Andrew Zimmern of 'Bizarre Foods' talks success and rocky beginnings

- It is a dream job. It takes Andrew Zimmern all over the world, eating unusual food from eels in Amsterdam to rotten shark in Iceland to lutefisk in Minnesota.

His adventures are played out on his popular TV show Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel and he has some pretty good lessons on life and how to find success.

"This is the world's worst-looking office, which is mine," said Zimmern.

The office is in a small strip mall in the metro. While he clearly finds time to laugh, he is an idea machine and the engine is always running.

"I'm making bread, I'm yeast, I'm an agitator and I believe agitation is a crucial element of creating good works," said Zimmern. "If you take a dream and you put a deadline on it, it becomes a plan. And a plan has action items."

His start on the Travel Channel 10 years ago is the result of a well-thought out plan, but gift-wrapped in his goofiness.

“They wanted to make a show about how people see the show today, fat dumb white guy runs around the world eats bugs,” said Zimmern. "I knew if I got the chance, I would hit a home run."

The show is really about how food brings people together.

"I want them to pay attention to the people and their stories," he said. “I want them to look at that, get them to do that by dangling the bright shiny object of the food." 

Zimmern's own journey was a pretty rough one.

"I was a homeless drifter on the streets of New York sleeping in abandoned buildings for a year,” he said. “Taking food from the Salvation Army - mostly stealing it. I started drinking and drugging when I was 14 and didn't stop until I was 30."

But now, he’s been sober for more than 24 years. He came to Minnesota for treatment and never left.  He started restaurants and began doing cooking segments on local TV and was a regular on FOX9 during the morning news.

“It's amazing to think from that it kind of started," said Zimmern.

It was in local TV that he learned the art of ad-lib and problem solving, especially one fall morning at Severs Corn Maze when nothing went right.

"There was rain and sleet storm.  Van 1 didn't make it, cheerleaders didn't make it, the talking goose didn't make it...there I am and I ask, 'can we go home?' Figure out the six things you're going to do and I'm alone in the dark at a corn maze," he said.

And even back then, he knew he wanted to do a show and every step was a deliberate step to accomplish that. FOX9 asked Zimmern how Minnesota helped him get to his position today. His answer? The friction.

"The friction helps me. I'm very uncomfortable here a lot of the time.  I ask my mother-in-law, ‘Am I a Minnesotan?’ She says ‘No, you swear too much, you're way too caustic.’"

And it's the best recipe for this New York transplant.

"That little bit of friction is very good for me from a creative standpoint," he said. "I'm really great when I'm in a room of people where I walk in and I think every day they don't believe me. I have to convince them of something I have to sell them on something," Zimmern said.

And he does. The day we were there, this group was brainstorming about future shows.  Bizarre Foods is entering its 10th season and his new show, Driven by Food, starts in August.

His advice for people who want to make it? Show up and book your plan.

"I believe everyone has a superpower and figuring out your own unique ability is crucial to anyone looking to get in that space, especially people who want to be makers,” said Zimmern.

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