Usually when you see Andrew Zimmern hosting one of his globe-trotting TV shows, it’s all about the food.
Robert Zimmern, who died in 2015 at the age of 89, lived the last 10 years of his life near Portland’s Back Cove. The younger Zimmern came often to visit his father and his father’s husband, the painter Andre Laporte. Both were fans of good food and helped Zimmern discover the wonders of Portland’s food landscape.
“Before my father moved there the only restaurant I’d been to was Fore Street. But when they lived there it was like having an advance team for the show, finding all the best places for me,” said Zimmern.
The episode will air Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on Travel Channel. The new series focuses on Zimmern’s favorite food cities and favorite foods. He said Monday that Portland is “one of the places I consider home,” along with Minneapolis, where he lives full time, and New York, where he grew up and where his career as a chef took off. He also attended summer camp in Raymond as a youngster and says he continues to visit Maine at least a couple of times a year. When in Maine, he likes sailing, exploring beaches and taking drives through the mountains.
Zimmern is probably best known for his long-running Travel Channel show “Bizarre Foods,” where he introduces viewers to delicacies like buffalo heart or ant eggs. That show has been on since 2006. He says he was introduced to the pleasures of exotic food and travel by his father, who worked in advertising and took his son all over the world with him. “The Zimmern List” made its debut March 13.
For the episode airing Tuesday, Zimmern visited Maine last summer and spent a few days chowing on his favorite local foods. He grabbed a box of doughnuts at The Holy Donut in the Old Port, munched fries at Duckfat and also visited Miyake and Fore Street. He grabbed a whoopie pie at Two Fat Cats Bakery, but says he thinks that scene was cut from the episode because of time constraints.
He also ventured outside of Portland for lobster, at Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown and Red’s Eats in Wiscasset.
He also filmed at Standard Baking Co. on Commercial St., a spot he’d visit daily when he was in town to see his father and stepfather. Zimmern said his stepfather was particularly fond of baguettes. Every day, no matter what he got for himself, Zimmern always bought two baguettes. During the filming, he talked about the breakfast treats he loves at Standard Baking Co., bought some and began walking out the door. When he got near the camera he realized he had also bought two baguettes, out of habit.
“I just started crying,” said Zimmern. “I was buying bread for people who were no longer living.”
His stepfather died less than a year before his father did, Zimmern said.
Zimmern also does business in Maine. He has worked with Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants in Litchfield to create spice blends for his online shop, inspired by places he’s traveled.
While in Portland, Zimmern was impressed with how much the food scene has grown since he started coming here to visit his father, around 2005. At Duckfat, he asked lots of questions about the local cream, eggs, hogs and potatoes used to create the menu.
“It’s interesting that in a state so known for lobster, there are also some of the best cheesemakers and farmers,” said Zimmern.
A couple of weeks before his father died, Zimmern took him out to eat at Back Bay Grill. Robert Zimmern, who at that point was in a wheelchair and didn’t get out much, had been a regular there and considered it his neighborhood spot for great food. When they sat down, Zimmern’s father asked to say hello to the general manager, but he was off. Later in the meal, the general manager, called at home by staff, showed up to say hello and chat with his longtime loyal customer.
“That reminded me that it’s the people that make a restaurant special,” said Zimmern. “I keep going back to Maine because I love the people and because of the way the place makes me feel. And the fact that the food is spectacular.”
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: