Adam Richman is finally full. The Travel Channel host spent the last few years traveling around the country stuffing his face with down home cooking for his hit program Man v. Food, which featured him facing down the many consumptive challenges thrown at him by America's best BBQs and steakhouses. No more.
Man V. Food has become Man V. Food Nation and Adam has outsourced the eating to local competitors. He's hung up his bib.
That doesn't mean he's going softly into that good dessert. More 5 o'clock shadow than James Beard, Richman is working harder than ever to find America's best kept (and greasiest) secrets. And he doesn't want to hear any more whining about the size of the portions on his show.
Richman talked to us about the new season of his show, his new gig as a Visa spokesperson (he knows, he knows) and how to mix it up on the road.
This season Man V Food has become Man V Food Nation. You're having locals choose restaurants and go through the challenges. Why did you decide to do this and how has it affected you experience traveling the country?
Adam Richman: Our show used to open with a nameless statistic, like 200 people tried this challenge, 3 succeeded. But who were those people? It is the locals, after all, that make these restaurants iconic.
For me having to do the challenges was like having the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head anyway. I was so busy preparing my body for challenges that I wasn't getting to enjoy places as much. Now I'm going out and eating lobster rolls in Portsmouth and mixing it up with the locals rather than trying to stay hydrated.
You seem particularly good at finding little-known places and using local knowledge. Do you have any tips for travelers who are looking for a more authentic experience?
AR: One thing is to travel by unconventional means. Concierges are a great asset for everyone, but talk to the cleaning staff, try to talk to the people in the kitchen. If you want to eat crab cakes then you want to talk to someone for whom they are a way of life, not someone who sees them as a treat.
Less trafficked areas away from museums and public parks – places with a more residential profile – are also surprisingly fun to visit. Super polished signage is not always a good sign. I'm always looking for places that you have to know about to find.
Also, just food-wise, if I'm eating ethnic cuisine – I hate that phrase but still – If I'm eating Mexican food, I'm looking to see that there are Mexicans in the restaurant. They know if the food is being made right.
Man V Food is not a show for gourmands. Do you think there is a time and place for consulting the Michelin guide or are you just a street food sort of guy?
AR: How I eat on the show is definitely not how I eat in real life. I was just in Hawaii and I went to Roy Yamaguchi's beautiful place and had a stunning multi-course meal. There is no right way to go on an edible journey. You can never tell what is going to be great so you have to try everything. If you become doctrinaire about sticking to lowbrow foods or epicurean delights, your just being an extremist and it won't do you any good.
You say try everything. Ever regret that motto?
AR: Natto, Japanese ferment bean paste will never cross my lips again. Spam Musubi, on the other hand, is something I love. I used to have a roommate of Vietnamese decent and he would eat it all the time. It looked gross, but I finally had it – wrapped in seaweed and rice – it was terrific.
Some chefs, notably Alton Brown, writing for the Huffington Post, have accused your show of being about gluttony. Do you think the accusation is fair or that they misunderstand what you're trying to accomplish?
AR: I talked to Alton personally about it and we had to agree to disagree. I think of the type of foods we show as being once in a blue moon indulgences. Let's face it, in this economy everything is an indulgence. Travel is definitely an indulgence. If I never indulged, I think I would feel like I missed out on something.
One fact that is not up for discussion is that the restaurants we feature do 60% to 90% more business. That is not a, as Bill Maher says, "rectally derived statistic." We follow up with these places. I like being the people's champion when it comes to dining.
So how intense is your travel schedule?
AR: It is crazy sauce. Continental keeps giving me the runaround on my elite status. I'm on the road nine or ten months a year. I woke up the other day in my apartment in Brooklyn and I thought: "Which hotel is this?" It took me a while to realize it was home. I felt great when I finally figured it out.