There was always a practical side to his car purchases. "I have always wanted to do other things and growing up with dough, growing up in New York City, very few people have cars," he says. "We were the exception having cars that we were able to keep in our apartment building. Cars are not a part of the equation. Why would you spend money on a car, you don't use it? It's not something that overly practical young Jewish men decide is the best thing to do. I wanted to travel, I wanted to spend money in restaurants, and I'm not being cutesy there. It's actually how it was. So I decided at an early age I would get a car that I liked and I just kept getting the same one. It's why I went through five models of the Jeep Cherokee. I loved those cars."
He's realizing his son is getting older and he's thinking about what the next car might be. "I'm less concerned about him in the back in a child seat, we now have some family history to look at and say, 'Hey, we can use my wife's car for this and my car for that' and so I'm trying to remain practical but I think the next one is going to be the splurge car."
He is thinking about the BMW 7 Series as the next car. "I'm really worried about myself because I keep having these opportunities to drive fast Italian cars and gosh knows it's a very, very, very powerful drug," he says.
Zimmern's fans might notice he sometimes will incorporate driving on his show and that's intentional. "We go duck hunting and I want to get some big fat-wheeled Jeep that I can slog through the mud with. I seek out driving opportunities wherever I can in my TV show as well. We've had some fun driving moments in 'Bizarre Foods' and some fun driving moments on my Web series. It's a blast. I love driving," he says. "So much so that I speak at a conference and I insist that my wife and I always take separate cars, not for safety or security reasons, but just because I like to turn on the music in my car and zone out and drive."
While Zimmern's shows are all about the food, it's not uncommon for him to bring up cars when they're planning future shows. "I hate to say that everyone is sick and tired of me in production meetings saying, 'What kind of car could I drive there?' but I'm always saying, 'What kind of car could I drive there?'"
Favorite road trip
Zimmern has enjoyed many road trips and there are some he'd like to do one day. "My dream is to do the Peking to Paris race. I'm obsessing from afar about some of these road rally races," he says.
"My favorite road trip probably that I've ever taken is I did the coast of Italy when I was 25 or 26 years old," he says. "We rented a car and started in the northwest side, went all the way around the boot. Down one leg and up the other over the course of the summer."
He also enjoys driving along the California coast, including the drive between L.A. and San Francisco. "Last year my family and I spent four days doing what you could do in a half day, driving from the Mexico border up to Los Angeles, stopping along with my kid doing everything from the San Diego Zoo to Legoland, to spending a couple days at the beach," he says. "It was awesome. We literally started at the border and came up. That was really fun."
He's looking forward to taking his family on a road trip that he did many years ago. "At the beginning of next summer we're going to do a trip that I did as a youngster and my wife did a couple of times, which is Minneapolis through South Dakota and the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and up into Yellowstone. I'm really, really excited about that," he says. "I did it as part of one of those camp troupe trip things. If I remember correctly, they put us all on a bus outside of Chicago."
Fans of his show might recall the time he went to Mongolia. The trip required a lot of driving. "I'll tell you what's really exciting, I got to do this in the show, one of the best road trips I've ever taken was across Mongolia," Zimmern says, in a way that makes you feel like he's about to let you in on a secret. "We probably covered 1,400 miles in a Jeep convoy across the steppes -- they don't call it a prairie. No roads -- well, limited roads."
A lot of the time they were driving across the Mongolian prairie. "That's a blast," he says. "Other than some really bad meals. You're sleeping in tents with tiny little stoves powered by animal dung. It's not for the faint of heart. Sadly, I wish we chronicled more of the actual traveling, but we don't. Some of the best footage that is on our cutting room floor is of traveling across the steppe on our Mongolia show. It's great because you can put a camera on a hill and drive a bunch of cars with those big roostertails of dust across the steppe. It's the iconic 'look at me traveling' shot."
"Bizarre Foods America" on Travel Channel
"Bizarre Foods America" is the spin-off of "Bizarre Foods" and Zimmern shows that you don't have to cross an ocean to find bizarre foods. The current season ends Sept. 2 with Zimmern going to Houston. There will be reruns until a new season picks up again in November.
"The great thing about having a successful heritage series that has a legion of loyal fans and is growing every year, which I'm extremely grateful about, is that we know how to tell great stories," he says.
"I think what some of the biggest surprises of the season, my favorite episode is probably our Queens, New York, episode because I don't think people understand how and complete and perfect an ethnic eating experience Queens represents, with over a hundred ethnic communities there," he continues. "It really is a pretty brilliant place. And the food there is second to none. Manhattan gets all the love and attention, Brooklyn gets all the hipster rage, but if you're looking for the ultimate food experience, Queens, New York, is where it's at. I had family there. I had family all over the city except Staten Island and my mother lived in Astoria for the last years of her life."
One interesting place he found in Queens was a restaurant that featured dishes from Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
When he spoke to us, Zimmern was in the middle of shooting the new season. "The season that we're shooting now which starts airing in November, we go back out overseas as well," he says.