In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Adam Richman is best-known as the host of the now-defunct Travel Channel’s Man V. Food, the guy that the network challenged with putting down five-pound burritos and 100-ounce steaks. He’s more than just a human garbage disposal, though. He’s since gone on to host a number of more broad-based shows on the network, including The Traveler’s Guide To Life and Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich In America. Plus, as fans of his Twitter account know, Richman is also a rabid soccer fan, frequently playing himself.
Richman’s latest endeavor, Secret Eats With Adam Richman, isn’t exactly new—the show previously aired a single season on Travel under the title Man Finds Food—but in it Richman broadens his horizons even further, striking out into the culinary wilds to locate hidden restaurants or off-menu items in places like Bangkok and Argentina. In tonight’s back-to-back episodes Richman tracks down Polish pizza in Warsaw and scrounges for a secret pho bar in Ho Chi Minh City, both of which were probably harrowing experiences that should have no doubt prepared him for the mind-bending barrage that is The A.V. Club’s 11 Questions.
1. What’s a question you wish an interviewer would ask you?
Adam Richman: Apart from the eating on television thing, what else are you involved in?
The A.V. Club: What else are you involved in besides eating on TV?
AR: Well, I sponsored every team in the Park Slope Little League for years.
I sponsor two soccer teams in England, one of which is called Broadley F.C. A kid wrote to me through Facebook because they started a team in honor of their friend who died of leukemia, and he played in the band of this very obscure team in England. I’m a big soccer fanatic, and although I support a team called Tottenham Hotspur in London—I love that team, I wear their symbol around my neck on a chain—I’ve always had a soft spot for this little club. In turn, the town really dug it. This kid was a fan of my shows and said they started a team in their friend’s honor, and they were looking for a sponsor. It was a well-written, really cogent, very clever letter.
I produced a play in New York that got nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best American Play. And it just got three nominations in London. We just produced it in London. I was also the spokesman for RAINN, the Rape Abuse Incest National Network.
The play is called Stalking The Bogeyman. It was a story on This American Life, and my former roommate is the artistic director of the New York Repertory Theater. He heard the NPR show, contacted them, and essentially—shortest synopsis ever, like I’m the Cablevision guide button—it’s the true story of a man stalking and plotting to kill the man who raped him when he was seven. It’s by a brilliant reporter named David Holthouse.
The cool thing is with the production—and it happened in New York and it happened in Alaska, which is David’s home state and where a production was done—people came up to the actors, the directors, and to David himself and began confessing and confiding stories of abuse, and so we realized that there needed to be resources for these people for whom the play unlocked a lot of stuff. We partnered with six different organizations in the U.K., and even have access to their counselors, their website, whatever, directly through our play website. It’s uncanny, and I warned our lead actor that that might occur, as did David himself, and sure enough, he’s told me now that so many people have pulled him to the side and told stories of abuse because it’s cathartic, and it’s encouraged a lot of people to get help.
In addition to my legacy of establishing really kick-ass food challenges and maybe making some people laugh along the way with some good shows, that’s just some of the stuff I’m into.
2. If you could ride a giant version of an animal to work every day, what animal would it be?
AR: Dragon. Easy. I might opt for something like a fire-breathing dragon, but maybe something more akin to Falkor in The Never-Ending Story, simply because I think snuggling up to a giant puppy is a lot better than snuggling up to a giant lizard. I wouldn’t want something I would want to tease, though. I would have to pay the dealer for the upgrade to the fire-breathing option. If I had Sirius FM and fire-breathing in a giant puppy dragon, I’d be golden.
Did you see The Never-Ending Story? That’s one kick-ass dragon. It’s basically a giant puppy dragon. Think about it, assuming you’re not Wiz Khalifa, do you really want to sit surrounded by all things reptile? Wouldn’t you rather sit on a cozy puppy when you’re flying?
3. What movie have you seen the most?
AR: I would wager It’s A Wonderful Life.
AVC: At Christmas or at other times as well?
AR: No, it’s my favorite movie.
AVC: How many times do you think you’ve seen it?
AR: At least 35 times, if not more. I own it, I own the book about the making of it, and I’ve owned it in every media that one could own a movie at home. It’s in my top three.
4. What’s a stupid thing you incorrectly believed for a long time?
AR: That “Soweto” was an African word. I didn’t know until we filmed there that it’s actually a portmanteau of “southwestern township.” In apartheid, it was amalgamated from southwestern townships of Johannesburg, so they created Soweto like SoHo or Tribeca. Same thing. I always thought it was African, but it’s not.
5. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve heard or read about yourself that isn’t true?
AR: That I’m dead.
AVC: Where did you see that?
AR: Oh, you know how the interweb goes. If something is nice about you, usually one or two people will tell you. If something is foul about you, everyone will tell you.
Yeah, that is funny to some people. That’s the sad, sad, sick, strange thing. But then you have to sort of go, “These people that don’t know me care enough about me to dedicate their time to such nonsense, even if it’s negative nonsense.”
The only part that was a real drag is that I’ve got a younger cousin, and you know how younger kids are. I think it was either forwarded to her or she came across it, and she burst into tears and was inconsolable. It was written like a fake obit. Lord knows I know all too well the power of the written word on the internet and how that coin flips many ways.
One of my great personal triumphs is, because I stay vigilant about my health, I was never going to give my detractors the satisfaction of not feeling well, or allowing my health to falter while eating rich and indulgent food all over the world.
At one point, you’ve got to laugh. Everyone from Mark Twain to David Hasselhoff has had these rumors. God, the guy from Blue’s Clues. Paul McCartney. At some point, you just have to go, “Oh, that’s stupid.” But it hurt my little cousin, and she’s a fantastic little girl. She didn’t need to be scared like that. Her dad didn’t need to have to call me and make me reassure her that I was alive. That was fucked up.
AVC: It’s incredible how many people fall for those fake death scares.
AR: Exactly. You just got to go, “Fine, whatever you say. And Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer.” People believe what they want to believe. You have to run your race and be proud of the person you see in the mirror.
6. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
AR: Boiled moose nose in Alaska.
AVC: What does that taste like?
AR: Goodyear tires. It was not what you might call “good.”
AVC: Boiled meat is never a good idea.
AR: It might have had some spice-type things in it. The thing is—and this is something I learned from Andrew Zimmern—but for the Western sensibility, for us, we’re like, “Ew.” I remember asking Andrew, “How did you eat that?” about some congealed blood thing. He said, “Because, while you’re going, ‘ew,’ you see the adults are holding the children back to make sure the guests get some first.” Andrew is a master traveler and a mentor in many ways, and he’s right. You’ve got to try it.
That was in Alaska with a white gentleman and his wife who I think was native Alaskan, and she said in Tanana culture that they don’t give the nose to children, that it’s meant for elders as the most coveted prize. We say, “Ew, a nose.” But you know, whatever. Moose nose has never been a popular flavor. There aren’t too many moose nose Pop-Tarts. It was not my oeuvre.
The thing that was really distressing wasn’t so much the flavor, but merely the fact that I chewed it for so long. I just finished chewing it right before this phone call. It was unbelievable. It was so chewy.
The idea was that it was part of the initiation rite to join these legendary campfires at this festival in Paxson, Alaska, that’s called Arctic Man. That was the prevailing wisdom. I went through this initiation, so then they gave me a beer to toast if I managed to eat the moose nose. I had the beer sitting in the snow for so long as I chewed that it actually froze and became a Slurpee. That’s just from the duration of me chewing. I had Hemsworth jaw muscles by the end of that thing.
AVC: Is it like the consistency of tendon?
AR: I lived in San Jose for a little bit, and one of my neighbors was Vietnamese and was teasing me. I said “I’ve had pho,” and then he goes, “Oh, what do you get, the number one big bowl?” I was like, “Come on, man. You don’t have to come at me like that.” But yeah, I’ve tried tendon. Tendon eventually yields.
AVC: But moose nose does not yield?
AR: Generally speaking, there’s a difference. Moose nose is just pure cartilage. It’s not just the end of a chicken leg, it really is—imagine the cartilage of game meat.
If I ever took the spare tire off of my car and was on a survival show, and Bear Grylls was like, “What you need to do in a survival situation is eat your tire,” I’d be like, “That’s moose nose!”
7. What’s the first concert you ever went to?
AR: My mom dropped me off at Midnight Oil with Hunters And Gatherers at Radio City Music Hall. I was into that shit. I was lost. The first one that I went to with my friends was with my buddy Michael—and we actually cut class to get tickets—was INXS at the Garden.
8. What’s the most interesting opportunity you’ve gotten through your work?
AR: To be asked to do the pairing menus by Alamos Wineries in Argentina. There are so many chefs out there, and so if you were to say, “The dude who used to host Man V. Food is doing pairing for Jim Beam,” you’d say, “Okay, that’s kind of conceivable.” If you’re talking about the dude from Man V. Food is doing pairings for fine wine, then I think people might not necessarily anticipate that.
They actually flew me to Mendoza to let me learn the viticulture and walk around the vines, learn about it down to the calcium table, the water content, the runoff. It was really amazing. They took such good care of me. Like I said, I’m a big soccer junkie, and the gentleman drove my manager and I around and got me tickets to a match last-minute. I never thought I would be that guy. I thought maybe I would be everyone’s favorite dude-food friend. It made me better at comfort food, because I had a chance to sample everything from fine dining to street food with the same reverential respect.
AVC: Do people just think of you as a bro food dude?
AR: I think a lot of people do, but people follow me on social media, and they can tell I have varied interests. I think in the U.K. people perhaps know me for some other stuff because of my involvement with soccer and support of Tottenham. I think that’s probably part of it. But Man V. Food is the highest-rated show in the Travel Channel’s history, so clearly there’s going to be a correlation.
AVC: Yeah, but that’s oversimplification.
AR: I’m not a plumber who accidentally blew up or a math professor who accidentally backed into notoriety. I have a master’s from Yale drama, and I auditioned for this. So obviously I want to be in the limelight in some capacity, or I want to be in entertainment in some capacity.
It took me a long time to openly embrace it, and I’m not going to lie about that. I’ll go to a restaurant where I’ve never been before, and someone will say, “I don’t have anything big for you to eat.” I used to be a little salty about that, but at the end of the day, what they’re saying is, “I know who you are. I watch your stuff.” What’s better than that? Gratitude is the attitude. That’s the thing. What am I being pissy about?
A few years back, my sound guy articulated it in a beautiful way, because we had just gotten off a long, long, long straight flight from Hong Kong, and we were shot. My mom always says, “Pack your smile,” but [the sound guy] articulated it beautifully, because he saw me go from Joe Schmo who had been on food stamps to Adam Richman from Man V. Food. He said, “For you, it may be your 50th or 100th selfie, autograph, or whatever of the day. But for that person, it may be the first or the only time in their life that they’ve seen someone they enjoy on television. Never lose sight of that.”
I do feel that, generally, people will see me and go, “He knows where the good food is,” which is an awesome correlative. It’s an awesome simplification. Or they’ll go, “I don’t have anything big” or “Don’t have anything hot” or whatever. But the fact that Alamos chose me? They knew I could speak to that world, but they also respected my culinary acumen and my intelligence, and that was their whole thing. They flew me over, and it was this immersive experience.
I have to tell you, I think the most surreal moment for me having been a kid who was on unemployment, was on food stamps—I’m not kidding you, to utter these words aloud is so surreal to me—but to say, “I had to give up my Super Bowl tickets for my all-expense paid research trip to Argentina’s wine country,” it was like, who’s life is this? It was splendid, and the nice thing was that they renewed my contract for another year. I sadly did not get to go back, though. I secretly hoped I would. But they believed in me enough and felt I respected the traditions and the flavors enough that there was a cogent relation to what they exposed me to, and I thought that was groovy as well. Literally, I took a video of the root, because they had done a cross-section of the root all the way up to the grape in these amazing ancient vines in the Andes foothills. That was pretty crazy.
Oh, also, a few weeks ago, we were filming in Greenland, and I treated my crew. It’s 24 hours of pretty bright daylight there right now, and I always try to do something nice for my crew every trip or in every other city. So I greeted them with a midnight cruise, but it looked like two in the afternoon. We were sailing around glaciers and seeing ice floes. We saw a chunk of ice fall into the sea, which is both sad and awe-inspiring. That, I think, was something like a daydream. It never looked real. It always looked like a dream. That was another incredible thing: the opportunity to be in Greenland, a place I had read about in NatGeo a decade before. Suddenly I was staying there and hiking there, and we took a mini iceberg out of the water and chipped it up and used it as ice cubes and made cocktails with it. It’s surreal.
9. What embarrassing phase did you go through?
AR: In the early ’90s I was floating somewhere between the Brat Pack/Andrew McCarthy/James Spader/Pretty In Pink kind of stuff and the alterna-pop look, crossed with a very distinct grunge sensibility. There were goatees, backward baseball caps, and flannels tied around waists. Doc Martens. That was right when Lollapalooza started, and I was really into Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden. I went to that Lollapalooza tour twice, I think. I’ve always been a massive Beastie Boys fan, so if you look at their style aesthetic on Check Your Head, that was the headspace I was in for a minute. Whatever that was, that was me.
10. Have you ever stolen anything? If so, what?
AR: I was 12 or 13, and I had seen a demo about origami at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. My dad, my step-mom, and I were at the Japan pavilion of Epcot, and my dad was going to get me an origami book. They had these really sick origami books with an overleaf, but those packs can sometimes blow, because they give you, like, eight sheets. So I went to another book and just sort of yoinked out another sheet. My step-mom saw it, and she got upset, but I was like, “What? It’s paper, whatever.” She told my dad, and then it became a thing. But he didn’t get angry. He was firm. He was like, “You have to understand something. I know you think it’s just paper, but if you get caught doing something like this, it has a trickle-down effect, and it can hurt the dreams you have.” I remember that distinctly.
Actually, I am loathe to admit, but I also remember freshman year of Emory—and I’m so sorry to have to admit this—but there was a Domino’s Pizza in Emory Village, where I went to college, and I was ordering a pizza. Dude was taking forever, and I don’t know if he was getting high in the walk-in or something, but he had a Domino’s hat on the counter, and I used the five-finger discount. I took that hat.
11. Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?
AR: Mark Wahlberg? Shaq? I’m trying to think. There are soccer athletes that are known the world over except in the U.S. Thierry Henry, for example. The guy’s the all-time leading goal scorer for France and for Arsenal, and they call him a god. I met him. But no, I would say probably someone like—well, shit, my whole Soccer Aid team was James McAvoy, Jeremy Renner, Sam Worthington. They were all on the same team as me. Michael Sheen, Gordon Ramsay, Santiago Cabrera from BBC’s The Musketeers—all on the same team. On the other team, there was Dominic Cooper, Stephen Moyer from True Blood, Robbie Williams. It’s this big charity event for UNICEF that they have every year.
I think that in terms of who is known the world over, I would wager that it’s probably someone like Mark Wahlberg or Dwyane Wade.
AVC: Shaq is pretty identifiable. If you saw Shaq on a street in India, you’d say, “I think that’s Shaq.”
AR: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I met [Derek] Jeter, but I don’t know if that would necessarily translate. Shaq is Shaq. I did an episode of The Soup with Shaq, and he shook my hand, and I felt like I was a Ken doll, like I had no hand.
Bonus 12th question from Ira Glass: “I found these 11 questions enormously difficult. Was that just me, or did you?”
AR: I absolutely found them difficult because they’re not things you can just simply answer. If it’s a question about stuff that matters to you personally, like favorite food, favorite piece of knowledge, favorite animal, it’s hard not to have an opinion and want to quantify things.
AVC: What do you want to ask the next person?
AR: Be honest: How many of these did you answer off the cuff? And how many of these did you prepare for in advance?
AVC: It seems like you looked at the list.
AR: I didn’t get through them, actually. I only got through, like, three questions.