Caught up with Adam Richman, star of Man v. Food on the Travel Channel, Wednesday nights at 10pm, to talk food, towns, people, history, and to ask ...
How fat is your crew? How do you really feel about that place that serves Philly cheese steak wrapped in a slice of pizza? What do you think it says about France that they serve such puny portions? And how close did you come to winning a t-shirt and a guitar when you ate the Johnnie B. Goode sandwich in Boise, Idaho?
Richman is a stand-up Brooklyn boy who fondly remembers the original Nathan's hot dog stand in Coney Island, the old Horn and Hardart's automats of NYC, the cheesecake at Lindy's, and the kasha varniskes at Ratner's.
Tonight on Man v. Food, it's a multi-pound sundae at the Creamery in San Francisco. Other nights, it will be 14-inch-wide pancakes with pineapple,coconut and Macadamia nuts in Oahu, Hawaii and reindeer sausage in Alaska. But it will always be big, Really big. Serious non-stop all-American big.
"Lulu's cinnamon buns weigh three and a half pounds," he explains in a recent entry on his Vlog about an episode that took him to the heartland. "The exact dimensions of Raisa Gorbachev's hat."
Now that's something I did not know. Here's more ...
TS: Tell me about eating that sandwich with "Shut Up Juice" in Little Rock, Arkansas. According to the literature, there's a 70% failure rate. I also want to hear about the Four Horsemen Burger with the "ghost chiles."
Richman: The Four Horsemen is a little scary. There's jalapeno, habenero. You have to get the peppers right. People are so fiercely passionate about their food. I know, I know, in the grand scheme of things, who cares? But there's civic pride in the food. It's not to be trifled with. The Four Horsemen is not a little spicy. The peppers can make an ordinary man crumble.
TS: Why the word "ghost"?
Richman: Probably because it killed people. Kidding. Some of the "Ghost chile" ingredients are not only used in cooking. They're also used to keep wild elephants at bay. So clearly anyone who eats it has less common sense than an elephant. Since I have, it means I'm coming out on top of the elephant. Also, they always say if you want to look skinny, stand next to fat people. So I'm standing next to the elephant on this.
TS: What's the worst thing you ever had to eat?
Richman: In my private or professional life? Wow. I'd have to say goat. There was this goat dish in Texas. Someone had already eaten all the meat out and brought me the rest. It was pretty narly. And I don't want to malign my gracious hosts, but the aforementioned "ghost chiles" are awful. Bloody awful. I say this as a caveat to any chile head -- please, from the bottom of my heart, don't. They are so caustic chemically it surpasses the mere uncomfortability of eating something spicy and brings to it levels of All Quiet on the Western Front.
TS: There's a lot of poetry in the naming of local food.
Richman: There's a donut place in Portland, Oregon called Voodoo Donut. They're like Telly Sevalis. They say things like "Why don't you hang a fang on that?" There's another place called Every Picture Tells A Story Donut. That's pretty good. Let's see. We mentioned Shut Up Juice. Four Horsemen. There's Pastrami From Hell. The unfortunately named Quadruple Bypass Burger. Baseball's Best nachos. Goober burger. And now a few dishes bear my name. They've added a dish to the menu at Pappy's Smokehouse in St. Louis called "The Adam Bomb." When you eat one, you can see all of Madagascar. And now I hear the San Francisco Creamery might add a sundae in my honor.
TS: There's a live chat after tonight's show. It's 10:30ET at www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows/Man_v_Food. What do people talk to you about?
Richman: I did a live chat from St. Louis. It's a nice way to connect. I try to use social media as much as possible. I meet all these great people in towns all over the country and I never have enough time to really talk with them. You've got to understand, it's freaky as hell when anyone refers to you as a celebrity. This time a couple of years ago, people didn't want me to sign a parking ticket. Now, it's hats, shirts, cars, cleavage. It's crazy to me. So any opportunity to humanize the experience is great. People I don't know come up and punch me in the arm. Hard.
TS: How did the show come about for you?
Richman: I had been slugging it out in regional theater for five years, augmenting my food journal, working at hotels and theaters and restaurants from San Francisco to St. Louis to Cleveland to L.A. to D.C. and beyond, and I think that certainly played a part in it.
TS: What about the food challenges?
Richman: I honestly didn't know how well I'd do. I still don't. One thing I always want to impress upon everybody who watches the challenges on the show -- the competitive eating -- at no point do I or the network advocate over-eating or reckless gluttony. It's about the occasional indulgence, the once in a blue moon indulgence. In this economy, travel is in and of itself an indulgence. I'm not going to the Riviera or Monte Carlo. I'm going to Pittsburgh. And families of four can go to Pittsburgh and have a great experience and be seriously proud of the food our nation has produced. This is about these great treats that are out there, great local finds, that's the main thing. It's a completely fun exploration of local destinations, one bite at a time.
TS: A love of American places and people?
Richman: Places that have a distinct voice. A distinct link to the environment in which they are. That's the great part. We go to places to eat in Little Rock, Arkansas and see what they represented to both a former president, and farmers who still go to the Mercantile to buy wingnuts for their lawnmowers. It's not just a souvenir. It's something you can ingest, something you can taste. What is Arkansas? What do they grow there? Who owns the shops? Tangible edible proof of the place, and the life.