How does one go from the Yale School of Drama to eating 7 pound breakfast burritos for a living (with a stint on Law & Order in between)? Heeb chats with Adam Richman, the host of the #1 rated show on the Travel Channel, Man v. Food, about his circuitous route to foodie fame.
For those unfamiliar with his show, Richman, 36, travels the country in search of the best regional grub, stopping in greasy spoons across the nation to compete in food challenges along the way. He’s memorably taken on a milkshake challenge (drink five 24-oz milkshakes in under 30 minutes), a curry so hot it might be the spiciest in the world, and 15 dozen oysters (yes, that’s 180 oysters). Each time a cook brings him some carbo-monstrosity you think, “he really can’t eat this,” yet more often than not, Richman does — the sweat breaking out on his forehead and all. To some, it might be food porn at its finest while others are merely grossed out as evidenced by comments on the internet and one particularly biting remark from Food Network star, Alton Brown. Either way, you have to give the guy some credit for how much he can pack it in.
But don’t think all he does is pig out for a living. These last few months have been particularly busy for Richman who recently came out with a new book, America the Edible, a collection of food finds, memories, and what he calls “culinary anthropology”. He also has a new version of his popular show, now called Man v. Food Nation. Amidst all this, Richman found time to talk to us about some of his hardest challenges (“cold eggs suck”), Jewish frats and shiksas, and why cooks shouldn’t try to beat him.
So did I see you on a Law & Order episode?
You did. Law & Order: Trial By Jury. You saw me play Officer Marty Cataldo. I’m a swarthy Jew so naturally I always play Latin or Italian.
I understand you have a Master’s from the Yale Drama School? How did you go from Theater and Television to hosting a food show on the Travel Channel?
Basically I have been working in restaurants since I was a teenager. I acted in my youth and did some TV stuff as a kid. Stopped it. Did a little bit in high school. Went away to college. I was told like most good, northeastern Jewish boys that I was gonna be a doctor. Went away to Emory, which is basically like part of the L.I.E [Long Island Expressway]/Jersey Turnpike attached to 85 South (and I actually did an experiment at Emory with my friends: I went into Cox Hall which is this dining hall and I yelled out “David!” and a bunch of guys turned around. “Seth!” and a bunch of dudes turned around. “Michael! Andrew! Aaron!” You know, whatever. And then we did it with the girls. “Lara! Dara! Tara! Sara! Mara! Sara! Tara! Jamie! Jodie! Lindsay! Stephanie!”) You know what I mean? Oh my god. So naturally, the first thing I did was date a shiksa. But, yeah, come on, my name is Adam — forbidden fruit is my stock in trade. So I went to Emory and then in a $5 bet with a fraternity brother of mine, I auditioned for the theater program there and just unlocked something.
What fraternity were you in out of curiosity?
I’m a Jew, pick one of the three! Seriously, pick one of the three.
OK. ZBT, AEPi, what’s the other one?
Ding ding ding! Number two. You got it. AEPi. It’s Sammy, ZBT or AEPi, right? I was in AEPi. I started acting, decided I wanted to make a go at it and starting acting professionally. I had a research grant, I lived in Ireland for a bit, I lived on an Indian reservation for a bit. But what started happening [is] my junior year, I started keeping a food journal. It happened randomly. I had a monster break-up with a Jewish girl from New Jersey. I bought one of those Moleskine books probably to write, like, kind of douche-y, sappy, college-boy broken-heart poetry. And then I just kept doing it and then eventually that journal became a reference tool, if you will. I kept it up through living in all these places. I kept auditioning, kept acting. Got into Yale. Got agents out of school. Began doing regional theater and television and in so doing, again, augmented my journal. I auditioned for Man v. Food. I had nothing to do with the conception or the creation of it at least in the initial stages. I auditioned. It was a six-round process. No challenges along the way, it was just talking about food.