Seriously slimmed down from his Man v. Food heyday, TV presenter Adam Richman is back in pursuit of the bizarre for his new series – and preparing to take part in Soccer Aid this summer. He talks to Francine Wolfisz
He may have hung up his tasting spoon and retired his gut from extreme eating challenges – while shedding almost four stone in the process – but Adam Richman is more than ready to take on a new mission.
The loveable Brooklyn-born presenter has switched whole pound pastrami sandwiches and the world’s hottest curries to explore the crazed world of passionate super-fans.
His new series, Fandemonium, now showing on the Food Network channel in the UK, takes Richman across the United States to meet enthusiasts engaged in a range of interests from mud wrestling to re-enacting medieval times, throwing mass barbecue parties and joining one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the world.
The 39-year-old host, who describes himself as “an American guy who’s played and watched sports my whole life,” reveals he had some inkling of the lengths fans can go to – “but nothing the likes of which I saw while doing Fandemonium.”
Richman, who earned a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama, explains: “The passion was ubiquitous, it was clear across the border, but it was more the lengths that people went to.
“For example, the World Barbecue Cooking Competition at the Memphis in May festival was remarkable. The festival only really exists for a few days every year, but people send more than $100,000 to cater for these massive parties – and it’s completely and totally worth it to them, just so they can feel like the man on the banks of the Mississippi.”
But the excess of food and money thrown at these gatherings is not the only thing that makes these committed fans – or ‘tailgaters’ as they are known – specific to American culture. The UK doesn’t have the same vast expanses of land to host such events – and deep, long-lasting rivalries mean you would never catch Spurs and Arsenal fans giving each other the time of day, let alone sharing a burger and beer outside White Hart Lane.
“Tailgating simply has no analogue here in the UK,” adds Richman. “The rivalries run so deep, it’s almost like war here frankly! As much as rivalries in American sports may be truly, truly bitter, like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the bottom line is that there may be isolated incidents, but we don’t have to have two lines of authorities separating home fans from the away fans.
“The notion of all the fans together with cutlery and barbecue flames doesn’t really take on the same element of danger as it would here in the UK. Passion is passion, but here it’s a very different type of thing!”
Fans aside, Richman’s new series gives him the opportunity to dip into such intriguing culinary creations as moose lasagne, spicy bull testicles and swords stacked with Cornish hens.
He is of course no stranger to challenging his palate with more unusual cuisine, having shot to fame in 2008 on Man v. Food, a series featuring some of the more extreme eating challenges.
For that show, the self-taught food expert put his appetite (and stomach) through its paces by conquering such gastro-beasts as San Antonio’s Four Horseman Burger, a half-pound burger featuring the ghost chilli, the hottest pepper in the world, and Anchorage’s Kodiak Arrest Challenge.
That particular dish featured an unheimische mix of three pounds of king crab legs, 12 ounces of reindeer sausage, seven two-ounce salmon cakes, six ounces of mashed potatoes, six ounces of sautéed vegetables, and a mixed berry crisp.
Food has always played an important role for Richman, who was born and raised in Brooklyn and is fiercely proud of his Jewish heritage, although he does not keep kosher, He enthuses about the nine years he spent at Solomon Schechter Day School and the solid Jewish education he received.
“I speak fluent Hebrew. I read mishnah, gemara and Rashi – I was a real yeshiva bocher!”
Equally important was the teaching he received at home from his mother, who he says instilled in him from a young age a passion for food – though he claims he will never cook as well as she did.
“If any Jewish boy ever says he can cook like his mother does, he should check his Jewish credentials!” he laughs.
“No one will ever make anything like mama and – it’s not just hyperbole – my mother happens to be an extraordinarily-gifted cook. She’s also one of the smartest people I know and one of the most intuitive people I’ve ever met.”
He adds: “The Jewish tradition is so home-based that I think some people have this terrible notion that the woman has a subjugated role in the Jewish home – and that’s so not the case. The role of the homemaker and the traditional meal, whether it’s the Sabbath or the seder, is so important – it’s the thing that brings something deep and spiritual into the home.”
The television star, who has in recent years presented other shows including Amazing Eats and Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America, no longer takes part in food challenges and these days takes a much healthier approach to life.
Last March, having seen his waistline balloon to 40 inches and his dating prospects falter, Richman admits he felt depressed about his weight and decided to take action.
Now looking better than ever, the new sleek and streamlined Richman has lost an incredible five stone and is working towards being match-fit when he takes part in Soccer Aid on 8 June.
Jesting that he will play in the position of “central attacking Jew”, he will join fellow stars Michael Sheen, Patrick Kielty and Gordon Ramsay up against the likes of Robbie Williams, Olly Murs and Jamie Theakston when he steps out on to the pitch for the match.
The die-hard Spurs fan adds: “People keep thinking there was a correlation between the food challenges and my weight, but the truth is that I ended Man v. Food five years before I ever started my new regimen. It actually began because I hated the way I looked in the first episode of Fandemonium.
“My grandmother used to say, like she operated on the notion I was a husky running around Alaska, ‘Tatelah, have a little latke, it’s good for your coat’. The truth is, over the years I became very well insulated!
“Now I’m part of the Soccer Aid team, I think about how diligently I tried to get a spot in the squad and how it wasn’t working. My fans really stuck up for me and I feel I owe them this effort to be fit for the match, so that means I have more discipline.”
- Adam Richman’s Fandemonium is on Food Network UK, Freeview 41. Check listings for full details. www.foodnetwork.co.uk