Celebrity chef An­drew Zim­mern puts his foot in his mouth

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Chang Jun Con­tact the writer at [email protected]­nadai­lyusa.com

Never un­der­es­ti­mate the wrath of your tar­get au­di­ence. Study cul­tural sub­tleties and learn to truly ap­pre­ci­ate their im­plied mean­ings, oth­er­wise, it could lead to a mar­ket­ing night­mare and brand­ing catas­tro­phe.

This is prob­a­bly the most re­cent hard-learned les­son for An­drew Zim­mern, the Amer­i­can TV host who has be­come a fa­mil­iar name among Chi­nese gourmets with his “Bizarre Foods” show.

On Nov 20, Zim­mern an­nounced that his new restau­rant, the Lucky Cricket, was open­ing in St Louis Park, Min­nesota. The restau­rant fea­tures a fu­sion menu of­fer­ing Mid­west­ern­ers the cuisines of Sichuan, Xi’an and Hong Kong, he said.

Dishes in­clude spicy tooth­pick lamb and dan­dan noo­dles from Sichuan, chicken-and-waf­fles and dim sum from Hong Kong, Shang­hai-style fried chicken and hand-pulled noo­dles from Xi’an.

“My life’s work has al­ways been about ex­pos­ing peo­ple to dif­fer­ent cul­tures through food, so my goal with Lucky Cricket is to take guests on a jour­ney and show­case the au­then­tic fla­vors of the Chi­nese foods that I love,” he crowed in a press re­lease.

Re­gret­tably, on the same day, Fast Com­pany re­leased an in­ter­view filmed last sum­mer at the Min­nesota State Fair in which Zim­mern said: “I think I’m sav­ing the souls of all the peo­ple from hav­ing to dine at th­ese horse (ma­nure) restau­rants mas­querad­ing as Chi­nese food that are in the Mid­west.”

In the same in­ter­view he also dis­cred­ited the co-founder of P.F. Chang Bistro, a longestab­lished Asian-themed Amer­i­can restau­rant chain that was founded in 1993 and is head­quar­tered in Scotts­dale, Ari­zona.

Zim­mern mocked Philip Chi­ang by sug­gest­ing he short-changed his mother, Ce­cilia Chi­ang, by cre­at­ing the P.F. Chang brand.

“I mean, was P. F. Chang’s not a rip-off be­cause Ce­cilia Chi­ang’s kid owned it?” Zim­mern says on tape. “Be­cause de­spite how he looks on the out­side, he’s a rich Amer­i­can kid on the in­side, right?”

Many view­ers found Zim­mern’s re­marks con­tro­ver­sial, of­fen­sive and self-con­tra­dic­tory.

Even though he has claimed that “you don’t need to be from a cer­tain place to make a cer­tain food”, and given his job is trav­el­ling the world over in search of culi­nary di­ver­sity, Zim­mern failed to de­mon­strate the same open mind­ed­ness, cul­tural ac­com­mo­da­tion and will­ing­ness to ac­cept and em­brace th­ese es­tab­lished cuisines.

His pick­ing on P.F. Chang and his wise­cracks about Chi­nese restau­rants in the Mid­west ex­pose just how ar­ro­gant and ig­no­rant he re­ally is.

I strongly echo what Hil­lary Cana­van wrote in Eater, that Zim­mern’s in­ten­tion of “‘trans­lat­ing’ on be­half of the pre­sum­ably white au­di­ence — the idea that Amer­i­can din­ers need to have some­thing un­fa­mil­iar ‘made more palat­able’ to get them to the ta­ble — has shades of a strange, in­creas­ingly out­dated form of cul­tural elitism.”

Zim­mern needs to un­der­stand the say­ing: “One gen­er­a­tion plants the trees in whose shade an­other gen­er­a­tion rests.” It is through decades of hard work in those Mid­west­ern “horse (ma­nure) restau­rants”, as Zim­mern calls them, that even­tu­ally later gen­er­a­tions like Zim­mern could carry Chi­nese cui­sine for­ward in Amer­ica.

Fol­low­ing the criticism and pub­lic out­cry, Zim­mern wrote an apol­ogy in the Star Tri­bune, ad­mit­ting that his re­marks sounded “ar­ro­gant and pa­tron­iz­ing.”

“Let me start by say­ing most im­por­tantly how aw­ful I feel and how sorry I am for my re­cent re­marks,” he wrote.

“The up­set that is felt in the Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity is rea­son­able, le­git­i­mate and un­der­stand­able, and I re­gret that I have been the one to cause it.…

“I would never cast as­per­sions on in­de­pen­dent owned and op­er­ated Chi­nese-Amer­i­can food or restau­rants… I have done dozens of pro­files and sto­ries on the joys of eat­ing in those restau­rants. I be­lieve in them, and I sup­port them.”

Good luck, Mr. Zim­mern. Maybe in the end, it’s ta­ble man­ners that mat­ter most.

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