Cinephile Chef Andrew Zimmern Shares Recipe for Success

by | Mar 2024

Chef Andrew Zimmern in the kitchen.

Photo: Chris Emeott

Chef Andrew Zimmern discusses why film and food are a winning combination—on and off the big screen.

While growing up in New York City, Andrew Zimmern discovered a new passion in the early 1970s—and it had little to do with food. “I was obsessed with The Godfather and The Godfather II [films],” he says. “I’ve watched them endlessly every year, usually during the space between Christmas and New Year. There’s always a day where it’s dedicated to watching the two of them back-to-back.”

Here’s where Zimmern, an Emmy Award winner and four-time James Beard Foundation Award-winning TV personality, takes movie watching to the next satisfying level. “I do a lot of entertaining based around movies because I like screening movies in my house and building a dinner around them. The Godfather dinner is an annual event,” the Orono resident says.

Between viewing the two films, “I lay out a big meal with all kinds of Italian goodies,” Zimmern says. “It’s my own version of Feast of the Seven Fishes, but I call it Sleeps with the Seven Fishes …”

What’s on the menu? There are plenty of options, since Zimmern’s been serving up his film-centric feast for years. “I do my sauce, and I make meatballs and sausages and all the rest of that stuff—big antipasti spread with prosciutto, mozzarella, roasted peppers and anchovies … I do a risotto with shrimp and clams, and sometimes I put a little squid ink in there if I happen to have some … I typically will roast a leg of lamb or a rack of lamb with rosemary and serve spinach that is sautéed with golden raisins and pine nuts …”

If that weren’t enough, a trip to the food market can inspire Zimmern to offer branzino, roasting fish with olive oil and lemon, or colder weather might dictate heating up some Italian wedding soup. “That very simple, typical Italian food,” he says.

Speaking of weddings: What’s an Italian dining experience and celebration without dessert? This time, leave the cannoli (IYKYK). To conclude the meal, Zimmern has baked an almond cake, served with whipped cream—giving a nod to character Connie Corleone’s wedding (the opening scene in The Godfather).

Almond and Orange Cake With Poached Plum Compote

Almond and Orange Cake With Poached Plum Compote. Photo: Andrew Zimmern

Director Francis Ford Coppola’s acclaimed film duo isn’t the only cinematic invitees to Zimmern’s food-meets-film evenings at his home. While a fair number of movie viewers are happy to sit with an overpriced and over-buttered bucket of popcorn at the theater or a jumbo box of this ’n’ thats at home, Zimmern relishes serving his thoughtfully constructed version of dinner and a movie.

What’s his motivation? To start, dinner for dinner’s sake isn’t always enough to satiate Zimmern’s hosting appetite. “First of all, you invite people for dinner … you have dinner … they go home. I like to spend time with my friends,” he says. Framing the evening around a movie is more enjoyable for him. “You know, we’re just sitting on the couch giggling and watching their favorite film,” he says, calling it “building an experience.”

Those experiences aren’t just about cooking for The Godfather films. When viewing Tampopo (1985), Zimmern’s cooking Japanese food. If Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) is on the docket, so is Chinese fare. And on the list goes. (If you think Zimmern only engages in conversation deep dives into culinary topics—get him started on movie chat, and he’s gone, traveling down branching avenues of themes, genres, actors and filmmakers. And any fellow film lover should be happy to go along for the ride.)

Scene Stealers

The role that food plays in movies can include serving as a subtle backdrop or a simple prop, but it can also take on nuanced and critical spaces within a film. In the case of The Godfather Part II, notice oranges in a scene—and expect death or the threat of death to follow. Character Hyman Roth’s birthday is celebrated in Havana with a cake, frosted with an image of Cuba. The camera returns time after time to show the cake being sliced into pieces—the overthrow of the government was underway. “And so you know, it’s a very heavy-handed metaphor, but I love it. I’m there for those,” Zimmern says.

Why do filmmakers feature food in these ways? “Very broadly, everyone can relate to food, right? And what’s being served,” Zimmern says. “If you use other cultural references, music for example, not everyone gets your reference …”

It’s interesting to discover that Zimmern’s favorite food scene comes by way of quiet simplicity—no crowded restaurant scene, no boisterous family dinner table—just relatable food in a relatable space with relatable familial circumstances. “So there is a scene in Big Night [1996], and it comes at the end of the movie, where one would imagine that there would be great sadness,” Zimmern says. “Things did not work out very well for the two brothers, and they’re sort of, in a sense, back at the beginning with their little restaurant, and there’s no words spoken.”

Stanley Tucci (as Secondo) makes a simple meal of eggs and bread for his brother (Tony Shalhoub as Primo). “The simple act of sharing some eggs together lets you know, in a way, that … everything’s going to be OK,” Zimmern says. “They’re gonna figure it out, and that’s why it’s my favorite food scene in any movie because it’s the most realistic, touching and emotionally connecting moment …”

Zimmern can follow the food thread in movie after movie, but Big Night stands out to him, regardless of how many times he views it. “[It’s] the one that always grabs me, continues to every time I see it, because it perfectly defines how we come back together over food,” he says. “Without that [final] scene, you would imagine that the brothers don’t make it, but in fact, you see all the possibilities and all of the optimism.”

And for the fortunate among us, food does indeed—on and off the big screen—offer bounties of possibilities and optimism.

Academy-worthy Anniversary

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of The Godfather Part II, which premiered on December 20, 1974. The film is the first sequel to receive an Academy Award for Best Picture, along with several other nominations and wins. (The 96th Academy Awards, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is set for March 10.)

Cinephile Chef

Zimmern is a self-admitted list maker, so what movies make his all-time favorites list?

  • Chinatown (1990): “… one of my favorite movies of all time.”
  • The Godfather (1972) and Part II (1974) (obviously!)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): “I think [director Stanley] Kubrick is brilliant.”
  • Citizen Kane (1941): “As clichéd as it is, it’s absolutely one of the best movies ever made.”
  • Seven Samurai (1954)
  • Throne of Blood (1957)
  • Any film with late actor Toshiro Mifune
  • Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) or Amarcord (1973)
  • Cinema Paradiso (1988): “… the most underrated.”
  • There Will Be Blood (2007): “… amazing.”
  • Singing in the Rain (1952)
  • Goodfellas (1990)
  • “I mean, you gotta toss a [Alfred] Hitchcock in there.”
  • Director John Ford: “He’s a great one, and I think he transforms John Wayne as well,” referring to The Searchers.
  • “You know, it’s hard not to include some [Steven] Spielberg movies. I mean, is Spielberg’s best movie Jaws (1975)?”
  • “Maybe the Star Wars movies have to be in there.”
  • “I’m a big [Quentin] Tarantino [fan], whether it’s Pulp Fiction (1994) or all the way up to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). I think his movies are genius.”
Andrew Zimmern Portrait

Photo: Chris Emeott

Zimmern is the creator, executive producer and host of the Bizarre Foods franchise, Andrew Zimmern’s Driven by Food, MSNBC’s What’s Eating America, Magnolia Network’s Family Dinner and The Zimmern List. Discover Zimmern as a judge on Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend on Netflix, The Silos Baking Competition on HBO Max and teaching live fire cooking on Outdoor Channel’s Andrew Zimmern’s Wild Game Kitchen. He is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations World Food Programme, continuing his commitment to fight global hunger and reduce food waste.

Want to host your own Godfather-inspired dinner? Zimmern shares his recipes for Sunday Sauce With Meatballs and Sausages, plus a few more ideas to get you started.

To learn more about Zimmern, his career and philanthropy, visit

Facebook: Andrew Zimmern
Instagram: @chefaz
Pinterest: chefaz
X: @andrewzimmern


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