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Travel Channel's Adam Richman Talks New Haven Apizza, Greenwich Food & Wine Fest

You may remember Adam Richman as the affable TV host who braved the country's most gut-busting, tongue-searing extreme eating challenges for Travel Channel's "Man v. Food." His 2009 Hartford episode had him tackling a 10-pound stuffed pizza at Randy's Wooster Street in Manchester (with a teammate) and in its 2011 spinoff, "Man v. Food Nation," he cheered on a Yale student attempting to eat 10 Caseus Cheese Truck grilled cheese sandwiches in an hour.

These days, Richman has been traversing the globe for his latest show, "Secret Eats." In its second season, the Travel Channel program has dispatched him to Buenos Aires, Manila, Bangkok, Johannesburg and Rome, where he seeks "the most unique, surprising hidden food treasures in the world." Amid his packed travel schedule, he'll also be a special celebrity guest at the upcoming Greenwich Wine and Food Festival, returning to Roger Sherman Baldwin Park Sept. 23 and 24.

Richman, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, recently spoke to The Courant about his plans for the Greenwich gala, as well as his affinity for the Nutmeg State (especially its pizza) and how he's using his professional theater experience to raise awareness of a significant cause.

You've been involved with the Greenwich Wine and Food Festival for a few years now. What do you like about this event?

I think part of it is, because it's a part of the country and the state that I very seldom get a chance to go to, that learning about the culinary scene in Greenwich is always something that I find really fascinating. ... The chefs that are involved are people I genuinely care about and respect, and people that I get to see so [seldomly].

I think it's always been a really special event. They get great people. The grounds are beautiful, it's right on the water, what's not to like?

The other thing for me that I really like the most, is nothing that appears on the schedule. That's just the opportunity to actually interact with the folks that watch your shows and buy your books, and basically allow you to have a career as a television food person. And I think that's maybe my favorite part of any given festival. To make yourself accessible and make yourself available and actually hear what the people who provide you with a career want to see or what they respond to. I think that makes you a better host in the long run.

The second season of "Secret Eats" began airing Aug. 8. What can "Man v. Food" fans expect from this show's concept?

"Man v. Food" was a celebration of the iconic places the locals knew, that people knew about in cities before they ever went there, the dishes that were legend. But "Secret Eats" is a celebration of the places that the locals themselves might not even know about. [These] are dishes that people who've gone to these restaurants for 10 years might not even know are on the secret menu, or if there even is a secret menu.

International travel can be expensive, daunting, scary, and it doesn't have to be any of those things. So for 22 minutes, I'm going to show you awesome food in the strangest, most crazy places to find it, in some of the most beautiful places on Earth. And that's maybe the most simple distillation of the show I can give.

You've produced the play "Stalking the Bogeyman" in New York and London, based on the true story of David Holthouse, a journalist who once wrote about his plot to stalk and kill the man who raped him as a child. How did you get involved with this cause?

I got involved with [helping survivors] after the [Jerry] Sandusky trial. I, first, was like one of the other thousands upon thousands of people just spouting anger and vitriol and "string him up" and all kinds of stuff. And I just realized, I don't know why … I literally just had a moment, I said to myself, I could either be another voice of anger or a voice of choice. I found about an organization called RAINN [Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network] and that became my gateway into realizing how pervasive the abuse is and how so many victims suffer in silence.

Sometimes it's easier to address an uncomfortable topic when you're doing it through song, when you're doing it through a play. I think if it opens a dialogue and even increases the possibility of one more person getting help, then that's a damn awesome thing.

As a Yale graduate, you're pretty familiar with the city of New Haven. Any favorite local spots?

[I'm familiar with] Connecticut in general. For me, I remember going out to Mystic as a little kid, I remember … visiting the Yale campus. Because I auditioned for Yale three times. I will fully cop to it … in general, Connecticut was my home for three solid years. I've gone back regularly to see shows, I've filmed on the Yale campus, I filmed a Hartford episode, a New Haven episode [of "Man v. Food"]. New Haven was the opening episode for the entire series of "Man v. Food Nation." Sometimes New Yorkers get a little myopic about the tri-state area … but I think that we're very blessed to have something like Connecticut.

For me, Lighthouse Point, that place was my salvation many a time as an angst-ridden graduate student. I loved going to the clubs and the bars in Norwalk. I love the ease of flying out of Hartford. I love the brick oven pizza in Wooster Square, whether that Wooster Square is Randy's in [Manchester] or in New Haven. It's cool. If people appreciate me or what I've done or what I feel I represent, if their opinion of me would in turn let them cast a favorable eye on a state I really dig, that's a really cool, special thing.

And you're a fan of Modern Apizza?

Huge fan of Modern. And I found out one of my favorite places closed, though, Bentara? I used to love that spot. ... And, the funny thing was, I was filming my NBC show, "Food Fighters," and this guy is making this pizza, and he's talking about how he and his roommate in college used to go to a pizza place [BAR] that used to make garlic mashed potato pizza.

And I go, "Hmm, may I ask, sir, was this establishment on Crown Street?" And he said, "Yes." I said, "Might you be an Eli Bulldog, sir?" And he said, "Yeah! How do you know?" And I'm like, "Because I once had a 203 area code, my brother."

So if you had to recommend five must-eat foods or restaurants in the Elm City, which would you choose?

If you're in Connecticut, or New Haven area, you have to have a whoopie pie. I would recommend a pumpkin whoopie pie, that's just me. I would say definitely BAR's garlic mashed potato pizza. I would say Louis Lunch, I would definitely say Modern for the clams casino pie. It's not just my friendship with Billy [owner Bill Pustari], I like seeing locals there. I find that very comforting. Obviously Sally's and Pepe's just have massive reputations, they're just like juggernauts.

I would go to the restaurant at the Study Hotel [Heirloom]. Chef Carey Savona is an absolute stud. He's nice, he's kind, a very gifted chef. I would say whatever Carey has fresh and seasonal, there's nothing really like when you get a good chef, in the sense of play. When you get them with the ingredients they love working with, at a time they love working with it.

Are there any other chefs that you're wowed by, people whose work you love and respect?

I'm a huge John Besh fan. He walked in front of me at the Beard Awards once to say hello to the friend of mine sitting next to me and I didn't have the moxie to ask her to introduce us.

I'm friends with him, but I always find Bobby Flay inspirational. I love Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong in Hawaii, what they do out there, what they've built out there — their sheer culinary acumen and the type of culinary professionals they are, it's just awesome.

I'm not in New York enough to really avail myself of every restaurant and, to be fair, I haven't been to so many of the great names that you hear over and over again to be honest. … That's the thing about the festivals that I've done, you get the chance to meet these chefs and should I ever have down time, I can finally avail myself of these places. Otherwise it's really hard to stay up to date.

The Greenwich Wine and Food Festival runs Sept. 23 and 24 at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park. Adam Richman hosts the festival's Master Chef dinner Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. and the fifth annual Burger Battle Sept. 24 at 4:45 p.m. The festival features a full schedule of tastings, special dinners, cooking demonstrations, contests and live entertainment. Information: serendipitysocial.com/greenwich-wine-food.

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