Podcast notes — The Tim Ferriss Show Ep 40: Andrew Zimmern on Simple Cooking Tricks, Developing TV, and Addiction


As a foodie and a fan of the Tim Ferriss Show, I was very excited when he interviewed accomplished chef Andrew Zimmern. I listened to this podcast in the car and when I got home I went to the show notes to follow up on a few things. I found the show notes to be more like an advertisement for the podcast episode and I had to re-listen to find out who makes that famous roast chicken that they talked about. There were so many gems in this podcast that I decided to take notes for a couple of reasons. Firstly, without reviewing something you tend to forget it pretty quickly, and secondly, I’m hoping to set the standard for future show notes on the Tim Ferriss Show. If you agree that this is how they should be, then send Ferriss a quick tweet.


The main takeaways from this podcast from a foodie’s perspective start at about 19 minutes in. Zimmern cites chilli, shallots and lemon as his top 3 cooking ingredients. His reasons were that they are very versatile and can alter the foods they are cooked with. I have a feeling that these three ingredients require a deep understanding if one is to take full advantage of them. An example of a great use of seasoning is Jonathan Waxman’s Roast Chicken.

They also touch on kitchen organisation and knife skills. Andrew suggests spending 10 minutes a day practicing knife skills. He elaborates on this idea in an episode of his own podcast, advising listeners to buy a bag of carrots, spend 10 minutes a day chopping them into various forms and putting the chopped carrot in the freezer. At the end of the week, use the chopped carrot to make a soup.

They talk about what makes a good recipe – things like being exacting with pan size. Magazines usually tend to have quite reliable recipes. Andrew also mentions that sometimes recipes are too exacting which causes wasted time. They don’t elaborate too much on this and I have a feeling that it comes down to an understanding of the individual ingredients and their purpose in the dish.

Andrew Zimmern mini bio

World class chef & food writer
TV host and producer – “bizarre foods” & “dining with death”
Received the James Beard Foundation Award 2010 & 2013
Successfully recovered from drug and alcohol addiction

Notes from the podcast

Tim Ferriss’s contributions are bolded.

[9:20] When you were starting to conceive Bizarre Foods, what shows did you look to for inspiration, or look to pull elements from? What were the models that you had in mind?

  • Great Chefs of Europe for the intensity, attention to detail, and focus on food.
  • The intelligence of Michael Palin.
  • The cliché of the old school, late 80s, Rick Steves style was to be avoided.
  • Ensure that the content of the show was within Andrew’s unique ability to deliver. Less like Rick Steves, and more of a docufollow type show.
  • Andrew wanted to talk about patience, tolerance, and understanding in the world.
    • No one would have invested into a show that was pitched as humanitarian, but diverged into travel / food.
    • The show was sold as a food show with a hook – stories from the fringe.
  • [13:33] The most important thing is to be you and not your interactor, be yourself and keep it within your area of expertise. How episode 1 is, is how you’re going to have to be.
  • You define the direction of the show from the very first minute of the very first episode.

[19:00] If you had to choose 3 herbs or spices to cook with for the next year, what would they be?

  • Hot chilli, shallots, lemon.
  • Chilli, a form citrus, and an Allium (brown onions, red onions, shallots, etc) give a great variety of possibilities.
  • In research for the 4 Hour-Chef, Tim came across the idea of using lemon like most people use salt – as a seasoning.
    • Both salt and lemon are acids. Alliums and chillies are high in acid. This makes them more able to alter foods, and more versatile.
  • Balancing a dish is about texture contrast, temperature contrast, and flavour contrast.
    • Flavour contrast is built by experimenting with acids, fats, sugars, etc.
  • Chillies sautéd in oil then removed, will completely change the oil and the dish in which that oil is used.
  • A lemon stuffed inside a chicken will roast, boil and perfume the meat. The juice will drip into the pan and caramelise, giving a tartness and a wonderful bitterness to the olive oil sauce that is made afterwards. It also seasons the roasted vegetables that it is served with. On the table, the dish is finished with fresh citrus and olive oil. This dish now has 3 different variations of the lemon flavour which creates a layered experience. This is more sensual, deeper, and more realised.
  • Jonathan Waxman’s roast chicken at Barbudo is so fricken awesome because there is so much different seasoning at different times throughout the dish that you are taking in a much broader symphonic taste experience than you would expect from what you see.

[27:10] Is it possible for a novice chef to use shallots well without any knife skills?

  • Yes. There are two issues here:
    • 1. How to use a shallot and what’s required of it, despite what the recipe says.
    • 2. Knife skills.
  • If you love to cook and want to get better, you need to practice. Buy big bags of carrots, onions, celery, etc. Mince them, cut them into batons, brunoise dice them, just practice your knife skills for 10 minutes a day. In two weeks, your will be much faster.
  • The biggest factors that affect cooking time aside from successful multitasking are:
    • Assembling ingredients and mise en place, which includes knife skills and a well organised kitchen.
    • Equipment – have the right knife for you.
      • Andrew uses a thin bladed, short (8”) chefs knife. The front can be used to cut small things, the back 3/4 can be used to rock and chop, and it can even be used to tourné a mushroom. Almost everything can be done with that one knife.
    • Believing the mythology of food about why something must be done a certain way.
      • There’s nothing wrong with using a benriner or a mandolin to slice vegetables. Stack the slices and chop them to get a micro dice to rival Masaharu Morimoto. The danger of cutting yourself when using these tools is reduced if you throw the ends of the vegetables away. Don’t risk your fingers over a few grams of vegetables.
      • Often times, recipes are not as exacting as they need to be, and when they are exacting they are just creating unnecessary work.
        • Writers will sometimes take a recipe from a famous restaurant that is designed to serve 200, and scale it down to serve two. This doesn’t always work.
        • Magazine recipes are often very exacting as their audience is quick to turn on them if it doesn’t work out. The best recipes are the ones that precisely describe the size of the pan. If a recipe simply says “grease the cake pan”, it’s a tip off that something is wrong.
        • David Lee Roth used to specify in his contract that he wanted the brown m&m’s removed when they were served to him after a show. This was a litmus test to weed out service providers that weren’t paying attention to detail.

Andrew goes on to talk about his rough history of drug and alcohol addiction, and his road to recovery.

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