How Andrew Zimmern Is Inspiring Stories Of Positive Change In The Culinary Industry

Andrew ZimmernPhoto Credit: Sterling Munksgard :

The Culinary Institute of America at Copia (“The CIA at Copia”) in Napa is the center of the food world – on any given day you don’t know which famed chefs will be stopping by. The nearly 80,000 square foot marvel offers hundreds of classes, dining experiences and programs, including their famed cooking boot camps and even a 3D dining experience. Copia’s mission is to help people better understand food – how to enjoy it, master it and make conscious choices.

In following with this mission, the CIA at Copia is collaborating with iconic chef Andrew Zimmern to launch Conversations at Copia, a live series open to the public that brings together disruptors from the world of food to share their stories of positive change. We caught up with Zimmern in advance of an All-Star December 7th “Conversation” panel in Napa, which includes superstar chefs Traci Des Jardins, Kwame Onwuachi, Alycia Harshfield, Brandon Chrostowski and Angela Dunleavy-Stowell, to discuss the changes the four-time James Beard Award winner sees in the culinary industry, which American city is having a true culinary moment, as well as what he’s got cooking for 2020.

Chefs Michel Nischan; Daniel Giusti, CIA class of 2004; Andrew Zimmern; Matt Jozwiak; and Chris Cosentino pose for a photo at The CIA at Copia in Napa, Calif.

Photo Credit: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for The CIA at Copia

Tell us about Conversations At Copia, the new event series in conjunction with the Culinary Institute Of America, that you’re curating.

My feeling was, going back, many many years, that real conversations – serious conversations about issues that had no right or wrong, but were about moving human beings forward – were not being had. Especially in the restaurant and food world. I can’t think of another industry that got the crap kicked out of it, and rightfully so, so much in the last 15 years, especially in the last three or four. We still have a lot of work to do, but it has moved quickly to address all this stuff. I approached a lot of entities to have this conversation and the CIA was the first one to embrace this. So we established a scholarship fund and series of conversations at CIA Copia Napa. We are specifically discussing how food inspires positive change as well, because I think within damaged systems food can kickstart start that positive change.

You’re specifically discussing how food inspires positive change with prominent folks in the culinary world. Do you have a story of your own you can share?

I recently got a book of Gulf seafood by my friend PJ Stoops. PJ and his wife were selling fish and were taking bycatch (stuff that otherwise would be thrown away) and selling it to the top chefs in the Houston Area. They created a recipe for wellness. They were doing the dock to dish movement way before anybody else was. I met them 8 years ago, and they just published the cookbook based on the recipes that his wife created with the fish that he was selling. So when a boat goes out and pulls in 10,000 pounds of red snapper, there’s around 400 pound worth of bycatch associated with it that PJ would sell. And some of them were fish that chefs did not know how to cook, like sea robins for example. And now, none of that food is wasted, jobs have been created at his company because of how well the book is doing. It’s an incredible thing how one couple with a small idea can change the way thousands of people think. There’s that old thing about that guy that walks down the beach and sees thousands of starfish and there’s a guy throwing them back into the water, and he says “you can’t possibly save them all” and the guy holds up the one in his hand and says “it matters to this starfish”. I think we’ve got a lot of people saying “hey, it matters to this starfish”. You save one starfish, you end up saving a lot more.

What’s the most impactful story of change you’ve heard thus far?

The most impactful story of change I’ve heard so far is what Dan Giusti is doing with Brigaid in the Tri-state area, re-making the way our children are eating at schools. Everywhere that our dollar intersects with food, the people who eat it don’t feel the warm hug that traditional food gives. Jails, institutions, hospitals, centers, public schools. Dan left the executive chef position at Noma to change the way school kids eat here in America.

What are the most important steps we can take to implementing positive change in the food industry?

We can vote without dollars, support people who know where their food is from. We need to stop eating every single meal for pleasure and eat a couple of meals a week that are not for pleasure to reduce our physical drag in the world. We need to eat less meat. Trying to be vegetarian for the whole day before dinner, it lowers the impact we have on a lot of factory farming in this country. Recycle better. Waste less. Cook at home more often.

Andrew Zimmern
Chefs Michel Nischan; Daniel Giusti, CIA class of 2004; Andrew Zimmern; Matt Jozwiak; and Chris Cosentino speak onstage at The CIA at Copia

Photo Credit: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for The CIA at Copia

Which city is having a tremendous culinary moment, in your opinion, and what are your favorite restaurants in this city?

Minneapolis is the fastest rising hottest food city in America. It has been for years. Polita, Yee High, Lat 41, Deni, Spoon and Stable, I can name another hundred restaurants. Our city I think is the one.

Who were your culinary mentors?

The easy answer is my grandmother and the second easiest answer is the handful of chef that I first worked with. I was lucky to have worked in Arcadia with Ann Rose, Ian Isaac, Thomas Keller at Raquel. So blessed. The people in this world that mentored me from a culinary standpoint I think are the principled people who stuck to their guns and demonstrated through example the type of life I would like to live. For example, my friend Jen who runs The Giving Kitchen, and David Miliband at IRC (International Rescue Committee).

Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

Working on a book deal. In 2020, I have two tv shows that are coming out and I can’t talk about. One is on MSNBC and debuts in Q1 in 2020.

What to you is the greatest luxury in life?

Time. Time is the only thing that money can’t buy and we can’t more of it back. How you spend your time and what you choose to do with it defines who you are. I think if you have extra time that is the greatest luxury in life.