Adam Richman was the same charismatic guy’s guy Thursday in the Tribune Tower cafeteria that he was as host of Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food” — you just wouldn’t have known it at first.
The burly Brooklyn native known for taking on restaurant food challenges across the country wore a sports jacket and loose tie, and was accompanied by six-to-eight equally stylish people — including publicists, Jim Beam sponsors and a makeup artist. Before we could start what originally was going to be an interview over cafeteria food, which would be filmed for the Tribune’s website, Richman was touched up for 10 minutes or so.
But Richman said he has no intention of becoming another ego-maniac food personality, or, as he put it, an “inaccessible, effete food douche.” He has just found success on TV and is making the most of histhe opportunities, including a sponsorship deal with Beam’s Red Stag bourbon that brought him to Chicago to promote a Red Stag-branded food truck.
Here is what the Yale drama school alum had to say about the show that made him famous, its spinoff, “Man vs. Food Nation,” and his current March Madness-like Travel Channel show “Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America,” during our half-hour conversation over Red Stag-inspired dishes. An edited version of that conversation follows.
Luis: What’s the key to eating on camera?
Adam: Realize where you articulate. If I hold all my food here (right cheek), I can still talk. I can essentially recite the Declaration of Independence, as long as I keep my food here. If I move it to my left side, I’m absolutely shot.
Luis: Let’s say you eat food you weren’t digging, but you want to act excited afterward …
Adam: I don’t want to lie to anybody, and I will find something genuinely positive to say. In Tampa, I tried alligator ribs and they said it tasted like pork — and that’s why I said on camera, ‘It did taste like pork.’ Psychologically, I couldn’t enjoy the fact that I’m eating alligator ribs, ‘cause it’s like cartilage.
Luis: What are you like after you’re stuffed? Have you thrown a temper tantrum?
Adam: I haven’t done challenges in, like, two and a half years. It’s kind of hard to really remember all the minutiae of it. Generally speaking, the one thing I remember feeling is a little bit of jealousy for my crew because I had to go work out right afterward.
Luis: How could you?
Adam: I had to from a health standpoint. I always had a gallon of water waiting on ice in my hotel room. The crew could go out, they would drink beers at the restaurant and flirt with girls and I’m doing the Bataan Death March with a gallon of water on the hotel treadmill. A lot of people, I’m sure, wanted to see me have adverse effects, and I was never going to give them the satisfaction.
Luis: Everybody asks about your digestion in interviews. Is there anybody that gets more questions about that than you?
Adam: I doubt it. Maybe (“Bizarre Foods” host) Andrew Zimmern, I suppose, because he’s always eating balls and bugs and stuff like that. I’ve gotten everything from (what are) my restroom habits to, is there any food I can’t eat, to, are there any lasting effects. The only lasting effect I have is I can’t enjoy raw oysters the same way I used to. I did 180 oysters in New Orleans and now they give me the heebie-jeebies.
Luis: At what point do you say, “I can’t do ‘Man v. Food’ anymore. Let’s start thinking of other ideas”?
Adam: A lot of people thought the transition to “Nation” was motivated by health, doctors, me having a premonition of death. Quite frankly, I felt it’s incumbent upon me as a producer to stay ahead of the curve and bring something new to people. How much of the same guy doing the same stuff can anybody watch? I was talking to my co-(executive producer), one of my best friends, Dan Adler, and said “Dude, let’s just get back to basics.” People tell me they use “Man v. Food” for a travel guide. I said “Dude, let’s just show the best sandwiches in America. Every culture has got a sandwich, every income bracket has a sandwich.” And that’s how it was born.
Luis: Do restaurants try to bribe you to film at their establishments?
Adam: There’s no bribing. There are a whole lot of Twitter campaigns. People will blow up my timeline like “RT to get Adam Richman to blah blah blah.” The notion that I’m not doing challenges anymore seems to elude a lot of people because Travel Channel runs the sprockets off of “Man v. Food.”
[Richman’s Twitter bio reads “Quite done with food challenges, thank you.”]
I got challenged today, like, five minutes ago — someone on Twitter. For me, it was a bit of a lark and it was fun and it became a really great career, and it brought 60 to 90 percent more business to all these establishments. To know we were able to do that is awesome.
[Lucky’s Sandwich Company in Wrigleyville was featured on “Man v. Food” in 2008 and still has a large sign outside its door boasting about the appearance.]
Luis: What do people yell at you: “Hey, ‘Man vs. Food’ guy”?
Adam: I get a lot of “’Man v. Food’ guy.” The thing my publicist and manager notice, people touch me a lot. I get slapped on the back, arm punches, headlocks. That’s the double-edged sword with approachability. Look, if the choice is a couple extra slaps on the back or punches in the arm in exchange for a loyal following, I would rather that than people feel I’m some inaccessible effete food douche who makes food you don’t understand — food you can’t afford.
Luis: Do you want to go back into acting?
Adam: I certainly miss it. I was pretty adept at Shakespeare. I miss speaking the speech. I’m very aware of how fickle this business is. And I think it’s incumbent on me to make hay while the sun is shining. So I’m going to take whatever opportunities I can and my schedule allows. I would love the opportunity to walk the boards again. For sure. For sure.