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Friday, August 3, 2012
Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America: The Travel Channel's Own Earl of Sandwich on Professional Eating and Food Celebrity
Adam Richman is on a quest to find the best sandwich in America. The season finale of his 11-episode series, Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America on the Travel Channel airs August 15th. After his success in the Man vs. Food series, 30 sandwiches in 27 cities are as easy as making a PP and J.
The search for the Best Sandwich in America is really a show about American culture--our regional sandwiches that have been influenced and outright transplanted by the multi-cultural fabric of the United States are featured in each episode.
I caught up with Richman at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills last week where we both agreed that we might have found America's best Bloody Mary. Over this stellar cocktail we discussed the perils of professional eating, the food celebrity explosion, the challenges of picking a sandwich that represents each region, his new book coming out in the Fall of 2013 titled Quest for the Best, and much more. Here's what he had to say.
Street Gourmet LA: What are your thoughts on the perils of professional eating?
Adam Richman: Well, it's weird you know...I can't imagine the guys who do it on a real competitive circuit. I think that you have to budget calorically, I mean you have the greatest job in the world because you have a food centric job, you're passionate about food, you understand the language that food evokes, and you're blessed to be working in that field. That being said, you're like damn, I can't eat what I want when I'm not working because I have to save room for when I am.
I think the perils are A--when know you have to budget calorically you can't indulge in your regular life. But even more so, I think that people often--certainly if you're recognizable...you get offered food or get put in a position where your opinion is solicited--they want feedback and I'm willing to give it, but you don't want to be rude. I was at this restaurant in New Hampshire and the chef came out and asked me, "what did you think?" I find it to be incredibly generous but it also puts you on the spot.
SGLA: And what about the people who want to give you huge portions because you were on Man vs. Food?
They want to give me huge portions or a challenge and I'm at a sports bar having a salad(laughs). I was visiting my grandmother in Florida and my cousin and I broke away to go to this sports bar to watch a game and I had 5 of 6 buffalo wings and a salad, and this guy was like" dude, you're letting me down bro." "I thought you'd be here like 50 wings, and a quart of blue cheese..." What did Andrew Zimmern say?--"we all made the Faustian bargain." You don't do a show to not be recognized. I understand that's what I got going, but you go into a place and the guys asks, "so, you gonna eat everything on the menu?" and you're like, damn--cock blocked.
SGLA: It's amazing what's happened in the food profession in terms of celebrity. Do you think it's sustainable and that it's a good thing?
AR: What I think is really interesting is that young up and coming professionals no longer just seek to develop culinary craft or start a restaurant. Some modicum of food celebrity either in the publishing world or the television world is every bit a part of the dream. CAA students, now, all of them have a show idea.
SGLA: You mentioned that you fell ass-backwards into this. How did you end up on food television?
AR: I've been working in the food industry since I was 13. I worked at an Italian restaurant in my neighborhood, my mom cooks, my dad cooks, you know you're living in Brooklyn and surrounded by every possible ethnic enclave.
I was on a 5 year plan when I came out of Yale, and I was in a transition, I'm an actor and was working for Madison Square Garden television. I had read this booked called the Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine about people who have so many passions. That's when I decided I wanted to get into food television, so I made a reverse flow chart and got into television production. Then this audition came up for Man vs. Food, for someone who knows regional food, has an acting background...it was only until the last round of auditions that I even had a food challenge.
SGLA: What separates the Food Rock Star to the real Rock Star?
AR: I think its the fans you get(laughs)
SGLA: More Ozzy or more Knight Ranger?
AR: Exactly, you know, I think it's very interesting. The snooty foodies--the people that are their rock stars all wear toques, all wear checks, all wear clogs. Ludo Lefebvre, to a different degree Bobby[Flay], Mario[Batali], and Eric Ripert, Jean Georges or something like that. Then you have my show, Andrew[Zimmern]--he certainly has much more of a culinary background than I but we don't come with restaurants. There's a relatability about being a regular guy as opposed to being a chef, I work with these people but I'm not one of them. I don't wear a toque and I don't wear clogs.
SGLA: For me, I enjoy shows wear it's more about the subject and not the ego. I think you guys are exposing us to culture, and that's the best thing about food television.
AR: Well I certainly hope so. I figured out by the second season of Man vs. Food that the crux of being a good host was being a good guest. The notion of essentially being invisible. Being the audiences eyes on location, breaking the 4th wall in a way devoid of ego.
SGLA: What are your thoughts on chefs becoming the face of an ethnic cuisine for which their family has no roots? There was a recent article in the NY Times by Francis Lam.
AR: You mean like Rick Bayless?
AR: I think there's a way to do it where it's reverential of the cuisine, and there's a way to do it to where you are imposing your agenda on an age-old cuisine. You can't make sukiyaki and pretend that it's not a Japanese dish, but you can make sukiyaki through your Hungarian goulash--there's a way if you want express your Hungarian roots and put paprikash on your sukiyaki, then God speed.
I think there needs to be more transparency. If you say a dish is a fusion of X,Y, and Z then it's inherently more approachable, but I think if you're going to stand up and say, I actually know the right way to make Thai food, then you're going to step on some toes.
SGLA: Does the US have the greatest sandwich culture in the world?--I mean we are really a sandwich loving culture. Is that the reason behind Best Sandwich in America?
AR: People use Man vs. Food as a destination guide, and that's something I hold very dear. On my show you can pack everyone into the car, no plane ticket, one Comfort Inn, or something like that, and you're in Pittsburgh, you're in the the Strip District, and you can have an immersive culinary experience...in Pittsburgh. And you don't have to go to Marbella[Spain].
Every culture has an analogue for the sandwich and it's understandable, it's easily recreatable, and I know how twee it sounds like but ultimately, but I mean it in earnest, I really have discovered that the sandwich is ultimately your imagination bound by two pieces of bread. No matter what it is. In many respects it's why I prefer the taco over the burrito. Because it's a small profound, bold expression of not just flavor, but culinary identity. You look at the Kogi taco truck, or the Austin taco scene there--Tejano culture mixed with the modern culinary sensibility. The stuff that Aaron Sanchez loves, the carne asada fries with caramelized...so you've have kimchi and carne asada on top of a Belgian staple of fries. And yet it's completely synergistic with Austin.
And now you have high end chefs like Colicchio making a sandwich spot and Michael Voltaggio here in town with Ink Sack. I think people are getting it, that you must be equal parts proletariat and bourgeoisie.
SGLA: How do you go about the selection process ? In some parts of the country the regional specialty is very clear but in others like here in LA there are so many cultures. Make it hard to always find a representative sandwich.
AR: I wanted something that was an homage to something else and Wexler's(in San Francisco) did it for me. Actually one of my first choices[here in LA] was the chicken sandwich at Son of a Gun, but our schedules didn't work out.
SGLA: It's awesome.
I try to find something from the region but that being said I picked a sandwich in New Haven and Massachusetts was overlooked, and a Red Sox nation was not too pleased. It's hard to please everyone, but we try real hard to pick something that best represents the region. fin
Adam is a fun hang, and nothing beats an interview with a pair of giant Bloody Mary's on a gorgeous Beverly Hills afternoon. Look for the the Best to tackle other foods in the coming season, perhaps, I might suggest--tacos?
There are only a couple episodes left of Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America. It airs on Wednesdays at 9PM, and the season finale will be broadcast on August 15, when we will all find out which sandwich in America has the right stuffing!