Senior Tori Van Vleck's parents, Stan and Nicole, eat dinner with Andrew Zimmern (center) and their family and friends.

Senior’s family farm featured on ‘Bizarre Foods’ episode; stressful filming turns fun after night of eating, talking

Photo used by permission of Travel Channel
Senior Tori Van Vleck (not pictured) and her parents, Stan and Nicole (left and second from left), eat dinner with Andrew Zimmern (center) and other family and friends.

In February, senior Tori Van Vleck’s family received a call from Andrew Zimmern about being on his show, “Bizarre Foods,” which runs on the Travel Channel. The Van Vleck family agreed, and the episode recently ran on July 3 for the first time. To view the full episode, click here. The part about the Van Vleck Ranch starts around 26:40.


Q: How did you feel when you first knew you were going to be on TV?

A: When my dad first got the call, he was a little hesitant because the name of the show is “Bizarre Foods,” which beef isn’t really considered to be. (But) I knew (the show) was mostly focused on my dad, and he does a lot of things like this, although they are primarily local.

I’ve been exposed to a lot of amazing opportunities involving farm to fork because of my family’s involvement in agriculture, although this one was definitely amazing due to its national recognition.

I wasn’t actually too excited to be in the video myself because I don’t love being on camera, and I always cringe looking back and seeing myself, which I definitely did. It was a great opportunity, though, and I’m glad I got to do it.


Q: How long did it take to film the whole episode?

A: They filmed at our ranch for two days, probably almost 15 hours in total. My dad went (to film) both days. I was only there the second day, which was the day involving the food as opposed to footage of the ranch and our backstory.

On the day I was there, we probably got there around 1 p.m. and finished by 11 p.m. We slowly started preparing (the food) not too long after arriving, trying to finish any preparations that didn’t need to be filmed so the cooking process would be as easy as possible. My mom and I did this while my dad filmed.


Photo used by permission of Tori Van Vleck
Part of the episode was filmed at this dinner table, which was set up by the Van Vlecks and the show crew.

Q: How did you prepare for the show?

A: While cooking a meal like that isn’t too out of the ordinary for us, my dad is usually the one in charge of it, but he was busy filming for most of the day. So my mom and I actually had Mike Fagnoni, the owner and chef of Hawks Public House, help us with the meal.

He and my dad teamed up a couple years ago for the Farm-to-Fork bridge dinner, (where top chefs in the Sacramento area pair up with local farmers to prepare dishes for a dinner atop the Tower Bridge in downtown Sacramento), and have been friends ever since. I myself have always loved cooking, and it was great getting to work with him.

Because of all the filming and commotion, our cooking took longer than usual and had to be paused and sped up at times for proper timing of the video. By the time we sat down to eat dinner, pretty much all the food was cold because the crew had spent so much time trying to get perfect shots of the food.

Although the dinner was a bit staged – Andrew prompted us with questions that would be entertaining on camera, food was passed in a certain way and there was a very specific seating chart – it was really fun. Zimmern is a great guy, and it was amazing to hear all about his show and experiences. I hadn’t actually heard of his show before filming (since) I rarely watch live TV.


Q: When did you eat dinner?

A: We ate at around 8. I was starving by then, especially after looking at the already-prepared food get photographed for 15 minutes.


Q: What “bizarre” dishes did your family cook?

A: We were a little put off at being on a show with that title, but Zimmern explained that his show is transitioning more toward food with interesting backstories or histories. This episode was (about) the Pony Express, and my family’s ranch has been around for 160 years, meaning it started before the Pony Express.

There was a dish (the show) emphasized called “cowboy sushi,” which we’ve been making for special occasions and events for years. My mom grows a premium grade sushi rice, and my dad raises wagyu beef, which was originally a Japanese breed of beef. The cowboy sushi combines both of these items, as it is seared wagyu over the rice, sashimi style, usually with a light topping of soy with green onions or wasabi.

It was invented by chef and owner of Mulvaney’s B&L, Patrick Mulvaney, a longtime family friend. He was actually in the episode as well, representing the final destination of the Pony Express: Sacramento.


Photo used by permission of Travel Channel
Senior Tori Van Vleck listens to Andrew Zimmern talking about her family’s generations of farmers and ranchers.

Q: Who else was in the show?

A: (Aside from) my immediate family and excluding my brother (Christian, ’17) since he couldn’t come home from college for the weekend, my grandparents and two of our ranch managers (attended the show), all of whom live on the ranch.


Q: When you rewatched the clip, was there anything you were surprised about?

A: They didn’t include a ton of cooking or eating footage, which I thought they would as it took so long to film. I was a bit mortified that they played a (clip) where I joked, “Just a typical Sunday dinner!” twice. Not only did I cringe when (the clip) was used as a “What’s Coming Up” before a commercial, but I had to sit through it again when it actually played in the episode.


Q: What was the venue like?

A: The venue was just at our house on the ranch. They had some portable lighting and some of the reflectors for filming, but other than that, it wasn’t too staged. My parents were hooked up to mics.

There was probably a crew of 13. They were all really nice, helpful and definitely experienced, as they were constantly moving around and changing positions as we filmed.


Q: What was most memorable about being in the show?

A: At first, my parents were a tad stressed by the whole ordeal, and it was a little stressful that there was no script – (Zimmern) just said, “Act natural and you’ll do great.”

I was a little afraid I’d mess up the flow of the show. However, by the end of the night we were all having a ton of fun. Andrew and his crew were all so nice and friendly, and it was great to be surrounded by friends and family and great food. It barely felt like a TV show.


Q: Did anything interesting happen behind the scenes?

A: It was snowing up in Nevada where some of the earlier segments of the show were supposed to be filmed, so they ended up shooting (those scenes) at the ranch. It was the part in the episode where Andrew and another man rode on horses and shot balloons.

—By Ming Zhu

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