Andrew Zimmern can be hard to reach, and this time is no exception. It’s taken several weeks to connect. Between jet-setting jaunts and traveling back to his home base in Minnesota, the Travel Channel star best known as the host of “Bizarre Foods” has been working on a new show, “The Zimmern List,” that features his “cult classic” personal favorites from the 170 countries he’s visited.
Regardless of where he is in the world, the four-time James Beard Award-winning chef, TV personality, writer and teacher is nothing short of prolific. Somehow in the middle of it all, he still makes time to play disc golf about 40 times per year. He has a strong opinion on where he likes to go and whom he spends his time with on a course—just like his food choices. “Everyone I play with is very competitive,” says Zimmern. “I don’t like people who aren’t competitive and ambitious.”
He’s not alone in his love of disc golf. According to the Professional Disc Golf Association, the number of courses has skyrocketed in the past few years. With 7,521 disc golf courses in world in 2017—nearly triple the number from a decade ago—with the overwhelming majority, 5,863 courses, located in the U.S. We caught up with Zimmern to discuss his love of disc golf—and learn where he suggests playing—as well as his advice on travel and food.
Why do you love playing disc golf so much?
It’s yoga for me. I play alone half the time, walking 18 or 27 holes. Focusing on the game takes me away from everything else. I love sharing the course with my friends where I bounce between the competitive need to crush them and the fun I have [joking] with them.
You’ve been very open about being homeless in New York City in 1991 after being an addict and alcoholic for more than a decade. What was the turning point for you?
I finally didn’t want to give up and die. During the last seven years I was using, I didn’t care about anything other than getting high. Everything else was secondary. One day, trying to drink myself to death, I realized it wasn’t working, had a moment of divine inspiration and called a friend to help me.
How did disc golf play a role in overcoming your addiction, and what advice can you give to others who are dealing with addiction?
I needed a hobby I could do with friends, and we were all broke. I was living in a halfway house 26 years ago and picked up the game from one of my best friends. It’s amazing what a seemingly small step could grow into so many years later.
What are your favorite and/or signature disc golf shots?
My signature golf shot is my hyzer putt that never goes in. Other favorites are my 300-foot drive that lands on another hole’s fairway, and my approach shot that somehow always manages to hit right by the pipe and slides just out of putter range.
What’s the biggest misconception about disc golf?
That it’s not a sport, not technically complex and only played by vagrants and hobos. It’s the fastest-growing sport in America for God’s sake, and requires phenomenal skill and focus.
How many discs do you travel with, and which discs are your favorite?
I have a small eight-disc bag for travel. Two Aviars for putting, my Sidewinder [a fast-distance driver], a Katana [a high-speed distance driver], a Pro Beast [a wide-rimmed disc driver], a 20-year-old Flathead Cyclone, my Tern [for long shaping throws] and an old Shark. That being said, I probably have 500 discs in my closet at home.
What advice do you have for business travelers using technology to find the best food?
All you need is your phone. People just don’t use it right. If you want to find the best under-the-radar food places, you need to follow the people on social media who are the tip of the spear in that regard. I also love throwing out a question on social: “Hey, I’m in Kansas City. Where is the best plate of ribs?” and see what I get back and from who.
What food and travel trends are making their way up?
We are in the midst of a vegetable renaissance that will only get bigger. And for travel, thank God people are finally discovering Africa.
How do you try to interpret culture through food, and what do you think is key to doing it well and being a great storyteller?
I don’t try. I think it’s the only way. You can look in a museum, but that’s potentially boring and all about dead people. Everything is about the story. Without a story you have all the other crappy shows in my genre. Food is history. You can look at a bowl of stew and tell the story of a people from the ingredients and techniques if you have all the frames of reference. It’s easy, but not simple.
Studying food, history, anthropology and sociology for 38 years helps to connect the dots. I love telling stories. Food is good. Food with a story is better. Food with a story you haven’t heard before is better than that, and food with a story you haven’t heard before that you can relate to is best of all. I try for that every day.