Journal Entry #5: The Moment that Saved Andrew Zimmern’s Life

Few people can say they have slept in an abandoned building on a pile of dirty clothes encircled by cockroach repellent, but Andrew Zimmern can.

At 13, Zimmern experienced a traumatic event in childhood that started him on the path towards substance abuse. While Zimmern was at camp, his mother experienced an accident during surgery. Zimmern came home and discovered his mother in “an oxygen tent in a coma. It was so traumatic.” Alcohol helped him cope with the pain he experienced as he saw his mother recover from the coma. 1

By the time he finished high school, he was “a daily pill addict [and] a daily cocaine addict.” 2 In college, he smoked marijuana and drank alcohol to break his habit of hard drugs, but his addiction only worsened. 3

Although he got jobs at top restaurants in New York after college, Zimmern soon lost everything. His addiction continued. He lost his job and apartment, and began living in an abandoned building. There, he slept on a pile of old clothes and sprinkled a ring of Comet Cleanser around himself at night to keep cockroaches away. 

He opened up about his past in this Instagram post in 2017 and described the “pain inside as unimaginable and indescribable.” 4

Looking back, Zimmern thanks the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a respected treatment facility, for helping him stop his addiction.

But a moment of vulnerability also helped him succeed.

At Zimmern’s lowest point, he tried to drink himself to death in a flophouse. When he emerged, “for the first time, [he] didn’t have that Ace bandage of anxiety and tension around his chest.” He also says, “I did something that I hadn’t done in 15 years which is reach out to somebody to ask for help…” 1

When Zimmern asked for help, his friends responded. They staged an intervention for him and bought him a one-way ticket to Minnesota and space in the recovery program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. 

Zimmern was vulnerable because he asked for help and was at risk of rejection. His friends could easily have ignored him, especially since he stole friends’ wallets to support his addiction. 5 But, instead, they provided him with help he needed and put him on the first step towards turning his life around.

After several weeks at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Zimmern moved into a half-way house and got a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. What followed was another moment that forever altered Zimmern’s life.

One day, the restaurant’s line cook called in sick. Zimmern offered to fill the job, but the owner was skeptical about Zimmern’s cooking skills and denied him. After trying and failing to fill the position, however, the owner gave in. Zimmern filled the role. 

On seeing Zimmern’s work, the restaurant owner was so impressed that he called Zimmern into his office and said, “Can you please explain to me why the dishwasher just put out food in my restaurant that looks better than when my chef puts food out in my restaurant?”2

The day Zimmern left the half-way house, the restaurant owner fired his head chef and made Zimmern his partner. Zimmern re-staffed the restaurant, mostly with chefs in recovery. 

That Zimmern immediately became a partner and was allowed to re-staff the restaurant with chefs in recovery reveals a unique and trusting relationship between Zimmern and the owner. Is it possible that the restaurant owner trusted Zimmern more because he knew about Zimmern’s recovery from addiction? We can only speculate, but being vulnerable by making your weaknesses known can build trust and also allow others to support us in unique ways. If this was the case for Zimmern, then vulnerability will have again helped change his life for the better.

Zimmern worked at the restaurant for seven years before transitioning into the media industry. He built himself a “five-year plan to get a television show. First step: quit the restaurant. Step two: get jobs in media so I could learn how to do this thing.” 2 He worked for free at local news companies and also pitched shows to The Food Network. 

“I did something that I hadn’t done in 15 years which is reach out to somebody to ask for help…”

-Andrew zimmern

After many rejections, Zimmern started noticing that travel shows did not explore food and culture and at this point, he had a “true epiphany.” 2 Connecting viewers to food and culture became the idea behind Bizarre Foods, which appeared for the first time on the Travel Channel in 2006.

The series continues today and Zimmern has since then moved on to other projects. In 2009, he published his first book, The Bizarre Truth: How I Walked out the Door Mouth First … and Came Back Shaking My Head. Most recently, he opened a chinese restaurant last month called Lucky Cricket in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, where he currently serves as head chef. 

While few of us can relate to Zimmern’s struggle with drugs, we can all understand what it’s like to have an “Ace bandage of anxiety” around our chests. What Zimmern’s story teaches us is that we can remove the “Ace bandage” at any time. We only have to ask for help, which we can do by opening up about our challenges and being vulnerable. 

A moment of vulnerability helped Zimmern turn his life around. It also put him on the path towards success and gave him ways to give back to others. If Zimmern was able to achieve his level of success with the simple act of asking for help, then we also have to wonder where a little vulnerability can take us in life too.

Is there a time when you asked for help and someone responded? How did it impact your life? Comment below and share your story with our community!


Footnotes

1. https://people.com/food/andrew-zimmern-drug-addiction-event/

2. https://www.cnn.com/2016/10/28/health/turning-points-andrew-zimmern/index.html

3. https://www.thefix.com/chef-andrew-zimmern-his-addiction-i-was-dangerous-mess

4. https://www.instagram.com/p/BcJU6Ephqp8/?hl=en&taken-by=chefaz

5. https://www.eater.com/2010/7/27/6725195/andrew-zimmern-discusses-his-druggie-homeless-past

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