Interview: Travel Channel’s Man V. Food Host Adam Richman

Interview: Travel Channel’s Man V. Food Host Adam Richman

Hosting Travel Channel’s Man V. Food has taken a toll on Host Adam Richman. “I’m eating vegetables. A couple bowls of oatmeal and Fiber One. I’m about to start up with my trainer again and checking in with my doctors to make sure no dust has settled on moving parts.”

On the show, Richman travels to one city per episode to sample two local food legends before taking on a challenge at a third. Whether it be heat, volume, time or a combination of all three, Richman does a yeoman’s job of answering the call to duty. Sometimes Man wins, sometimes Food does. No matter what, Richman gives it the ole college try.

“Maybe food will win, maybe man will win. But (if I go down) I’m gonna go down swinging. And I’m going to do it with the aplomb (of) you and your boys are traveling somewhere, you’ve got a road trip or something, and you go to a place and they go ‘Whoever eats as many fried shrimp (or whatever) gets a free t-shirt for everyone in their party and a picture on the wall.’ You and your boys start punching each other in the arm going ‘C’mon! You can do it, dude!’ That’s probably as close to the aplomb that I do the challenges,” Richman says.

Richman grew up in New York City, going to college at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, where he began a food journal to document the best food he found. He took the passion from his days in Atlanta into the culinary world after graduating. Eventually, he earned a master’s degree in Fine Arts from Yale University’s Shool of Drama, then traveled the country acting in regional theatres and appearing on TV (All My Children, Law & Order). Moving from city to city, he kept up his food journal and it’s that journal that gave him a leg up for the job of host of Man V. Food. The show merges his two loves, acting (Adam’s a big personality and his skits on the show have a fun, goofy charm) and food.

You may not agree that the places that Adam goes to are deserving of national TV exposure, but Richman says that’s what is great about the show. “It taps into people’s civic pride and the culinary civic pride. No one’s ever going to 100% agree with us, but we do our best.”

Man V. Food – Suicide Six Wings Challenge in Buffalo, NY

Rock & Roll Ghost: Are you getting a lot of good feedback from the show?

Adam Richman: That’s the rumor.

Because it’s one of the most enjoyable programs I’ve discovered this year.

Thanks so much man! What an awesome thing to say!

I saw the ads while watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations…so I saw the ads and watched and your show is so much fun.

You know what kills me? They have that commercial now…and I’m like ‘did they just say my name in the same sentence as Anthony Bourdain? Because that seems very surreal to me.’ I don’t want to lie and say ‘Oh I’ve met him and we’ve played golf.’ I’ve never met him. I don’t know what the interaction could, would or will be like. But the fact that I’m even affiliated with something that he’s affiliated with I [am] floored. And then to see us side by side on television? I’m like ‘Wait a minute dude, I’ve been buying this guy’s books, what the hell am I doing there?’ Bizarre. Bizarre to say the least.

I just wanted to clear something up. On one area of the Travel Channel website it says you were born in 1982 and another says 1974. ‘74 seems more realistic.

(laughs) Hey, what are you saying? I haven’t kept my youthful looks? I’m just breaking your balls. I was born in ‘74. I should just say I was born in 1907 and then people will think I look really great for my age.

Then 1907 it is.

(in affected, old time voice) ‘Yes I remember Howard Taft. He was a good friend of mine.’

What’s been going on with you lately? Are you done filming the show for the time being?

We’ve wrapped Season One. And we went out with a baaaa-aaaa-ang. An unbelievable last episode in Minneapolis. Now we’re recording voiceovers for the show. I’m eating vegetables. A couple bowls of oatmeal and Fiber One. I’m about to start up with my trainer again and checking in with my doctors to make sure no dust has settled on moving parts. That’s basically where we are right now. Technically, this is the off-season. I still train for the show, it’s just in different ways. You have to keep primed and ready for battle.

You’re a little bit of a bigger guy, did you in your past – I know you never did competitive eating – did you ever, say with friends, go and do some sort of gut buster challenge on your own?

Not really. It was never a ‘I know who can finish it…’ kind of thing. But I think I always dug eating. I come from a family of cooks and eaters. And in a lot of families, certainly Northeastern Jewish families, food is love. Not in terms of a substitution, but in terms of an expression thereof. I’m definitely gonna be intrigued by a 14-inch slice of pizza. I’m not gonna lie. If I’m hungry I’m gonna say I’m hungry. And if I go to a steak house I don’t want to leave hungry. That doesn’t mean I want the thing that they put on the side of Fred Flintstone’s car that tipped it over. I’m not saying I need to constantly be pigging out and chowing down. Quite the contrary. I’ve always been an eater, I’ve always had an appetite. But to be quite honest, I’m as surprised as my family and a lot of the viewing audience that I’m able to do it. Like Lucky’s, the sandwich episode [Chicago] or the 180 oysters [New Orleans] I went into those convinced I was going to lose. Convinced. Like absolutely astonished.

With the oyster challenge in particular…you did that in a better time than anyone else, right?

I’m not 100% sure what my time was on that one. I’m sure the guy who held the uber-record, that guy Boyd Bulot, he is massive. He is a massive individual. So I don’t know where he was…I think he holds the record with 20 dozen or 22 dozen. [It's actually 42 and a half dozen, but who's counting?]

The goal was just for a certain amount in an hour, right?

I believe so. It’s such a blur. I don’t know where he was at 15 because if he was able to knock it out at 22 or whatever then he might have approached that. But to me it was not about time. That’s the big thing…sometimes I’ll do a challenge and then people write on the message boards…I’ll tell you this, I now understand why college girls roll their eyes at college guys. Because you definitely get that macho stuff going to the max. I get these challenges from these big dudes that think they’re like gunslingers, just poppin’ off at the mouth. ‘You know what? I saw you do that and you’re a little wussy. I’m gonna take you down. I’ll eat a tree!’ Shut the hell up! The whole point is that this is Man V. Food. This isn’t Man V. Hubris or Ego or Tradition or anything else. This is just one person who is not a competitive eater, doesn’t live his life and has never has never been vocal about wanting to be a competitive eater. Maybe I can do it, maybe I can’t. Maybe food will win, maybe man will win. But I’m gonna go down swinging. And I’m going to do it with the aplomb like you say of like you and your boys are traveling somewhere, you’ve got a road trip or something, and you go to a place and they go ‘Whoever eats as many fried shrimp (or whatever) gets a free t-shirt for everyone in their party and a picture on the wall.’ You and your boys start punching each other in the arm going ‘C’mon! You can do it, dude!’ That’s probably as close to the aplomb that I do the challenges.

I was just honored by the Brooklyn Borough President and I met the head of this iconic seafood place here. Just because we mentioned the oysters he called me. He’s like, ‘Yeah Adam, it’s Paul, how ya doin’ there? Listen, I seen you ate the 180 clams’ and I hear this voice in the background go ‘Oysters!’, ‘Yeah, oysters. Well I got a guy here who says he wants to challenge you.’ It doesn’t work like that. I’m not Royce Gracie, in the middle of the Ultimate Fighting octagon saying ‘I’ll take anyone on!!!’. Hell no. Hell no. I find the head to head eating contests generally to be repugnant. I will say that, with the exception of maybe 2 or 3 of the challenges in the first season they all were delicious. The Sasquatch burger [Memphis] – delicious. The Don Juan tacos [Austin] – they almost killed me and I still think that they would be one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. The oysters were great – sadly I can’t eat oysters anymore. The huge pizza in Atlanta – delicious. The milk shakes in St. Louis were delicious. Orochon Ramen – if I didn’t have to pound that gigantic kiddie pool full of flame and noodles – if I didn’t have to pound it in a time frame I could honestly see going out with friends and ordering it and absolutely enjoying my meal.

So you’re saying in the first few minutes of doing it you’re like ‘It’s great’ and then after 5-10 minutes it’s like ‘Geez…’

Well I worked with a chef once who told me, when you’re dealing with spicy foods, train your brain and train your palette to taste the pepper rather than the spice. I basically do that within the first two bites…different parts of your tongue sense different…of the tastes [that] there are, they’re all in different parts of your tongue. So I know where spicy is, so I really focus mentally on that part of my tongue and I try to suss out the taste of the pepper. The vegetal taste of the pepper, the earthiness of the pepper. Is it a smoky pepper? Is it a fruitier pepper? Does it have more vinegar in it? If you do that you can go ‘Okay there’s this vegetable stuff from whence the burn comes’. Some challenges make it easier than others I’ll tell you that much.

But the amount of food sometimes has to be a daunting task to continue on with after awhile…

Generally it’s after the 20 minute mark what happens in some cases is…and this is when you definitely know you’re in the ‘Red Zone’ to say the least…is when taste gives way to texture. And that was the problem with the burger. ‘Cause you’re no longer tasting it. It’s just highly unpleasant.

I couldn’t imagine doing that burger challenge.

Which? Boston or Memphis?

Boston.

Yeah, you know…

…well actually either now that I think about it.

There were different factors in each. Memphis it was all about the bun. Boston I openly contest the victory that Chuck claimed for multiple reasons. I openly do not accept that loss. And I’ll say that in press. I think it was a BS victory on his part. The largest of which was that we never got a weight before the challenge. So the weight of our dishes were not the same because you can’t tell A) the exact amount of french fries and B) I got my burgers medium rare which are going to be heavier than a medium well which is what he did.

Right. Less fat…

Less fat. I did it because the juiciness makes it more palatable and easier going down. His was much less weight. The grease literally had congealed into the patty and into the bun so now it’s going to weight twice then it did before. And that’s not discounting…well I don’t want to get into it. But he was not noble. He was not a noble contestant.

It’s one that sticks in your craw.

Absolutely. Absolutely. I will openly contest…I was a sportsman on camera.

What do you do in between seasons?

I get my large booty to the gym. Honestly, to be quite honest. How about that redundancy right there? I can’t say I’m doing nothing. I did voice overs yesterday. I still have interviews to do. And I have a whole life that I have to get back to. I’ve been on the road so long. I’ve got taxes to do, family to see, I’ve got friends to reconnect with, a social life to try and create again. I wish I had the wherewithal to do a play or something like that more than I can possibly express. Sadly I just don’t have the opportunity. They (Travel Channel) wants to start up again in May. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for me. And just have nothing to do. That’s the one part of this show that’s grueling is that I’m in every shot. So I don’t ever really get any downtime. And especially now that the show has some degree of popularity, whereas in the the first ten episodes there was this blissful degree of anonymity where I would shoot and do the do and when I needed a break I could just sit and call and use my computer or read a book. Now whenever there’s a break people come up for autographs and pictures and I sign every autograph and I take every picture. Just because I feel that if I want to reap the benefits of a successful show…because the other side of that equation is just a den of respect I have for everyone that digs it. If that manifests itself as in a picture or an autograph, then so be it. But I lose any kind of depressurization while on location which is a little difficult sometimes. The days when I don’t have interviews and don’t have stuff and I can just turn the ringer off, not check my e-mail and just sit on my couch and watch TV or go for a walk in the park or go to a museum and not be beholden to a shooting schedule and reclaim who I am as a human being. And that’s what I’m trying to focus on in the off season. Other than that, lose about 40 pounds.

You started at what point last year?

We shot in Memphis before we really started getting into the thick of the season. We picked up in the fall and shot through the winter. We finished New Orleans in December if I’m not mistaken. And then we picked back up with Portland, Seattle, St. Louis, LA, San Jose, Denver, North Carolina and then Minneapolis in the new year. Basically a seven month shooting schedule.

When you’re shooting in a city how long is the schedule? Are you there for a day?

Oh my god! Could you imagine if I was there just a day? I would have never lived past episode four. It’s between a four and six day shoot.

You really get to experience the city a bit, then?

Well, I wish that were the case. More often than not it’s three days of shooting. Like Seattle was very quick and dirty. Seattle we flew in, shoot at one place, shoot at another place, shoot the challenge, get in a plane. So that was grueling. And then we went to St. Louis and mercifully got a day off. They were just shooting B roll and stuff like that. Schedule permitting I like to have a day off in each city. Ideally one before a quantity challenge to say the least. But a lot of these cities I’ve lived in already. Like Minneapolis, I lived there. St. Louis, I lived there. LA, San Jose, lived there. My two first cousins went to Duke and Chapel-Hill. My ex-girlfriend went to Duke – been there. I’d never been to Portland or Seattle. I’d been to Memphis. Had not been to Columbus or Austin. I’d been to Chicago. That’s some of the nice parts, seeing some of these places again. I used to live in Atlanta, went to college in Atlanta. My step family’s all from Boston. Our sound guy’s from Pittsburgh. It’s that return to these cities that I find very nice. When we do have days off and I have enough energy, yeah I tour like a crazy person. Sadly, a lot of the days off tend to be restorative rather than exploratory.

Do you film in a bunch of other places that don’t make it on-air?

It tends to happen. A lot of times you’ll see shots that happen under voice over. Every so often, like in Chicago we did a whole bunch at the Maxwell Street fair. In Memphis we spent a whole day at the Arcade which is the oldest restaurant in Memphis and Elvis’ favorite restaurant and that didn’t even make the episode. There’s a couple of shots from the Arcade that are there, but the actual place didn’t make
it. We always try and put in as many eating locations as possible. Like in St. Louis you’ll see me take a bit out of frozen custard because I said we have to go there. Even if it’s just one bite.

That’s logistics and finances. If we’re gonna be in Chicago, Chicago’s an expensive enough city. Whether it’s about permits or all this other stuff…that basically it’s ‘No, we’re shooting at Gino’s East, we’re shooting at Al’s Italian Beef and then we’re doing this challenge at Lucky’s. The other stuff we’re shooting is…we’re shooting at Sears Tower, having me run up the Sears Tower and the Maxwell Street Fair. So if there’s any other eating…if I bought a Superdawg on the street, that’d just be a shot.

That’s the great thing about this show, that it taps into people’s civic pride and the culinary civic pride. No one’s ever going to 100% agree with us, but we do our best.

Some people vilified me…I know we took a lot of heat for Gino’s East. I’m personally such a big Giordano’s fan and Lou Malnati’s…

…yeah! Lou Malnati’s.

Whereas my buddies prefer (Pizzeria) Due and all three of them wanted to burn me alive for going to Gino’s. And everybody at Gino’s is so nice and the food is totally enjoyable. Al’s Italian Beef might be my
favorite show of the entire season. And then everyone was like “No! No! There’s another beef place – ya gotta go there!”

Well Bourdain did Chicago recently and everybody was bitching about where he didn’t go. Anyone from any city ends up complaining about where the host didn’t go.

Of course. But that’s the best part of the show that these are not places that people have soft opinions about. It’s that kind of visceral reaction because, hey, shit, I learned, I listened. I’ll go back. I’ll go somewhere else. I like good food. So hopefully I’ll get a chance to go back.

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