On your shows like “Man v. Food” to “Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America” you’re talking about the great food you’ve had, but what’s the best drink you’ve ever had?
What a fabulous question. It’s so hard to compare a bourbon drink to a vodka drink to a sake. Plus, let’s be honest, the best drink you have when you’re 21 versus 18 with a fake ID is different compared to when you’re 41 and you have an endorsement deal with a wine company. It changes, right? But, there was a restaurant in Hawaii that my friend Hiroshi owned called Hiroshi’s Eurasian Tapas. There’s a coconut vodka that they make in Hawaii. They took this coconut vodka and made simple syrup with lemongrass. I took my friend there one time and we were saying that if you put this in a pint glass over ice, it would be lethal because it’s just so refreshing and enticing. A mixologist Chandra Lucariello makes a yellow tomato bloody mary with local Hawaiian tomatoes. She is a cool-ass lady. My friend Jeff Bell has a place in New York called PDT and makes the Benton’s Old Fashioned. They bacon-wash Four Roses Bourbon. Those are my top three.
Bacon and bourbon sounds excellent.
Wylie Dufresne brings over Benton’s bacon, Bell renders down the fat and then they freeze it. They skim the fat off, mix it and essentially then it’s been bacon-washed. They serve it with just a big fat ice cube, a little bit of orange rind… super.
Even though we’re at the Windy City Smokeout listening to country, rumor has it you can rap. What hip-hop artist would you want to have a drink with and what would you pour?
Sadly one of my favorites is no longer with us, MCA right there. Of the living hip-hop artists out there I would love to have a drink with Nas. I know he is a Hennessy guy. I’m not super-duper into Hennessy, but if I get a chance to drink with Nas he can pour. If he lets me pour I would probably do bourbon. I have a huge bourbon, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and really good vodka collection. I might make some really dope spicy bourbon drink. But it’s Nas, it’s Nas! If he wanted to drink pickle juice and bacon fat I’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
For all of the single guys out there, what is the best meal for a date?
You know, I’m a single man. The smartest thing I could ever do was just treat every woman and every date differently. A brunch date is not a dinner date, is not a “Let’s meet for drinks” date or, “Let’s go out and drink a pitcher of margaritas and stand on the table and sing Journey” kind of date. Those don’t happen very often, but I’d love to be invited on one. I think something that you have to share is best. If I’m making it, I like to make sushi because it’s aesthetically beautiful and it takes a little bit more time. It’s cool to have someone in the kitchen. You can make individual pieces and say, “Try this,” or “I’m experimenting with this.” Sushi is like an edible sculpture. On top of that, stuff like Ethiopian food because you’re eating with your hands and you don’t often sit in that setting.
So it depends on the person?
It does depend on the person. I’ve had super romantic beers and burgers with a couple baskets of fries when I dated a girl in Minneapolis to a really wonderful late night Taco Bell session with an ex-girlfriend. Ultimately, if you’re worried more about what fork you’re using than listening to this beautiful woman sitting across from you…
You’re missing out.
What’s the biggest curve ball life has thrown you?
I hate using terms like ‘famous’ and ‘celebrity’ because it’s hard to use any of them to describe yourself and not sound like a douche. So, I am just going to say the success I’ve had in the entertainment [world]. It’s something I’ve worked for and wanted for a long time. It’s something you want, but never anticipate what it’s actually like. I shot pilots, but then all of a sudden you make a show and it goes to 34 countries and it’s been a big curve. Some of it’s been a good curve; some of it’s been a bad curve.
How did you deal with your newfound popularity?
At first you’re sort of pinching yourself 24/7 and saying, “ Wait, is this real? Am I really going to the Playboy Mansion or getting a first class plane ticket paid for?!” I never flew first class before the final episode of “Man v. Food.” Then you have to realize, “Oh wait, there are haters too? And scrutiny?” I heard a great expression, ”They want you to do well, but just not better than them.” I’ve had very big mistakes in how I’ve handled people saying horrible things to me and I’ve been better about it at other times. It’s a learning curve, there isn’t a rulebook, unless maybe you’ve grown up around it and your dad was a celebrity or something. In the beginning I had horrible anxiety, I had to have an inhaler for my anxiety.
What has been the best part of your journey in the entertainment world?
It’s crazy, but I’ve been able to give back to my mom which makes it all worth it. I still live in the same building I did when I was on unemployment, so I’m fine. I’ve got enough to keep eating takeout Chinese food. [Laughs] I’m good. As long as I can pamper my Mom, I’ll be alright.
You started a personal food journal in ’95. What made you want to start writing?
So, this is the truth… I was going to college in Atlanta, Georgia. I went to Emory [University] and this girl just smashed my heart into guacamole. Actually, not guacamole because that’s a wonderful thing. I bought one of those blank Moleskin books. I will fully cop to this… initially I figured I was going to write black turtleneck-chain smoking-sappy-college breakup poetry. I’m actually a really good poet with my mom being a teacher and my dad being a lawyer. I’ve won awards! I thought, “Okay, I’m going to write poetry and I’m going to pour my heart out to these pages!” I used to love getting lost in Atlanta and going on drives and discovering new things. I discovered this amazing restaurant called Virginia’s— that no longer exists— and I pulled in there. It was this artsy place and I started writing, almost like a diary entry. Then I started writing about the scenario I was in and relating it to the food: the waitress’ smile, the music playing, the fact that they served this Indonesian salad and how they had homemade ice cream. I realized that I was writing as much about food as I was about my experience and that food allowed me to sit down and relate to my feelings. I couldn’t sit down and just be like, “Dear diary,” but I could sit down and say, “I went to this restaurant and the air conditioning felt good, the multicolored walls were wonderful and I learned something.” I would write about the food and it would just unlock everything else. Food helped me get to that emotional place. At that moment I realized at the end of the day the restaurants we go to and meals we have with loved ones is a language. Food is a language. It’s a language of experience.
At what point did others start to view you as a food expert?
I got my feelings out in that journal, but I didn’t feel like I had an emotional bloodbath. So I thought, “That’s dope, I’m gonna do that some more.” As I kept driving and exploring [different food scenes] I asked questions and I would write. Suddenly, I realized I was actually learning about where to eat in Atlanta. I started to learn where to take dates that the other frat boys weren’t taking their dates to. People would then say, “ Yo, Richman, you know a lot about food. Where do I take my folks or where do I take my date?” I just kept building [my knowledge of food and restaurants]. I went to Yale, came out in ’03 and started doing regional theater. [I supported myself as an actor by working jobs in the restaurant business, so I acquired food expertise that way as well.]
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
I would like to have a drink with my dad. I miss him a lot. He passed when I was 23 and I was gone a lot. I was in college until I was 22 and he passed a year later. Especially now, he was such a huge football fan and I’ve got contacts on the teams he liked. I miss him a lot. I think it would be cool to get a glass with my dad.
KIRSTEN MICCOLI PHOTOGRAPHY / A DRINK WITH at the Windy City Smokeout
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