citizen born and raised in the Midwest—fundamentally disagrees with the chef's take on Chinese food in the region. Tam writes that Chinese-American cuisine is actually thriving here, and notes that there are many reasons the food isn't funkier, or spicier, or bolder. 

Among them? The fact that "bolder Chinese dishes were long relegated to the 'weird' and 'exotic,' and Zimmern played a direct role in that," right down to the title of Travel Channel's globe-trotting Bizarre Foods.

Besides, she writes:

"As it happens, Zimmern is also making Chinese American food. Only, when he cooks it, it’s 'a unique take on the bold flavors of honest Chinese cuisine.' He too is trying to make money in America, except he has the noble cause of 'saving' white people from eating bad Chinese food. When Chinese people make Americanized Chinese food for white people, Zimmern calls it 'horses---.' But when he does it, it’s 'unique.'"

Eater did reach out to Zimmern for comment, and he explained by email: “My point was simple. Michael White is one of the best Italian cooks in world, just because he is from Wisconsin doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be able to open an Italian restaurant if he so desires. Same with Bayless and Mexican food. I think P.F. Chang’s was a great example, that family had the name and the cultural background, and were great restaurant people, still are. But by the time PFC opened the family was as ‘American’ as I am in a sense. It was a vague metaphor but I hope people got my point. I guess not entirely clear. And this question of ‘who gets to cook what’ is one we all have to consider. It’s an important one.”

You can watch the Fast Company interview, which elsewhere touches upon addiction, the evolution of Bizarre Foods, and the magic of the State Fair, below. (The quotes in question kick off at the 8:45 mark.)