APPETITE FOR VICKSBURG Travel Channel star promotes local flavors in web-based show

Published 11:15 am Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cheese grits, country fried steak, groupies and gospel were on the menu when food writer and TV personality Andrew Zimmern visited Vicksburg.

The list of Southern favorites seems rather tame considering all the exotic places and foods Zimmern normally experiences on his popular Travel Channel Show “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.” The show’s popularity comes from Zimmern eating such unusual food as a fried tarantula in South America, raw fish on a Pacific island or cow’s intestines in Argentina.

His visit to Vicksburg was different, however, as he taped footage for another program he hosts called “Appetite for Life,” a webcast show on that takes him across America highlighting what he describes as good places, good food, good people and a good cause — helping others. The Vicksburg segment will appear in mid-March.

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“Appetite for life is about getting people to get out and explore their own backyards in their cars,” Zimmern said.

“It’s one of the biggest web series hits that there is,” he said. “We’ve built something really, really cool, and to be able to show people in Seattle and in New York what Vicksburg is like and vice versa, I think is really slick.”

While in Vicksburg Zimmern experienced what some folks would call “normal” — cheese grits at Anchuca and country fried steak at Klondyke, with a side order of fans and music from the Grove Street M.B. Church Choir.

Zimmern’s travels promote community participation in projects to help others, like contributing to food banks or fighting hunger.

He said the increasing popularity and use of the internet was the influence for putting the show on the web.

“Everything is sliding to online content,” he said, adding that MSN is the third largest website in the world.

When a new episode of his show appears on the MSN home page, Zimmern said millions of people see it as soon as it rolls out because MSN is their home page.

Show producer Steve Wiens said “Appetite for Life” is in the third season, adding this season’s programs are showing different aspects of Southern culture. Besides visiting Vicksburg, Zimmern made stops in New Orleans, Baton Rouge , Gulfport, Biloxi and Jackson.

“We chose Vicksburg for its extraordinary local character, beautiful scenery and rich Southern heritage,” Wiens said. “As part of Andrew’s road trip for good, we also wanted to help businesses recovering from the recent floods to get back on their feet by shining a light on the unique Southern experience they have to offer visitors and locals alike.”

Located on North Washington Street, the Klondyke was damaged by high waters in the 2011 spring flood when the Mississippi River rose to record heights.

Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Bill Seratt, called the program’s stop in the city excellent publicity for the culinary products of Vicksburg.

“There are a lot of foodies wanting to travel and sample various cuisines, and we present specialties that are unique to this area,” Seratt said. “We’re thrilled to see them here.”

“It was just a fantastic day,” said Anchuca owner Tom Pharr. “Everything went well. The people in the cafe were surprised and excited and everything went great. We had a great day, mother nature cooperated. It was a wonderful experience.”

He said Zimmern’s visit was great promotion for Vicksburg and his restaurant.

Pharr also said due to its presence on the web they received a wide variety of attention on social media.

“While they were filming and Andrew was walking around, people were tweeting and texting about Vicksburg and Anchuca,” he said. “The tweets and blogs were going out all over the country and all over the world. It’s better than a billboard.”

“We’re thrilled at the chance to have our little place featured and to have him eat here,” Klondyke owner David Day said. “It’s just a blessing.”

Shooting for the show’s Vicksburg segment began on Jan. 25, when an “Appetite for Life” crew began getting video of the Vicksburg area. The visits to Anchuca and Klondyke for the final shooting took place Jan. 29.

While the filming was going on at Anchuca, a large group of Zimmern fans patiently waited at Klondyke.

Faulba and Mike Dorsett of Vicksburg said it’s the strange or unusual things he eats that make them fans.

“Some of those things he eats are totally off the wall,” Faulba Dorsett said. “That and his personality.”

Susan Taylor said she, her son Zachary, and daughter Lauren are big fans, but sometimes Zimmern’s meals tend to make her squeamish.

“Two or three times, I had to tell Zach to turn the TV off,” she said.

When Zimmern arrived he was greeted with a loud round of applause.

He teased the crowd, telling them, “You’re not supposed to be here!” before walking back out to talk with his director.

He walked in a second time to look over the Klondyke to shouts of “Andrew! Andrew!”

“You’re great!” he told the crowd.

“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” a voice hollered from the crowd.

After talking to Day about damage the restaurant received during the flood Zimmern helped him begin making country fried steaks — a lot of country fried steaks — before serving them to members of the Grove Street MB Church Choir.

“To me, this is just great,” Zimmern said as he sat down to eat and talk with the choir. “You’re actually cooking here. They’re not going to the freezer to get something out of a box and put it in the microwave.

“When you come to a place like this, you come to make friends,” he added, looking around the restaurant. “There is a better sense of community in the South than in other places. Everyone looks out for each other. You’re one big happy family.”

Later, Zimmern joined the choir in singing its arrangement of “Oh, Happy Day,” which had the Klondyke crowd clapping in time.

“He’s not like other celebrities,” said choir member Sammie Maxie. “He’s just a down-to-earth guy, and he makes you feel comfortable. He was just a regular Joe.”