By Charles Passy
There’s more to Andrew Zimmern than his penchant for feasting on fermented sheep’s head or bamboo rats .
Yes, Zimmern has become famous for his “Bizarre Foods” Travel Channel program , which started airing in 2007. But his career has gone on to encompass a variety of pursuits, culinary and otherwise. He has been behind such series as “What’s Eating America” on MSNBC, “Family Dinner” on the Magnolia Network and “Andrew Zimmern’s Wild Game Kitchen” on the Outdoor Channel, and he’s a judge on “Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend” on Netflix /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +1.39% . He is also the author of several books, including “Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World of Food: Brains, Bugs and Blood Sausage.” And he heads up his own media production company, Intuitive Content.
Oh, and if that’s not enough, he even has his own line of spices in partnership with the Badia Spices company.
A New York City native and experienced chef who now calls Minneapolis home, Zimmern, 61 years old, hasn’t always had it so easy. In his younger days, he was an alcoholic and drug addict and was homeless for a period. He’s been sober for 30 years, but he still speaks candidly about the struggles he faced and the need for rethinking addiction treatment in America.
MarketWatch recently caught up with Zimmern to talk about his life and career and some of the financial lessons he’s learned along the way. Here are edited and condensed excerpts from our conversation.
MarketWatch: You’ve done a remarkable job of continuing to reinvent yourself and keep yourself out there after the big success of “Bizarre Foods.” How have you been able to maintain the momentum and figure out what projects to pursue as life goes on.
Zimmern: Oh gosh. I think it’s more of a problem than it is a solution. I tend to say yes to everything, because so many things interest me. I’m sure I am in some way psychologically making up for my lost decade of the 1980s, where I was a very active drug addict and alcoholic. So in some ways I’m making up for that and I’m involved in too many things, but I find it really hard to say no to things that sound fun and fascinating. I like making TV. I like making books.
MarketWatch: Tell us a little bit about your current projects — for example, your spice line.
Zimmern: Again, making. I met Pepé Badia (of Badia Spices) in Miami, who is just an inspirational guy. We made a deal and I created five different spice blends that are all-purpose. My favorite one is the curry. It took the longest to get right. I’m as proud of (the) spice line as anything that I’ve ever done.
MarketWatch: You are proof that recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is possible. How do you think this country should tackle this addiction crisis we seem to perpetually be facing?
Zimmern: We need a national health program and we need to have public policy and laws that reflect what the worldwide medical community has known for 45, 48 years — that alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease.
Portland, Oregon, has one of the largest heroin problems per capita in the United States. When I made my MSNBC series, “What’s Eating America,” we did a story there and I was stunned at how well their diversion system works. In other words, homeless addicts that are on the street, if they’re thrown in jail do not get the help they need. A diversion program gives them access to treatment and housing and job training. If you sprinkle a human being with dignity and respect, the human being returns and the disease is diminished. When you throw someone in jail, that is not the case.
MarketWatch: What would you say is the best piece of financial advice you’ve ever been given?
Zimmern: My father’s. And I know it’s the most simplistic thing, which is live within your means and don’t accumulate debt. I have yet to encounter any piece of advice — business advice or financial advice — that is better than that. It is a constant boondoggle trying to separate my wants from my needs and yet at the same time, keep myself happy and not be a stingy curmudgeon.
MarketWatch: What are the things you will treat yourself to that would be considered a splurge?
Zimmern: Hotels. There’s nothing better than a good hotel. There’s nothing worse than a bad one. I love good hotels. I am the person who can defend the indefensible, which is, “Do you really need to go to the $2,000-a-night place in the Maldives?” It’s like, yeah, cause I want to sleep over the ocean on stilts in the place where there’s butler service and you don’t see as many other guests. I want to suck every bit of juice out of the Maldives fruit that I can.
MarketWatch: What do you hate spending money on?