Atlanta keeps calling Andrew Zimmern’s name.
The James Beard award-winning chef, host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” and Food Network star, was in town last weekend for the annual Super Bowl fundraiser Taste of the NFL. The food personality is coming back to Atlanta next week to chat about his most recent project, which sees him diving into kid lit.
Zimmern is the author of the newly released “AZ and the Lost City of Ophir” (Beaver’s Pond Press, $15.95). His first fiction book for young readers, co-authored by H.E. McElhatton, stars a 12-year-old appropriately named AZ, who dreams of becoming a world explorer like his archaeologist parents. But a bad report card sees AZ stuck in summer school and staying with his Odd Uncle Arthur. A time-travel snafu, however, changes everything, and AZ finds himself on a mission to find the legendary city of Ophir.
Like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series, “AZ and the Lost City of Ophir” is filled with the sort of action and suspense that middle school readers eat up. And it is the first volume in what Zimmern plans as a series called “Alliance of World Adventures.”
Zimmern will make an author appearance Feb. 11 at the Barnes and Noble location at 2900 Peachtree Road in Buckhead. The family-friendly event, one in a five-city book tour, is free and open to the public.
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What prompted Zimmern to add children’s writer to his already impressive resume?
“My father was a great storyteller,” Zimmern said, recalling how, when they traveled on car trips and the radio reception cut out, his father would make up adventure stories for him. “There had to be some action, where Indiana Jones-style trains hurdle over the tracks.”
Zimmern continued the storytelling tradition with his own son, Noah, who turns 14 this month.
“There is a lot of my son and myself rolled into our main protagonist,” he said. “AZ is a funny, appealing little guy, but he’s kind of in trouble. He hasn’t lived up to his potential. He thinks he knows everything. By the end of the book, he’s learned to rely on others, learned a lot of valuable lessons in life.”
Zimmern’s life in the world of television also largely influences the book. It has cliffhanger-style chapters, which, like the moments leading up to a commercial break, keep you tuned in. Multiple learning pods include hieroglyphs, food experiments, make-your-own treasure maps and adventure lists.
While “AZ and the Lost City of Ophir” transports young readers back to ancient Egypt, Zimmern sees endless possibilities about where future books in the series will go. “I see kids going to Dodge City in the 1870s and the South of the 1860s. I’m really excited to have kids spend more time learning from other children in the cultures and historical time periods they are going to visit,” he said.
“For 20 years, I explored food as the best way to learn about culture and people. Expanding it to kids and what they can learn about visiting those cultures is really exciting to me,” said Zimmern, who has visited more than 170 countries to date.
He noted that the book offers opportunities for children to also learn about hunger, class, race and other issues relevant to the present times.
“The reason I created ‘Bizarre Foods’: I saw a world defining itself by our differences. I saw language, skin color, ethnicity and race were based on differences instead of the things we had in common. I created the show to explore what we had in common through food.” He hopes that the book makes readers aware “that kids all over the world and in different time periods had the same thoughts” as they do.
One of the social justice causes that Zimmern is involved in is combating childhood hunger. To that end, a portion of the book’s proceeds will benefit No Kid Hungry, a campaign created by Share Our Strength.
Author talk and book signing with Andrew Zimmern
7 p.m. Feb. 11. Free. Barnes and Noble, 2900 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-261-7747, https://stores.barnesandnoble.com/event/9780061980557-0.