While Andrew Zimmern is known for globe-trotting culinary escapades on his Travel Channel series “Bizarre Foods,” his latest adventure comes in the form of a young adult novel.
“AZ and the Lost City of Ophir” — written by the New York City-born Zimmern and H.E. McElhatton with illustrations by Lisa Troutman — follows AZ, a rambunctious boy facing weeks of summer school and the company of his odd uncle Arthur. Except his uncle isn’t so odd — he’s an explorer, and he whisks AZ away on a time travel jaunt back to a lost ancient city.
The inspiration for the book, out Tuesday, came from the chef’s own experiences with his father, traveling around in the 1960s (“ski trips in Europe, which sounds really bourgeois,” he says). With limited access to television or radio, his dad would make up stories about “a young little rascal who was ironically named Andrew Goodheart.”
“My dad was very creative and loved to make up stories,” Zimmern says. “When I became a father I loved reading to my son, but I also loved making up stories and having him sort of choose his adventure and lean into whether he wanted a lost-in-the-desert-island story or a secret-agent-saves-the-world story.”
Storytelling comes naturally to Zimmern, 57, who takes viewers on foodie adventures across the globe on his numerous television series, including “Bizarre Foods.”
“I love storytelling,” he says. “Everything that I’ve done in my whole career professionally, even as a cook, I’m communicating through story. I’m just doing it with an edible representation on a plate.”
While AZ, Zimmern’s newest vehicle for storytelling, shares his initials, iron stomach and penchant for some of the more offbeat eats, he is more than just a stand-in for the author.
“He’s a reflection of me, he’s a reflection of my son,” he says. “But more importantly, he’s a reflection of young people everywhere in one very important sense — and it really is the key piece of this book — AZ walks into page one and he’s not necessarily the most perfect kid, none of us are.
“I think more importantly when kids read this book, in some small way, I do want them to see that life changes, their lives change,” he continues. “It’s always a crapshoot. Some days you change for the better. Some days you change for the worst. But life is all about moving forward because of the wondrous adventure that life is.”
A portion of proceeds from the book will go to No Kid Hungry, a campaign from Share Our Strength that works to end childhood hunger. Having a charity tie-in to the book was a priority for the author.
“Anyone who is lucky enough to be given the platform, the size of which I’ve been given, I think there’s a responsibility to give back in everything that they do,” Zimmern says. “So I literally was not going to do the book unless it had some charitable component. . . . The bottom line is that nothing is more important than feeding the children around the world that don’t have food on their plates.”
IF YOU GO
Andrew Zimmern will be in conversation with “Top Chef’s” Gail Simmons and signing copies of “AZ and the Lost City of Ophir: Alliance of World Explorers Volume One” on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at B&N Tribeca | 97 Warren St.