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Andrew Zimmern apologizes after criticized for 'offensive' comments about Chinese restaurants

The celebrity chef's remarks about the quality of Chinese-American restaurants, such as P.F. Chang's, were criticized for being culturally insensitive.
Andrew Zimmern
Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods" host Andrew Zimmern, a four-time James Beard award-winning chef, samples Taiwanese noodle soup and pork roll at Happy Stony Noodle in Elmhurst, Queens in New York on July 20, 2017.Kathy Willens / AP file

Celebrity chef and “Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern has apologized for controversial remarks he made about Chinese-American restaurants

“The upset that is felt in the Chinese American community is reasonable, legitimate and understandable, and I regret that I have been the one to cause it,” Zimmern wrote in a statement posted to Facebook on Monday. “That is the very last thing I would ever want to do.”

The apology follows Zimmern's interview with Fast Company, published last week, where he discussed the opening of his latest restaurant Lucky Cricket, a Chinese restaurant that includes a Tiki bar, at a mall in a Minnesota suburb. The goal, he said, was to introduce Midwesterners to "hot chili oil, introduce them to a hand-cut noodle, and introduce them to a real roast duck," and to open 200 of those restaurants across middle America.

“I think I'm saving the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horses--- restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest,” he said.

Zimmern's remarks were widely criticized for being culturally insensitive.

"The Midwest’s 'horses--- restaurants' are what paved the way for Zimmern’s venture and more broadly, Chinese cuisine in America," Washington Post contributor Ruth Tam wrote in response. "Chinese American food may have originated in the nation’s coastal cities, where immigrants first opened shop, but I’d argue that this cuisine’s ability to thrive in the Midwest with fewer Asian patrons cemented its lasting role in this country. These 'horses---' restaurants may not clear Zimmern’s bar for authenticity, but despite adversity, they created a time-tested model for immigrant food and helped make Chinese food not only ubiquitous, but part of American identity."

Eater restaurant editor Hillary Dixler Canavan also criticized Zimmern for inaccurately portraying the Chinese-American restaurant experience. During Zimmern's interview with Fast Company, he said, “Someone else is going to be the next P.F. Chang's, and I don't want them to blow it. And is it up to me to do it? …. I certainly think I'm in the conversation. And just because I'm not Chinese, I leave that to the rest of the world to judge.”

He also suggested that P.F. Chang's was a “ripoff” because it was owned by the son — “a rich, American kid on the inside” — of culinary figure Cecilia Chang, who is credited with introducing America to traditional Chinese cuisine.

"With one glib comment, Zimmern basically erases [Philip] Chiang’s experience of race in America because he was from a rich family," Dixler Canavan wrote. "Calling Chiang’s cultural purity into question in order to give his own work on Lucky Cricket a pass is deeply misguided, if not outrageously offensive."

She added, “Zimmern not only makes a value judgment about authenticity … but he also makes it without questioning why he gets to pass judgment in the first place. That act of 'translating' on behalf of the presumably white audience — the idea that American diners need to have something unfamiliar 'made more palatable' to get them to the table — has shades of a strange, increasingly outdated form of cultural elitism.”

In his apology, Zimmern said he did not intend to portray himself as the expert of quality Chinese or Chinese-American food or culture, and that some of what he said was taken out of context.

He noted that many people in Minnesota only know the Chinese food found at airports and malls.

“For those folks, I hope to open their eyes to the greatness of Chinese and Chinese-American cuisines and the people who put it on the plate,” he said. “And hopefully, since Americans in general inhale other cultures first through their mouths, if they can love the food they can become more accepting and understanding of the people.”

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CORRECTION (Nov. 28, 2018, 10:26 a.m. ET): An earlier version of a photo caption in this article misspelled the name of a TV show hosted by Andrew Zimmern. The show is "Bizarre Foods," not "Bizzare Foods."