UPDATE: Richman’s show has been pulled by Travel Channel, reports The Washington Post.
TV host Adam Richman wants to give viewers the "keys to the culinary kingdom."
Well, the keys to his culinary kingdom, which are decidedly not royal.
No, Richman's culinary realm, built on comfort food, sloppy sandwiches and extreme overeating, is quite plebeian.
But that's just how he wants it.
"I don't come at (food) from a chef-y standpoint," said Richman, the host of "Man v. Food," "Man v. Food Nation" and "Fandemonium."
"I am not trained at Le Cordon Bleu or C.I.A., (and) I think that helps reach people. I am not trying to speak over their heads or use terms that they don't know.
"I just want to help people find the food that everybody wants to eat."
Richman, 40, attempts to do just that in his newest Travel Channel show, "Man Finds Food," including one episode set in Chicago. The expository show follows Richman as he travels the country discovering "hidden" restaurants and tasting "secret" menu items in 13 cities, including Atlanta, New York, Honolulu and Milwaukee. In each half-hour episode, Richman, who has a master's degree from Yale University's School of Drama, descends upon a given city and tastes four off-the-menu dishes at four locales.
In Chicago, Richman tries A Tavola's Meat & Potatoes, a 3-pound rib-eye served with a heaping pile of gnocchi; Scofflaw's Guapichosa, a colossal sandwich made with an inordinate number of ingredients; La Sirena Clandestina's Size Me Up, a platter of chef-selected grilled meats; and Phil's Last Stand's fried shrimp po' boy (self-explanatory).
We caught up with Richman over the phone to talk about his new show, how he makes that first bite look so darn appetizing and how he stays fit (he's lost more than 50 pounds in the past year) while eating for a living.
Q: When did you first think about marrying your two interests, food and performance?
A: I read a book called "The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People With Too Many Passions to Pick Just One" by Margaret Lobenstine, and, essentially, through reading that book I realized that what I was meant to do lay at the crossroads of food and some kind of entertainment. It was really just reading that book and figuring out the things that I had proclivities for in terms of food knowledge, being able to cook and being able to view a narrative like a performer.
Q: On "Man Finds Food," you strike a balance between the goofy performance stuff and the dissemination of serious culinary information and opinions.
A: I think one has to, right? I'm not out there cooking for orphans at the James Beard House and I'm not out there doing Shakespeare. There has to be a little bit of serving two masters to really make this work. I'm well aware enough of where I'm in the food strata to know I'm not going to hold my breath for a James Beard Award, as much as I would like one, and I'm not going to hold my breath for an Academy Award. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that to do what I'm doing and not imbue it with culinary merit and not imbue the TV I'm making with some acting merit, you end up with a mishmash of something that is subpar on every level.
Q: Where did the idea for "Man Finds Food" come from?
A: People tell me all the time that when they travel for work and they have some downtime, they see where I went on "Man v. Food," and that tells them where to go. So I said what about the notion of looking at the hidden places, the off-the-menu stuff, because everybody deserves to feel like a man. That's basically the show; let's find a way to put the keys to the culinary kingdom in everybody's hands and find the coolest, secret, most hidden eats.
Q: How did you choose the locations in Chicago?
A: We do this by committee. Internet searches, and I do know a few chefs in Chicago and a few restaurant owners, and I will ask them questions here and there, but it generally comes down to paying attention to every food blog and every Instagram account and really trying to get a survey of the city. Ideally, we end up with an embarrassment of riches so we can winnow them down.
Also, you can't just choose any four places. They all have to work together in the best context, and sometimes the secret aspect is not divergent enough to make for great TV. Sometimes it's repetitive of what we have in another episode or it's a little too inside baseball. I always hated when I would see a celebrity chef try a dish, but it was a dish that was made exclusively for them, so it was important to me to make sure that these were dishes that would exist and could be sampled by anybody.
Q: The series has a guerrilla filming look to it, in that the audience sees the camera and you refer to the camera operators. Why did you choose to do that?
A: One thing that has been really important to me throughout all the shows that I've done is keeping it real. It's not just me going to these restaurants, I'm with my crew. It's not just me going from city to city; my crew is with me. Also, people eventually say, "Come on, Adam, not everything you taste can be so great," so it's awesome to, A, have another perspective and, B, show this other community that happens while you are on the road with a bunch of people. I think it's important for us to show that it's not just a host and a chef, but it's two cameras and a whole bunch of lighting and a whole bunch of people in a very tiny room all trying the stuff and all experiencing this together. That gives a little bit of context and makes the viewer feel like they are discovering these places with us.
Q: My favorite thing about a lot of food shows is that first bite shot. How do you make whatever you're trying look so good?
A: I will be honest that the only trick I have is that I refuse to try the "mission" dish until I try it on camera. I get offered a little bite of this and a little piece of that quite often, but I won't do it until I am on camera, so there is a degree of authenticity that is preserved because I want my reaction to be authentic. You have to remember, if you eat it in an unappetizing way, you could turn the most delicious thing in the world into junk.
Q: Has there been a moment when you've eaten something and it was really bad?
A: First, you have to acknowledge that fried chicken, even in its worst incarnation, is going to be somewhat tasty. It's about personal preference. So, yeah, there have been a couple times where a regional dish is not my cup of tea, but I try to be honest. I make an effort to praise something in particular that I genuinely like about the dish. Perhaps it's a matter of a great choice of condiment or the contrast between the bread and that which is in it. I will say that none of the praise that I ever heap upon something is false. I won't do that.
Q: You look incredibly healthy in this show. How do stay in shape on the road?
A: I work out for at least an hour every day. Caloric restriction when I'm not filming. I try to keep my meals off-camera largely plant-based, so I have my really fun, indulgent foods on-camera. And I drink a gallon of water every day.
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'Man Finds Food'
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