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Andrew Zimmern at The Salvation Army in Saint Paul

‘Bizarre Foods’ host Zimmern pays visit

Added on Friday, March 7, 2014

As host of the hit Travel Channel show “Bizarre Foods,” Andrew Zimmern eats freaky foods in the U.S. and countries the world over.

On Monday, his palate got a welcomed break from squirrel brains and curried iguana. He got to eat pan-seared chicken, mashed potatoes, tossed salad, and oranges at the Payne Ave. Salvation Army in St. Paul. He spent three hours there cooking, serving food and speaking with Salvation Army supporters (see photos or watch video below).

Head chef Jeff Ansorge was thrilled to show off the tasty, healthy meals he serves at the Payne Ave. Salvation Army.

“This is the same kind of meal we’d cook here any day of the week,” Ansorge announced to Zimmern and 75 supporters at the private dining event. “We serve a hot lunch to about 80 to 180 people every weekday.”

Ironically, food was not the topic du jour. The real reason Zimmern came was to inspire people to get involved with helping The Salvation Army.

“It’s important for folks like us to show up in places like this and … sprinkle people with a little bit of dignity and respect,” Zimmern told the audience. “Addiction, alcoholism, hunger and homelessness require all of us to pull together on the same team, otherwise we’re not going to solve these issues.”

Getting personal

Zimmern is serious about addiction, hunger and homelessness because the issues are deeply personal to him: He was homeless in New York City for a year, addicted to alcohol and heroin.

“I squatted a building in Lower Manhattan – some of the worst and most awful moments of my life,” he said. “I stole things from people. I’ve been in jail. I’ve been in prison. I have a very serious record.”

That was Zimmern’s life for most of 1991, when he was 30 years old. That Thanksgiving, he ate and slept at a Salvation Army shelter.

“There are people who will come in (to The Salvation Army) as guests who feel hopeless – I know because I was one of them,” Zimmern explained. “I know what it’s like to sleep in a public facility, to have a tray in your hand to try and get a meal.”

Zimmern moved to Minnesota in 1992 and checked into Hazelden Treatment Center. He’s been sober ever since, and now lives in Edina, Minn., with his wife and son.

Inspiring kids

Zimmern also spent time with dozens of kids who attend the Salvation Army’s after-school program. His message to them: practice tolerance.

“Some people think my TV show is about me running around the world and eating weird stuff, but it’s not,” he explained to a classroom full of kids. “Eating weird stuff is something that happens on the show, but what I’m really trying to do is help people practice patience, tolerance, love and understanding. I thought if we can have fun conversations about food, then maybe it would be easier to have conversations about the things we usually end up arguing about.”

In another classroom, Zimmern challenged kids to always have an open mind.

“The next time somebody pushes a vegetable in front of you that you think you don’t like, ask yourself, ‘I don’t know that I don’t like it, do I?’” he told the children.

Partnering for change

Zimmern was inspired to visit because of Ansorge (pictured, right). In November, Zimmern read a news story, via Twitter, about how Ansorge quit his high-paying job at a fancy Minneapolis restaurant to cook hot lunches at The Salvation Army. After seeing that Zimmern had retweeted the story, The Salvation Army invited him to meet Ansorge in person. “Done!” Zimmern tweeted back.

Ansorge was amazed that Zimmern wanted to meet him.

“It’s pretty cool that Andrew has a heart for what we do here,” Ansorge said.

It’d be pretty cool if you joined the fight against hunger and homelessness, too. There’s no better time than right now – it’s Minnesota FoodShare Month, the state’s largest food drive of the year.

Please join us by donating or volunteering.