Adam Richman really likes food. So much so, that he has made a living out of eating, hosting the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food.” Now in its second season, “Man v. Food” features Adam going around the country to take on the toughest food-related challenges restaurants have to offer. Seriously, Bear Grylls has got nothing on this guy.
Adam was kind enough to talk to MJL about everything from the prohibition of fins and scales to bearded ladies.
Jeremy: I know you’re from Brooklyn. How involved Jewishly were you growing up?
Adam: Very. I mean, I went to a Solomon Schechter through 8th grade and then Talmud Torah High School. I’m still pretty fluent in my Hebrew. I’m not like I was. In my early years, we had separate silverware in my house but that’s more of a memory than anything. My father, may he rest in peace, did grow up with separate sets of dishes. Anyway, I was involved in Junior Congregation, and USY, and I was Vice President of my B’nai Brith chapter. I still wear a Magen David while I’m eating all these bacon cheeseburgers on TV. It’s awesome because whenever I go to a Jewish wedding, people always go, “Wow, you daven great!” I never wear a kippah at home or anything like that, but I can still do an aliyah with the best of them.
So, you’re obviously very culturally Jewish. What was the best Jewish staple food that was found on your table as a kid?
Oh my God. Mom’s latkes. Grandma Rose’s gefilte fish. Grandma Gildred’s meatballs. My mom and my grandma both made challah. Oh! Grandma’s matzah brei! Unquestionably. Mom made homemade matzah lasagna which is phenomenal. My great-aunt Anne made amazing hamantaschen and rugelach. Ironically enough, I mean, my mom’s chicken soup is incredible, but my dad throws down with chicken soup. Unbelievable. Those are some that definitely, definitely stand out. You know, every family had their own thing. For example, my father remarried, and my step-mom’s brother is in the fish business. And he makes homemade whitefish salad like manna from heaven. It’s ridiculous.
I really love food. So much so that I ran a Jewish Food Tournament a couple months back, with brackets and everything. The winner in the end was actually challah. But in your opinion, what is the ultimate Jewish food?
Oh Man. What are the criteria?
If we had to throw away all Jewish foods but one, what would it be?
It’s gotta be chicken soup, right?
That was the #1 ranked. It got knocked out though.
You see, I can understand why challah would win. It’s bread. It’s ubiquitous. Every culture, from Ethiopian injera to French baguette, has bread. And challah. Actually, it’s funny. As a Jew, when I travel through middle America, I’m like “Don’t give me this egg bread! I know it’s challah! Don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining! That is some braided-ass challah. That’s what that is. You may be grilling it, putting in ham and turkey and calling it a Monte Cristo, but it’s challah.” As for the question, it really depends on what you like. I think chicken soup is the most iconic. I don’t know if it’s my favorite. Also, one can’t ignore all the Israeli foods. Kibbeh, hummus, falafel, babaganouch. I’m sure someone in Israel might easily say something like schwarma.
Since you’re from New York, what’s the best kosher restaurant you’ve ever been to?
Man, kosher restaurants. Do those even exist? Seriously, I haven’t been to an exclusively kosher restaurant in such a long time. Hmm…I think Adelman’s on King’s Highway in Brooklyn is kosher. If Adelman’s is no longer kosher, I might say Le Marais in Midtown. And I went to that restaurant in LA that is owned by Steven Spielberg’s mom. But to be honest, none of those are particularly memorable. The coolest name I’ve seen for a kosher restaurant, though I never ate there, but it was close to Solomon Schechter Day School, was Shang-Chai. I’ll give you two guesses as to what type of food they serve.
Have you considered doing a Jewish food challenge?
I mean, it would necessitate there being one.
Well, have you looked into it?
We definitely do a lot of research to find challenges. And kosher restaurants are usually going to be found in bigger cities, which are filled with restaurants that have challenges. I know that a matzah ball competition is part of the competitive eating circuit. And it’s one of the bigger competitions. It’s tough for us though because the challenge is the pivotal moment of our show. We want the food to be recognizable to as broad an audience as possible. It would be cool for me though. I’d take a latke challenge.
A latke challenge would destroy your arteries.
I’m actually pretty healthy, thank you.
I know. I’ve read about your eating routine. Can you tell us about your diet on the road to prepare for a challenge?
Generally speaking, it’s oatmeal every morning. Bare minimum, an hour of cardio every day. I eat, basically, in opposition to everything you see on the show. I’m a big proponent of salads and proteins. I eat a lot sushi on the road. I eat a lot of grilled fish. I still try to eat local. Lots of greens, vegetables, legumes, sweet potatoes. I eat a lot fiber. No saturated fats. And like, I said, oatmeal every morning. So much so that my very sweet, albeit very neurotic Jewish mom actually gave me a box of oatmeal with the flax inside. And I travel with that and just use the coffee maker in my hotel room to make it every morning.
There are some really tough challenges you go through. But what is the ingredient in a dish that you see and your reaction is, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish.”
There are some ingredients that you never see in a challenge because I would never agree to do them. But ham. It has nothing to do with Judaism. I just don’t like ham. Italian cold cuts are one thing. But ham makes things very difficult. And green peppers. I only like those in moderation. In Denver, that was a particularly hard challenge because it had both of them.
When I see you eat something like a pound of potatoes, I just don’t know how you can get through that.
Exactly! Now, think of Denver where the challenge is potatoes, ham and green peppers! The eggs in the breakfast burrito were so negligible; it may as well have been sidewalk gravel. So that was a tough challenge. Plus, I was sick!
It says in the intro to the show that you’ve had every job imaginable in the food business. What’s the oddest job you’ve had?
Hmm…When I was working for a catering company in L.A., I catered a reenactment of the Peloponnesian War and they had female stunt people doing the fighting too. But they had to put beards on them. So, feeding enchiladas and pepper steaks to bearded ladies was definitely weird. I had a guy at one of my first waitering jobs in Brooklyn pull a knife on me because there wasn’t enough bacon on his hamburger. What’s he gonna do? Carve the bacon out of me? Also, being a busboy at some catering halls definitely made me aware of the fact that I wanted to cook for my own wedding. I remember having to wheel a desert table to the Rocky theme song at someone’s bar mitzvah at a Temple. That was one of the weirdest things in the world. Also, I’ve actually been the one White sushi chef at a restaurant.
Finally, related to an earlier question, what is the one food that you think, “God, I wish the Jews had invented that one.”
I guess pizza is the obvious choice, right? But that might take away from the specialness of pizza. The “sacrelishessness.” But this question’s tough because of the whole snappir v’kaskeset thing (fins and scales). We lose out on all the shellfish, which is deeply, deeply unfortunate. Also, I think we have to find a way to find a kosher nacho. With chalav yisroel or something. That should be my mandate. Also, on Passover, get rid of maror and haroset and just dip everything in guacamole. Because let’s admit it. Guacamole is the chosen condiment.
Man v. Food can be seen every Wednesday night at 10 pm on the Travel Channel.
Pronounced: bar MITZ-vuh, also bar meetz-VAH, Origin: Hebrew, Jewish rite of passage for a 13-year-old boy.
Pronounced: KHAH-luh, Origin: Hebrew, ceremonial bread eaten on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Pronounced: MITZ-vuh or meetz-VAH, Origin: Hebrew, commandment, also used to mean good deed.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.