When I first heard of Man v. Food show, I was skeptical.
So this guy goes around the country, attempting to conquer iconic food challenges (i.e. scarfing an entire 72-ounce steak at Amarillo’s Big Texan Steak Ranch), while we watch? But a few minutes into the show, I was hooked. Adam Richman’s wit, charm and seemingly endless stomach space won me over. We talked to this food enthusiast about the show, best places to sample American food and who serves up the best pizza in his old stomping grounds of New Haven, CT.
AndrewZimmern.com: Who came up with the idea for Travel Channel’s Man v. Food and how do you describe it to people?
Adam Richman: Travel Channel had always had an overwhelmingly positive response to their programs “Food Paradise” and “10 Best Places to Pig Out.” They both continue to air on the network, in fact. It was Travel Channel’s belief that the basic celebration of the wide landscape of truly iconic American food, could translate to a series.
How do I describe it? Honestly – a pure expression of unbridled joy. When we travel, we often give ourselves license to indulge and set aside our strict regimen for a while. And the destinations that we hit on Man v Foodare not only places that boast super delicious and decadent food item, but are also integral parts of the fabric and tapestry that make up that city or town they are located in. These places and the foods they serve are true products of the region – influenced by immigration, agriculture, industry, ethno-demographics etc. and are therefore sacred to the folks that live there. The series is exploration and celebration of a destination – one bite at a time.
AZ.com: Have you always been the type of guy to tackle a dare, or a food dare?
AR: Not so much, really – despite what I tell myself. I think, like a lot of guys who grew up in Brooklyn, there’s a certain innate degree of moxie or swagger or whatever that is imprinted in your DNA somehow. But I’ve never been like Daredevil McGee. I guess, at some point within the last handful of years though, I just really began to take stock in two philosophies – one of my Dad’s old maxims about life, “This ain’t no dress rehearsal,” and the Samurai Bushido’s principal of making a decision about anything within the span of 7 breaths. I acknowledge the outward-seeming esoteric, hippie-dippyosity of this, but in truth, I just combined them both and now approach actions, travel, people, food challenges with a sort of “suck the marrow out of the moment” philosophy. I strive to throw myself into whatever situation with a kind of committed, focused abandon. And I have to tell you – it’s sooooo cool.
AZ.com: You travel around the country sampling iconic foods and taking on legendary eating challenges (such as wolfing down a 13 pound pizza at Atlanta’s Big Pie in the Sky). What’s the message? What are viewers supposed to take away from Man v. Food?
AR: Actually the pie at Big Pie in the Sky in Kennesaw, GA is 11 pounds and you actually get a partner and an hour. It’s one of the funniest challenges ever!
The message? How do I assign any message to this show without it seeming heavy handed? I’m not sure there is some deeply prolific parable to take away from me rocking the 72 ounce steak challenge in Amarillo. It’s fun. I had immense amounts of fun. The diners had immense amounts of fun. The Route 66 Roller Derby team had immense amounts of fun. That said – if I’m pressed to declare a message it would be this – It’s okay to enjoy yourself and indulge every so often – and if you want to explore a new locale, make sure not to overlook the classic foods that the locals love. They are an amazing window into the city you are exploring.
AZ.com: The obesity epidemic is a serious issue– not just in the United States, but globally. Some people might say that you eat some of the unhealthiest food known to man. Do you feel the concept is at all irresponsible and does that topic ever come up in your pre-pro meetings?
AR: Great question. I always like to make this clear when given the opportunity. Neither I nor Travel Channel espouses eating like this on a regular basis. That would be ridiculous. There is a difference between crazy moments of devil-may-care munching, and abject gluttony. I think conveying that one should make a diet of bacon cheeseburgers and fried chicken would be HIGHLY irresponsible and at no point do we, nor WILL we do that.
As a man who has had to address weight issues for a significant period of his life, it is naturally at the forefront of my thoughts during production. I REGULARLY get my cholesterol, liver enzymes, blood lipids checked when not on the road or when I return from a three-city sweep. During shooting, on non-challenge days, I generally only eat enough for us to get the shots we need. We shoot too many shows back-to-back to go hog wild. Additionally, I always stay at hotels with gyms so I am able to work out everyday. When I am back at home, I work out with a physical trainer and eat a health, balanced diet.
AZ.com: What’s been the easiest food challenge so far?
AR: I’m inclined to say the Dagwood at the Ohio Deli in Columbus. It was a 2 1/2 lb. cold cut beauty with a pound of fries to be eaten in under 30 minutes. This bout was the one that helped me realize the importance of a developing a specific game plan when tackling the challenges.
AZ.com: Most difficult?
AR: Everything else. Nah, I mean they’re all tough to some degree. Some because I had a full day of shooting and eating the day prior, others because of what the challenge entails. The Juan in a Million Challenge in Austin and the Sasquatch Burger in Memphis were pretty gnarly, though. The aforementioned carnivore in Atlanta was a monster too – though I fared better there.
AZ.com: Anything you never want to try again?
AR: To be frank – I don’t plan on tackling any of the food challenges a second time. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE doing them – it’s such a rush – part party, part combat, part Coliseum. But I’m not a competitive eater and have no aspirations to be.
That’s kinda the point – I’m just a dude who loves traditional food and likes to eat and travel. And I know I am not the only one out there. But I’m just a guy, like any other traveler, who might come into one of these iconic eating establishments and take one of these challenges on. It bears noting that we don’t construct these challenges. These challenges have been consistently offered at all of the locations we visit. There have been many before me and will be many after who take them on and I’m not trying to be number one. I’m looking to try my hardest and put in a respectable showing – not break records. For me – to paraphrase Hamlet – the experience is all.
AZ.com: Any food worth flying the redeye, wedged between by two people with no concept of personal space, just to eat again?
AR: First few that come to mind – some are featured on the show and others are from my own personal travels:
1) Concrete at Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard – St. Louis
2) Sesame Noodles at Rainbow on Nicollet- Minneapolis, MN
3) The turkey breast with Habanero sauce at The Salt Lick – Driftwood, TX
4) Chess Pie – Gus’s Fried Chicken – Memphis, TN
5) Double dipped beef with sweet and hot – Al’s Italian Beef, Chicago
6) Peanut Butter Fudge Cream Puff – Schmidt’s Sausage House, Columbus
7) Nachos – The Vortex, Atlanta, GA
AZ.com: Five favorite restaurants in New York.
AZ.com: Five favorite iconic restaurants in the US.
AR: Not sure in this case what becomes an icon most…but here are some I love – iconic status subject to review.
Zankou Chicken – Los Angeles; Angus Barn – Raleigh, NC; Lynn’s Paradise Cafe – Louisville, KY; Hot Sauce Williams – Cleveland; Mayflower Dim Sum – Milpitas, CA; Cafe du Monde – New Orleans; Al’s Italian Beef – Chicago; Primanti Bros. – Pittsburgh
AZ.com: Who has the best pizza in New Haven and why?
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
AR: Not much – I’m on the road so much. I think there may be some batteries and condiments at this point.
Catch Adam on Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food,” Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET. For more information on Adam, check out his bio on www.travelchannel.com