You might know Adam Richman as the guy who can bulldoze 180 half-shell oysters, plow through a 10-pound stuffed pizza and devour a plateful of wings doused with pure capsaicin extract like it’s nothing. But food challenges for Adam Richman are a thing of the past. These days, the culinary personality has been focused on other food pursuits, such as authoring his first cookbook, Straight Up Tasty, and hosting a new show on the Travel Channel, Secret Eats, on Monday nights. As the host of Secret Eats, rather than obliterating 12-egg omelets, he travels around the world uncovering off-the-menu dishes.
On his last trip to San Francisco, Adam stopped into the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen to have lunch with us, and we learned that he’s an even better entertainer than he is competitive eater. In between gut-busting laughs, he told us about the most unexpectedly delicious dish he’s had this year, the passion projects he’s working on, and the question everyone wants to know: how he stays so slim in the midst of all those food shoots.
You’ve been a travel TV host, producer, author, cookbook developer, cooking show judge, game show host, and more. What’s your favorite hat to wear and why?
Adam Richman: My favorite hat to wear is probably performer, in any guise. I really like making people happy. I think the immediate feedback of an audience or doing it in front of a TV camera, it’s just my natural state of being. I feel a great sense of joy when I do it well.
Your latest show, Secret Eats, is all about off-the-menu dishes. What was the last under-the-radar dish you enjoyed?
AR: One that comes to mind is this place called Pizza With No Name in Reykjavík, and it’s in a house. They have one of the most interesting and best pizza crusts I’ve ever had. It’s a combination of three things: a sourdough crust, then they put toasted oats in it, and they also use semolina as well. So it has that toasted semolina flavor, that sourdough stretchiness, and where the oats touch the oven, that nuttiness. There’s an off-menu pizza that combines the flavors of what they eat in Icelandic Christmas, including hangikjöt, or dung-smoked lamb. All the wood in Iceland has long since been gone, kind of like peat, they like the rain wash away the biologics in dung, they take the fiber and they just burn it. It smells just like Scotch. It was just so interesting. There were beets, these different homemade cheeses, and arugula. And together it just works so beautifully. I was the first one who was like, “Really? There was nothing else you thought to burn?” But then you realize that what you’re eating is not an Icelandic chef’s choice, but a flavor of Iceland that could only exist because it’s in Iceland. I thought that was pretty kick-ass, personally.
Even though you haven’t done them for a few years, people probably know you best for your competitive eating challenges in Man vs. Food. So I have to ask what everyone wants to know: What kinds of things did you do to manage the dietary demands of that so you could still lead a healthy lifestyle?
AR: On the road, the way I gained weight back in the day, everybody probably thought it was from the big portions on Man vs. Food, and that was actually wrong. It was well after Man vs. Food, and I wasn’t really being conscientious. I was like, “Those calories don’t count! Those are work calories.” So I would eat all this stuff on camera, then I would have lunch with the crew, and then go back and eat stuff on camera, and then have dinner. And then your little workout session in the morning is not sufficient to stave off the potentially adverse effects of that kind of caloric onslaught.
For me, as I travel, it means every morning or every other morning in the gym. When I’m not filming, then unless it’s something super special, I try to eat extremely healthily when I’m on the road. It drives me crazy, but it makes me pick and choose when I have those caloric indulgences. The biggest thing is, if you know you’re eating heavy on camera, you have to eat lighter off camera. If there’s something you know you want to eat off camera or on, that you know you want to indulge, you have to sort of budget calorically for it, and that’s been my biggest help.
Let’s be honest, I work in a visual medium, and if I start looking like a dripping candle, people are not going to want to watch the show. They’re going to be worried about my health. So while I’m filming, I try to keep white flour carbs to a minimum, try to keep dairy a little bit lighter, try to keep red meat a little bit lighter when I’m not filming. Because the thing is sugars and dairy both not only bloat you, but white flour especially can have a really negative effect on your skin. I had surgery on my hip, so white flour causes inflammation, so I try to limit that to some degree. The big thing is a schload of water, and really trying to do just mostly protein and veg if I can. Which is hard! I was just in Sturgis, South Dakota, and my friend and I had to take a 35-minute cab ride to find a place that wasn’t serving pizza or everything fried.
What upcoming projects are you most excited about?
AR: I’m really excited about finishing this chocolate pudding, this is so good. [Ed. note: Here, he takes a bite of dessert.] I’m really looking forward to seeing the other half of that ramekin.
When I wrote my cookbook, Straight Up Tasty, I was already halfway through the research of my third book, which is called Quest for the Best. It’s about the exploration of the best incarnation of dishes that a city is known for. We’ll work with a publisher soon and figure out when that will be coming out. I just wrapped a holiday special with the Property Brothers, Duff Goldman, and Tia Mowry. I just started working with Clear Path for Veterans, a really amazing veterans charity based out of Syracuse that’s really about helping veterans assimilate and giving them a real path forward, whether it’s job training or modalities of treatment or therapy, or just a safe space to be and depressurize. They also have a really significant culinary program. So I’m doing that, and God willing, another season of Secret Eats.
Complete the sentence: It is embarrassing how much I love…
AR: Sitting on my ugly, old cream-colored leather couch, ordering Seamless, and alternating between FIFA and on-demand cable. It is my happy place.