The eagerly anticipated Houston episode of celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern's Travel Channel show The Zimmern List aired over the holiday weekend. In the episode, Zimmern visits a mix of restaurants that showcase Houston's diversity: Gatlin's BBQ, Crawfish & Noodles, Hugo's, Himalaya, and The Original Ninfa's on Navigation.
For the most part, the episode proceeds as anyone who's dined at the restaurants would expect. At Himalaya, Zimmern feasts on signature dishes like the Hunter's Beef (a brined and cured Pakistani beef dish similar to pastrami) and the masala-spiced fried chicken. He eats brunch at Hugo's, fajitas at Ninfa's, and brisket at Gatlin's. Although Zimmern tweeted a clip of a visit to Better Luck Tomorrow, the segment didn't make the final cut.
However, things go a little off the rails at Crawfish & Noodles. Zimmern, in the company of chef Chris Shepherd and his girlfriend, Lindsey Brown, dines on salt and pepper stir-fried blue crabs and, of course, a heaping pile of Viet-Cajun crawfish. The first sign that Zimmern may be a little out of his element is that he refers to the restaurant as "Tex-Namese" instead of "Viet-Cajun," but it's his questionable crawfish eating technique that's the real surprise.
Watch the video clip below.
That's right. Zimmern eats the tail with the shell still on. A quick poll of the CultureMap office confirmed no one has ever seen anyone else eat crawfish this way. Peeling the crawfish to extract the meat from the tail is a required, if laborious, part of eating mudbugs. Eating crawfish with the shell on makes about as much sense as eating a banana without removing the peel. Sure, the spice and butter mixture mostly stays on the shell and doesn't flavor the tail meat very much, but that's why people suck the heads — to get the rush of flavor.
Since Brown has what might charitably be described as a surprised look on her face in the clip, we asked if she had any comment about Zimmern's technique. The diplomatic publicist replied as follows: "We actually discussed earlier how I like to eat the entire crab at Crawfish & Noodles since so much of the flavor is coated on the shell. So it was less shocking that Andrew ate his crawfish that way since we’d just discussed it with the crab. My feeling on crawfish—to each his/her own! But his crawfish approach is definitely different than mine."
Different than Brown's. Probably different than everyone else in Houston, too.
Of course, the chef has bigger problems than his crawfish eating technique. Both of his shows, Bizarre Foods and The Zimmern List, have been removed from prime time and relegated to Saturday mornings after his controversial comments about Chinese restaurants in the Midwest. Lucky Cricket, the Chinese restaurant he opened near Minneapolis that prompted the comments, has been widely panned by critics.
While Southern hospitality probably forbids telling a guest that he's eating a dish incorrectly, Zimmern should know better. He visited Crawfish & Noodles in 2012 for an episode of Bizarre Foods. Maybe next time he comes to town someone can explain to him the right way to eat crawfish. After all, if David Chang can figure it out, Zimmern can, too.