You might know Andrew Zimmern for his intrepid, delicious sojourns around the world, as portrayed in the Travel Channel shows Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations, The Zimmern List, and more. You may also know him as a Food Network star, a multiple James Beard Award recipient, and a culinary expert, journalist, and restaurant owner.
Now, Zimmern is bringing his zest for travel and his multifaceted experiences in the food world to his newest role: as a children’s book author. In his debut title, AZ and the Lost City of Ophir, co-authored by H.E. McElhatton and illustrated by Lisa Troutman (out on Feb. 6, 2019, from Beaver’s Pond Press), Zimmern writes a tale of courage, exploration, and some seriously adventurous eating. The book is billed for young readers, but it’s equally appropriate for dreamers, travelers, and food lovers of all ages. This is the first title in a forthcoming series of fiction called “The Alliance of World Explorers.” In this series, Zimmern will tell stories about magical places around the globe, across history—”from Venice in the time of the Doges, to India in the 1800s and Mongolia of the Khans,” Zimmern told me—and the courageous kids who travel to them.
“When I was younger, growing up in the ’60s, my dad would constantly make up stories about young protagonists with my name. I’ve been telling stories on TV and in magazines for years. And when I had a son, and I learned how much he loved to read, we would sit together before bed and I would tell him rip-roaring stories every night, featuring him as the main character,” Zimmern explained.
Fittingly, AZ and the Lost City of Ophir tells the story of titular character AZ. He’s a curious, precocious 12-year-old who itches to traverse the world as an explorer, literally following in the footsteps of his archaeologist parents on their excavations. As he travels, AZ learns about the world around him—picking up new languages, taking in new territory, and trying new foods. Says the character, in the book’s opening chapter, “I love all food, really, but especially food other people think is weird.” In his own words, AZ has “a complex palate.” (Sound familiar?)
As AZ learns throughout his travels, so do we. AZ and the Lost City of Ophir is filled with interactive maps, charts, adventure lists, and even recipes. This goes hand in hand with Zimmern’s ultimate goals for the book—rich storytelling and reader learning—and he hopes to carry this on in future “Alliance of World Explorers” titles.
“For 20 years, I explored food as the best way to learn about culture and people. Expanding it to kids and what they can learn about visiting those cultures is really exciting to me,” Zimmern recently said to the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. AZ and the Lost City of Ophir does just this. Additionally, it gives kids the chance to learn about hunger, race and class relations, and other cultural issues.
Zimmern expanded upon this when we spoke: “I want to show young readers that the problems we have today—civic and emotional concerns, hardship and what it means to grow up—these are things we’ve been dealing with for centuries, and they’re universal problems.”
In keeping with these civic-minded ideals and the book’s spirit of learning, proceeds from the sales of AZ and the Lost City of Ophir will benefit No Kid Hungry, a campaign created by Share Our Strength that seeks to end childhood hunger in America. “Partnering with this organization lets me do some awareness-raising. It lets me talk about what childhood hunger and food insecurity mean, to a room full of kids who may have never considered it before,” Zimmern continued. So while we’re adventuring through AZ’s world, we’re learning in various ways, and we’re also—importantly—giving back.