By Gretchen Kelly
The first thing you notice when you have dinner at a legendary dim sum restaurant with Andrew Zimmern, is that no matter how full your passport is, his is bigger.
“How many of you have been to China,” he asks. I raise my hand. “How many of you have been to China twenty times,” my hand sinks to the table like a wilted wonton.
But he doesn’t just leave it there.
“How many of you have been to China twenty times and have spent more than two weeks there every one of those times?”
After traveling to 80 countries over the past 15 or so years, I’ve just been one-upped for the first time–by the Travel Channel’s bug-eating gourmand who is our host for a Renaissance Hotel evening celebrating their upcoming May 17th “Day of Discovery.”
The peripatetic Zimmern is a paid Brand Ambassador and “Guest Navigator” for the hotel chain which has long specialized in organizing experiences that draw on local cultural and culinary ore for giving travelers the feeling that they, too, can feel as worldly as Mr. Zimmern (albeit without the telephone book sized passport).
We’re eating in that proverbial small and unassuming gem of a dim sum place that chefs and those in the know, know. Nom Wah, has been a celebrated NYC institution serving dim sum since 1920.
The staff brings out steaming plates of pork buns, elegantly wrapped translucent shrimp shu mai and other Cantonese wonders while Zimmern holds forth on why he loves each one more than the next. His enthusiasm is daunting and when he gets around to talking about the bugs he’s so famous for eating I go for one more honor round with the famed chef and TV host.
“I’ve eaten bugs,” I declare with the audacity of a Dickens’ “please sir, I want some more.”
“In Australia, witchity grubs!”
Zimmern stares me down while munching a sweet and sour something or other.
“Did you know witchity grubs are found in more countries than Australia? I’ve eaten them ALL OVER THE WORLD.”
Stick a chopstick in me. I’m done.
Zimmern’s expertise is just one example of what Renaissance will be showcasing on May 17 when their 160 properties in 35 countries will dare travelers to redefine the traditional “business brag” and discover the soul of neighborhoods around the globe.”
Simultaneous experiences will take place to bring an unusual taste of the local scene to life through unexpected hotel events and neighborhood discoveries.
Experiences, free for guests, will include live music performances, culinary demonstrations, performance art, location-specific signature bar rituals, partnerships and more. Although Nom Wah is not included this time around there will be some Zimmern participation at the Dubai Renaissance hotel where the Travel Channel chef has organized an excursion with a local Emirati chef to sample local cuisine.
No word yet if bug eating will be involved, but if it will, rest assured, Andrew Zimmern will have already done it–twenty times or more.