Last week, just before the opening of his new Chinese restaurant, Lucky Cricket, TV host and food entrepreneur Andrew Zimmern really stepped in it. And by "it" we mean a pile of "horseshit," which is what he called most Chinese restaurants in America in an interview with Fast Company. This week, he's attempting to clean up his mess with a Facebook apology.
"I think I’m saving the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horseshit restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest," Zimmern said in a video interview with Fast Company at the Minnesota State Fair. In answering whether he, a white man, was the right person to bring what he deems more "authentic" Chinese cooking to Middle America, he also wound up dismissing P.F. Chang's founder Philip Chiang as a "rich, American kid on the inside" who is ripping off Chinese cooking more than Zimmern himself is.
These statements understandably angered many, particularly Asian Americans who noted that in criticizing Chinese American restaurants, he was ignoring the history of oppression of Chinese Americans, the fact that restaurants were their only path to survival in this country, and the necessity they saw in making their cuisine palatable to others.
"Must be nice to be a white dude chef who clearly knows nothing about the history of Chinese food in America, including the political, xenophobic, and economic factors that led to these 'horseshit' restaurants in the first place," tweeted Nicole Zhu.
Comedian Jenny Yang, who regularly pokes fun at culinary cultural appropriation on her YouTube show Bad Appetite, pointed out another problem in Zimmern's approach to the topic.
Andrew Zimmern justifies his entire business plan by talking shit about the very Asian and immigrant restaurants that gave him his ENTIRE FUCKING CAREER.— Jenny Yang 👲🏼👲🏼👲🏼 (@jennyyangtv) November 21, 2018
And now you have the audacity to say that they’re not doing Chinese food right for the Midwest? F to the fuck to the U.
"'Get lucky' is your slogan??? You think it’s fun or funny to tell Midwesterners that going to your chain Chinese restaurant will be like getting laid? And you will profit off this?" she asked.
While Zimmern didn't respond to the "get lucky" complaint, the apology issued on Monday did cover other offenses.
"Food should be for everyone, and yet culturally there is a terrible and centuries old history of white people profiting off of other cultures, in food, music, and elsewhere," he wrote in a post published on Facebook. "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."
Confusingly, Zimmern seems to comprehend exactly why what he said was wrong, and he had even begun his Fast Company interview with a criticism of Bizarre Foods, the show that made him famous: "There was a lot of cultural insensitivity," he said of the first seasons of the Travel Channel series. "There were a lot of missed opportunities. There was a lot of playing somebody else's serious cultural totems [that are] dear to them for laughs."
He also explained in his Facebook apology that his "horseshit" comment was not meant for all Chinese American restaurants. "I would never cast aspersions on independent owner operated Chinese American food or restaurants," he wrote. "I was commenting on the commodification [sic] of Chinese and Chinese American cuisine and cultures in venues such as airports and some malls where I feel the food could be a lot better."
Lucky Cricket is in a mall, by the way, and Zimmern says he hopes to turn it into a huge chain. So, he's certainly not backing down on his assertion that he has as much right as anyone else to serve Chinese cuisine to America. That doesn't sit right with Eater's Hillary Dixon Canavan, who pointed out one more problem that has less to do with cultural sensitivity than with something even more treacherous, money.
"[T]his isn’t just about spreading ideas," she wrote, "it’s about building a business — a 'big marketing idea,' for Zimmern, not for the Chinese cooks he so admires."