Quick Stats: Andrew Zimmern, chef/host of "Bizarre Foods America"
Daily Driver: 2011 BMW 535i (Andrew's rating: 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Favorite road trip: The coast of Italy
Car he learned to drive in: Pontiac convertible
First car bought: 1957 Postal Jeep
With his gift for storytelling and the ability to eat anything, no matter how strange, it's no wonder that chef and three-time James Beard Award-winning TV host Andrew Zimmern has some of the most popular shows on Travel Channel, including "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern," in which he travels all over the world, and the domestic spin-off "Bizarre Foods America."
Zimmern speaks of his cars and road trips with the same eloquence and enthusiasm as when he's talking about food. His daily driver is the 2011 BMW 535i xDrive, which he gives a 9.5 rating. "My relationship with my car is very personal. I love it," he says via phone from Minneapolis (from the car) "It's the perfect car for me. It's a great sedan. It looks good when I'm driving with my lovely wife (Rishia). It's actually a great family car. And in terms of get up and go when I need it to get up and go, I've never been able to say that it didn't."
Zimmern contemplated buying one of the 7 Series cars. "My wife said, 'That's just too much car for you.' While I love my current car, the next one I'm going to go up a notch. I love my car. I'm just going to get a 7 Series next year only because I want a little bit more interior capsule room and I want a little bit more get up and go," he says. "The get-up-and-go factor is pretty profound with me and I don't think it's because I'm having a midlife crisis, but I've had the opportunity to take a whole bunch of cars out on the open road and tracks recently, and got a chance to drive a couple of Lamborghinis and it ignites the 12-year-old child inside of me that just wants to go fast."
He had the chance to drive the Lamborghinis at this year's Food and Wine Classic in Aspen. "It was just awesome. Lamborghini brings down a whole bunch of the cars and lets some of us drive them, so I got a chance to take a beautiful brand-new Lamborghini out and drive it up towards Independence Pass. It was great," he says. "I got it up to about 130 miles an hour before I went by a police officer and I reminded myself that even though the road was empty, I was technically breaking the law. It's fun boys with toys. Some of the companies I think are very smart. They realize there's some tastemakers who were there and it's probably in their best interest to let some of us take out some vehicles."
Although he did post about it online, Zimmern did it subtly, he said, since he has a philosophy about using social media.
"Here's the difference: If people see the folks that come into their bedroom on the little magic box doing too much of that 'Hey look at me!' I think it's the downfall of social media," he says. "It's just not my personal thing that I like to Tweet about the most, but I had to shout out a big 'thank you' for the guys at Lamborghini for hooking me up with that. It was just such a treat. I had never driven one before."
The Zimmern family also owns a BMW X5. It's his wife's car, although Zimmern drives it all the time. He likes BMW's Hill Descent Control. "I'm particularly in love with that because we live in a very hilly neighborhood with a lot of ice," he says. "I love it, and it's a great snow car. I live in Minnesota, so that's the car I drive up to the cabin. I take it on my hunting trips. It's a wonderful family vehicle. We adore it."
Car he learned to drive in
Zimmern learned to drive in 1976 in his dad's Pontiac convertible. "I believe it was a Firebird. It was several years old. It wasn't a low-mileage late model. The car at the time was kind of long, and the car that I learned on in Driver's Ed was a stouter sedan. I'm assuming it was one of the first modern-day Ford or Chrysler sedans, whatever the local driving school was teaching kids on."
The difference in the two cars cost him when it came to his driving test in his dad's car. "I think like most kids, I blew it on my parallel parking because of the length of the nose of the car. If I remember correctly, that model in that year had a short rear end and a long front end, and I remember failing it. All I had to do was park and be successful and I was not, and I remember begging the guy to give me a chance and getting one and passing."
Zimmern got his learner's permit in East Hampton, Long Island, where he mostly learned to drive. "I grew up in New York City, but we had our summer home there," he says. "I'm born on the Fourth of July. I had done Driver's Ed in the city, and the first opportunity to get my license was during the summer at our house. Learning to drive in New York City would have been an absolute disaster. You learn how to sit in traffic and stop and start."
But he got hooked on cars a few years before that when he went to Italy for the first time with his dad, who was in the advertising industry. His dad's colleague took Zimmern and his best friend, both 12 at the time, for a ride in a Ferrari.
"We sat side by side in the passenger seat of his Ferrari Spider and he drove us from Milan up into the hills to a town called Bergamo. Short drive. I think it took us a half hour," he recounts. "Took us to a restaurant for dinner and I had never been in a car like that and it started a love affair for me."
First car bought
"The first car that I bought was a 1957 postal van with sliding doors and the wheel on the right-hand side, English style. It was painted grey. I still have the postal key ring on my current car's key set from that car," Zimmern says proudly. "It cost me $100. It didn't go over 35 mph. Going across bridges, if it was a windy day, the car would literally move sideways. Those two-door little postal Jeeps are not designed for anything other than puttering around neighborhoods delivering mail, but that was my first car."
Zimmern bought that when he moved to Minneapolis. "Growing up in New York, we had a family car that was in the garage that I could use and I had friends with cars. When I was up at college, all my roommates had cars. There never was a need for me to get a car and I didn't see it like a lot of other kids see it -- it wasn't a ticket to freedom for me."
Wen he lived in New York City, his parents had cars available to him, which was a luxury for any city dweller. And since they were in the city, the family cars weren't driven much.
"When I moved to Minnesota, I hadn't been here more than a couple weeks before I had to buy a car because there was no other way to get around,' he says. "I was 30 years old, I had just moved here, I had cratered my life in New York and had come out here and was working in a restaurant in St. Paul and needed a car. And it was the only one I could afford. It was great."
He graduated to an old Ford Bronco after the postal Jeep. "Then I went to a really old Jeep Wagoneer, the kind with the sofa seats in the front, not buckets, and the fake wood side," he says. "That old Grand Wagoneer. That car went through snow like it was nobody's business."
He then went through several Jeep Grand Cherokees. "I went through my Grand Cherokee phase and I got rid of my last Grand Cherokee about three years ago and we swapped over to BMWs."
For years he would keep getting new Jeeps, until one cold day finally made him consider buying another car. "During the wintertime, the Grand Cherokees were cold on the passenger side and every winter my wife would say to me, 'When are we going to get a car that actually heats when it says it's going to heat?' It was one of those things we always laughed about, and at one point we just looked at each other and said, 'We have the house in 'burbs, we have the 1.5 kids, the cat, the dog. Let's get a sedan and a family car and switch it up.'"
With "Bizarre Foods," "Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre World" and now "Bizarre Foods America," he's become a popular TV personality, yet Zimmern still hasn't gotten a splurge car.
"The splurge car for me is the next one. And I don't mean that in the philosophical sense, like I'm never going to do it -- there's always a splurge car out there in front of me," he says.