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Adam Richman Hunkers Down to a Third Season of 'Man v. Food'

by Joel Keller, posted Jun 23rd 2010 4:01PM
Adam Richman cutting some gyro meat in Cleveland on 'Man v. Food'Even though the Travel Channel's 'Man v. Food' has just started its third season, the show's host, Adam Richman, is still blown away by how much attention it's gotten. "The fact that I'm doing interviews right now with my one time Internet service provider is pretty remarkable," he told me when I spoke to him last week.

In the show, Richman travels to a different locale each week, chowing down at long-time comfort food hangouts. In every episode, he takes on a different eating challenge, usually involving some sort of tremendous volume (a five-pound burrito, a 12-patty burger, two gallons of milkshake) or extreme heat.

The current season of the show continues tonight at 9PM ET, with Adam traveling to Cleveland to take on a five-pound grilled cheese sandwich (urp). Read on about the current season, how Richman prepares for mowing down all that food, and where he thinks the best sushi in the country is (hint: it's nowhere near where you'd expect).

The last time I spoke to you, we were talking about Jersey and places to eat.

We shot a New Brunswick episode in season 2. But this season, with no connection whatsoever to the similarly named MTV series, there is a Jersey shore episode.

Where on the Jersey shore are you guys going to be going?
We went kind of all over the place. We went to LBI, we went to Seaside Heights and we were in Point Pleasant.

What was the challenge of the Jersey shore episode?
Massively spicy wings. You have to forgive me, I don't mean to be unduly cagey, I don't know how much the network is actually revealing before the episode airs.

Have you guys gotten to the point now where you know what you're doing and when you land in each city/state do you know what the plan is?
By now I certainly know what is required of me, I know what works, I know what doesn't work. I know from my own experiential truth, I know from speaking to fans, I know from watching the cuts myself just as a viewer I know what works. I think that this season -- one of the great parts about working for Travel Channel, for 'Man Vs. Food,' is that I have to believe this is not the norm among networks. The amount of attention that we pay to the fans, to the feedback on message boards, on Twitter, on Facebook is really quite, quite substantial. We really do try to take into account what people are responding to, what they do like. There are foods and types of challenges that we've definitely never done before and I can speak to that from a personal gastric perspective, as much as I could speak as a viewer and a guy who works on the show.

What kind of challenges -- even if you can't get into specifics?

Gosh, original ones? For example, there have been very spicy wing challenges, we've gone to a quantity ones, we've gone to multiple dish type things, we've gone to different time limit ones. We've done outdoor, indoor, things that I've had to use a machete to eat, things that I need a translator in the kitchen for, things that are -- I'm trying to go through the mental Rolodex.

I think it's very auspicious that this season, the first day of the first shoot of the first episode was a challenge. It was really like, "Welcome back to season 3, buddy." It was bombs away, but it's awesome. I don't want to spoil stuff by giving specifics, but there is a challenge this season that is retribution for a challenge I lost in season one. Anyone who has been following this show season one, it's not the same location, but it's virtually the same type of challenge and it was absolutely my personal nadir. People came up to me time and time and time again with regard to having lost this other challenge and how disappointed they were. It was as much for me as it was for everyone else in 'MvF' nation that wanted to see me win.

Does it involve dairy? That seems to be your white whale.
Everyone thinks so, but then again I did crush the Chicken Ruth's challenge with a 5 pound milkshake and I also did the kitchen sink in Walnut Creek, CA.

I had one really rough dairy challenge. There's also stuff that's going to be visually appealing. There's one challenge that I know for a fact that's out there because it's on the Travel Challenge Web site -- go to your hungriest most awesome comfort food self and now what if I told you I was going to give you a 5 pound grilled cheese with like 14 different cheeses in it?

Right? Yeah. You might not be able to finish it, but my gosh you want to sit down and watch 'Lord of the Rings' and have a bowl of tomato soup.

That's the thing why 'Man vs. Food' endures. I'd like to sit there and think it's because the ridiculously handsome host, but I'm not that deluded. The simple fact is it's the food you want to eat, it's food that's accessible, it's food that's affordable and this season, the absolute variety -- and I've been blown away.

Both the stuff that I've done on my own -- I get the chance to occasionally explore cities on my own during time off or evenings and stuff -- to find Salt Lake City of all places has vast culinary gems that in a million years you'd never expect a city that shuts down so early to have such a significantly stayed, respectful, religious profile would have some cutting edge cuisine.

What's an example?
I can mention it because it's my fourth pick. I don't know if you're aware on the Travel Channel Web site I often have fourth picks for restaurants that are just my pick or research or friends had recommended. I'm always very forthcoming on whether or not I actually ate there or if it's a recommendation from a source I trust. I'm very, very up front about that.

This was one in Salt Lake that blew me away. I'm a trained sushi chef, but there's a sushi place I found called Takashi, which is arguably some of the best sushi I've ever eaten.

And they're not near any sushi at all, unless you count the lake.
And it's a salt lake so inherently any fish you would get in sushi aren't necessarily suited for it. Add to that that the prime Asian community there is Laotian, you're dealing with a community that doesn't necessarily speak to a historical connection to sushi and yet the staff is some of the most impeccably trained that I have ever seen and deeply knowledgeable, deeply skilled. The actual final product is staggering, it could stand alone in Chicago, Los Angeles or New York tomorrow.

You mentioned that the show has been shaped via feedback from viewers. What is a good example of that?
The challenges we solely fell into in the first season were spicy or big. The thing is, that's fine and I'm sure there are ways to make that compelling, but there needs to be more genres. There can't just be, "Is this a spicy one this week or a big one this week?" We needed to find other dimensions to make food challenges challenging.

Last season we had stuff like the Doughman where there was a relay race involved, we've had things where it was a giant sandwich and a giant shake, we've done ones where it's five little fritters that pirates served me or what have you. I think that's it, I think the decision to find more topical ports of call so to speak in terms of showcasing on the show has been important.

There are certain challenges that people submit to us time and time again that have history, a lineage. There are challenges that are old, that have existed for a long time that are just not compelling to watch or are repetitive in the cycle of our episodes and quite frankly just kind of gross. But, there are other challenges that we've undertaken this season that have just a different bent, either because of the location or the approach. A type of sandwich or a type of spice used or a type of technique, just something to differentiate like a wing challenge this season from a wing challenge in season one.

Do you find restaurants creating challenges knowing that you're coming to town?

What's a good example?
I heard that there's -- I forget where, upstate -- but they have like -- some restaurant, I'm going to make up a name, let's say Steve's, I don't know -- but, they now have like "Steve vs. Food" on the menu. The Tampa Bay Rays have in Tropicana Field at their restaurant, they have a "Fan vs. Food" challenge. Restaurants will definitely start a challenge in the hopes that we'll come. The thing that is clearly our first preference is going to be challenges that have a history and have a lineage, such that we could talk about statistics. It's dodgy if I inaugurate challenges. In fact, looking back over 'Man Vs. Food,' it's only really been done once in Philadelphia. I was the first person to inaugurate the Ultimate Cheese-steak Challenge. Quite frankly, I think that it's really about pushing the envelope.

We can't do wings this season that are anything like San Jose season 1 or Pittsburgh season 1 or Brooklyn season 2, I mean out of respect for the viewing audience, we owe them. We owe them the debt of something interesting and new and reflective of the specific restaurants position.

Have you found that even cities that may not have big food reputations have those hidden local gems that people would find if they just took some time to look and research?
Absolutely. I mean, I think people talk about a slow food movement and a local-vore movement. I'm a firm supporter of both of those. I also think that in this economy, it's the mom and pop shops that need our business. It's a great honor of mine on 'Man Vs. Food' to point the camera in their direction because restaurants get anywhere from a 65 to 95 percent bump in business just from being on the show. That's proven. I think that people are afraid sometimes when they're out of their comfort zone and what we try to say is, "Look, this is a country you live in where you speak the language, you carry the currency. You have the same president, the same frame of reference." All it is is just your willingness to be an adventurer, to go on your own quest.

Let's talk about you personally and physically right now. Has doing the challenges taken any kind of toll on your body? Any kind of affect? Anything at all?
Nothing lasting. I think it's because if I were to be caviler and gone into this show haphazardly and just sort of let the chips fall where they may, I think that I absolutely would be in a very, very compromised position. But, because I've taken so many steps prophylactically to stave of the potentially adverse effects -- and that includes a workout regimen, and that includes cleanses, that includes going to doctors before I even had the show -- I wanted to make sure that my medical self was about maintaining a baseline of fitness as opposed to fixing or addressing a problem that was to emerge later on.

I think that for me I find that as long as I maintain this regimen, you may feel the effect at the moment, you may feel the spiciest wings on Earth, I think you'd have to be an android to be unaffected. But, the thing is, again, if I prep my body adequately before the challenge, those effects are significantly minimized.

It's kind of ironic that it took me getting a job -- I was always very active in terms of just wanting to be healthy -- but, I find it oddly ironic that it took me getting a job where I eat some of the richest foods on the planet to have me in the arguably healthiest lifestyle I've been in.

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