Why This Award Winner Believes in Second Chances
Andrew Zimmern on his Beard Foundation scholarshipMaggie Borden
May 03, 2019
Applications are now open for 2019 James Beard Foundation scholarships! Each year, the Beard Foundation offers tuition waivers and grants to students across the country eager to further their education at a culinary school or hospitality institution, college, or university. Whether you dream of running an award-winning restaurant, aim to discover ways to make our agricultural practices more sustainable, or hope to spread connection through the exploration of food history and culture, there are opportunities and scholarships available to you.
During this year's application period, we're featuring stories from previous recipients and scholarship providers to learn their stories and see how these scholarships can impacted lives. Below, James Beard Award–winning television personality, chef, writer, and teacher Andrew Zimmern explains the motivation behind his Second Chances scholarship, and how it reflects his personal journey from hardship to success.
JBF: Can you briefly tell us the story of your own second chance, and the inspiration behind this scholarship?
Andrew Zimmern: I didn’t get a second chance—I got a thousand. And I still almost didn’t make it. Chance #905 was the intervention organized by some loving friends who sent me on a one-way trip to Minnesota when I was 30. I had devolved over the years into a homeless drug addict and alcoholic who was simply a user of people and a taker of things. I entered Hazelden/Betty Ford [Addiction Treatment Center] on January 28, 1992, and have been continuously sober ever since. It changed me forever, and is the single most important event of my life.
I was given so much when I started that journey, including some gifts from old business partners like Los Angeles–based chef and restaurateur Stephen Kalt, who paid my insurance premiums thinking that one day I might wind up somewhere and need to use it. Stephen and I cooked a dinner at the Beard House back in the 80’s and I think I’ve done one every decade since. I should have named this scholarship after him!
But I digress. We all win when we all win. And lots of people need lots of second chances. I just wanted to help out other people any way that I could.
JBF: There's a lot of discussion going on now in the restaurant industry about the culture of use and abuse, from shift drinks to sexual harassment. Looking back over your time in the industry, what has changed? Why do you think it's still a good place for someone looking for a second chance at their career?
AZ: Well, I do think the food world of today is wiser, more inclusive, braver, more egalitarian, kinder, more empathetic, and offers more opportunities than ever before. A lot of that is because some very brave people started shining lights on the ugliest parts of our industry. So we are in a phase of cleaning up and growing. That’s good news. I will also say that the restaurant world saved my life on many occasions. Food people have been, and still are, the best people in the world. What’s changed? Hopefully everything is always changing, except the emotional transaction of the hospitality world, the one where the guest and the restaurant meet. That’s the magic of our business, and it will always be paramount. I’d like to hope that the biggest changes to come are lifting the cloak of invisibility around who really grows and makes our food.
JBF: If you could give this year's scholarship applicants one piece of advice, what would it be?
AZ: Life is about taking action. Doing things. Actual, real things. You can’t think yourself into right action, but you CAN act your way into right thinking. I think the first action we take when we get a gift or a blessing of any kind is to pass it on.
Andrew Zimmern is a four-time James Beard Award–winning television personality, chef, writer and teacher. As the creator, executive producer and host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods franchise, Andrew Zimmern’s Driven by Food, The Zimmern List, and Food Network’s Big Food Truck Tip, he has explored culture through food in more than 170 countries. Learn more at andrewzimmern.com.