Andrew Zimmern is the three-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef, writer, and teacher we all know and love — but we never before knew that he was almost lost at sea! It seems his endless travels to exciting and off-the-beaten-path destinations occasionally get him into dangerous situations, like that one time.
"Traveling in the Pacific Islands from Apia, Samoa to an uninhabited island 10 miles off the coast to go bat hunting [to cook and eat], I found myself negotiating a lift from some local boat owners at a small rural dock in a tranquil bay," Zimmern told Jet Set exclusively. "I offered $200 per boat, round trip, which to me seemed like a steal. Little did I know that neither boat owner — I needed two for all the crew and gear — had ever made the crossing." Sounds like a recipe for disaster already, doesn't it? It gets worse.
"I didn’t know the waters we were crossing were deep, deep fast moving water in heaving 20-foot seas. I [also] didn’t know the boats weren’t sea worthy and that the reason the boat captains agreed to the deal was that I had just given them more money than they had ever seen before. Half-way across, engines failing, boats taking on water, no life jackets or radios, I realized that I was the stupidest person on earth and came to believe that we were going to die," he said.
"We scrounged for anything that floated, preparing to have to go in to the water as the boat broke apart. All we heard was the whine of the engines every time the propellers lifted out of the water, biting air as the waves tossed and turned the vessels that were little more than rafts with sidewalls. One of the English-speaking deck hands mentioned that if the sharks didn’t eat us, we would drift for a thousand miles in these deep waters before even seeing land. One of my producers started humming the theme to Gilligan’s Island. I told him if he uttered another bar I would throw him over myself," Zimmern recalls of the gallows-humor moment he didn't find very funny.
"At our most despairing moment, the captain finally managed to get the boats turned across the current, allowing the propellers to get traction — and somehow we made it to the bay on the uninhabited island, jumping off into neck-deep water and carrying our gear ashore. One of the boats broke apart on the rocks and the other was lost before it was tied up properly," he said. Woah.
So how is it that Zimmern is even still with us? "The hunting party we were meeting out there arrived hours later," he said. "We hunted, we ate, and we left with them."
We're obviously grateful Zimmern and his crew survived, because we'd be left without access to his new show, Andrew Zimmern's Driven by Food, had he not made it ashore. The new show focuses on local drivers setting the food itinerary for the eat-anything chef, including cabbies in Kashmir and a gondolier in Venice — because what else?
Even though he's most commonly found on TV eating pickled turtles and weird, skinned animals we can hardly identify, he was proud to share that his wife's roast chicken is the meal he craves most, and that if his travels have taught him anything, it's that, "We are all the same underneath all of the bulls--t. We worry about the same things, we love the same way, and people are people wherever you go."
Keeping up with one of the world's most frequent travelers isn't an easy game though, and he regrets not thoroughly visiting some particularly bold culinary scenes more often.
"I’ve only been to China a dozen times, and I could go another hundred. Same with Russia," shares the man who has clearly been to China enough times to eat a sweet, soft shell turtle. "These are big places with dozens of cultures and sub-cultures to be explored. I also haven’t been to Poland, or several Baltic countries, and I want to go to Azerbaijan." Us too.
He does, however, have a few dreams for the future of travel in general. He wants everyone with an adventurous spirit to drag their couch-dwelling friend along for their next ride because, "most Americans don't understand how the world works." And he dreams that all his future flights have a seat open next to him, because: "I like to travel alone and with an empty seat next to me — it’s the only peace I ever get."
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