There’s a reason Andrew Zimmern’s dinner guests are staring at a stuffed squirrel with a bushy tail perched at their dinner table in Nashville during an episode of Renaissance Hotels’ “The Navigator’s Table.”
“One of my favorite foods in Tennessee is squirrel,” says the host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods.” And he’s not joking. “In the Fall in Tennessee, I want to eat squirrel.”
As he did in Chicago, Zimmern gathered an all-star list of food-loving locals to dish on the best of Nashville, with the guest list including Carla Hall, “Top Chef”-contestant and co-host of “The Chew;” country singer Rachele Lynae; Arnold’s Country Kitchen owner Kahlil Arnold; Pat Martin, behind Martin’s BBQ Joint; and chef, music producer and entrepreneur Sarah Gavigan.
“There are deviled eggs so it must be a party!” shouted Hall with glee as the dinner starts.
“The Navigator’s Table” is part of Renaissance Hotels’ push to rethink what it means to travel for business.
“Business unusual is putting yourself out there on the fringe, exploring new territory and finding new things to like,” Zimmern says. “To me that’s exciting.”
Zimmern did serve his guests some squirrel while in Nashville—in the form of a squirrel, oyster and crab gumbo.
“Nothing tells the story of America more than gumbo,” says Zimmern, “because everything comes from a different culture.”
Don’t Mess With Nashville’s Famous Hot Chicken
Zimmern also honored an iconic Nashville dish, as well: hot chicken with his own Thai take.
“The most famous dish in Nashville is hot chicken but I don’t have a big enough ego to serve up hot crispy fried chicken in the town that berthed hot crispy fried chicken. The last thing i would ever do is come down here and cook hot chicken.”
Instead, Zimmern dished up a Thai style chili and lemon grass chicken, as part of a four-course menu that also included goat tartare—”a wonderful way to eat my favorite red meat,” according to Zimmern. “Goat is my favorite.”
The meal ended with strawberry ice cream with lemon curd and a cookie crumble sprinkled on top.
Where to Get Hot Chicken
What Makes Nashville Special
“It’s the biggest small town you’ll ever be in,” Lynae says. “There’s a young energy here. That’s not to say that all the people here are young, but the city is bursting with life.”
Martin agrees, adding, “It’s a big sexy, young, vibrant, live town now and everybody knows everybody.”
Hall has another take: “No matter where you’re from, when you get here you’re a Tennessean. It’s unusual to feel like that in a city.”
Words to Describe Nashville
“Alive” – Lynae
“Friendly” – Arnold
“Home” – Gavigan
“Family” – Martin
Music’s Impact on Nashville’s Food Scene
Naturally, Nashville’s music scene can also be felt in the kind of food that gets served up in its restaurants.
“Music goes into the heart and soul” of the city,” Hall says. “Music evokes so many emotions. There are times in your life when you remember what you were doing when a song was playing. Food is the same way.”
The Most Unusual Thing About Nashville
“I had no idea Nashville had the largest Kurdish population in the United States,” says Gavigan. “My daughter goes to school with incredible Kurdish families.”
The community is also introducing its own local flavors, with Gavigan and Zimmern citing Azadi International Food Market & Bakery as not just a favorite, but “a mind blower” because of its flat breads, especially its spicy lamb breads.
How to Explore New Cities
When exploring other cities, the first thing Hall does is turn to social media. “I want to go where the locals go,” she says, and finds recommendations through Facebook and Twitter.