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Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is an interview that took place on July 15, 2014 with Adam Richman from Food Fighters.

Food Fighters

Question:
It seems like the separation between the professional chef and the home cook has narrowed in recent years with the advent of all these cooking shows. Do you find that that's true and do you see that with the show? Did you see that these home cooks were more skilled than we might expect?

Adam Richman:
It's absolutely true. It's a really great observation that you're making there. I think that especially in the day and age where organic isn't just a buzzword; people know what it means. People know what free range or cage free mean.

People are more informed as food consumers I think having access to better ingredients and having immediate access to skilled professionals that are approaching every kind of food, from Italian or Latin cuisines or Asian cuisines to specific styles - you know, barbecue or Southern cuisines and stuff like that, that I think what's kind of great about what I've seen with the home cooks and the professional chefs cooking side-by-side is that there's a level of technique that home cooks have in addition to the traditions that they bring to the recipes that yield some really, really incredible results.

I think that now you will see in many cases, like a really, like, rustic recipe with one of the home cooks on Food Fighters makes bacon glass. It's really remarkable.

Question:
We know that the home cooks are going to be displaying their signature dishes. Can you tell us what is your signature dish and how well do you think it would stack up on this show?

Adam Richman:
Before I saw these guys cook, I thought I would have a better shot than I did and these guys brought the thunder every episode. My signature dish is a toughie. My miso roasted vegetables are pretty well-known. And my pulled pork egg rolls, that's another one that people tend to really like. And I make a particular sort of spicy salmon sushi roll that some friends of mine have requested for a couple of events. I think those are my top three. And honestly, Grandma's sweet and sour meatballs, but that's Grandma's recipe. I am just a conduit for Grandma's awesomeness.

Question:
How do you manage to stay healthy? Do you have a kind of exercise routine or there's some food that you just won't eat very, very fried or something like that?

Adam Richman:
I think it's sort of kind of like checks and balances. So, a lot of it is just sort of keeping sort of calorically vigilant, I guess, for lack of a better term. And I kind of pick and choose my spots. I'm still going to appreciate something fried or maybe like a baked good or something like this. But it's about sort of being kind of shrewd when I choose to indulge and just staying relatively active.

That's the kind of cool thing with, like, all these different, like, things that can clip onto your belt or things in your iPhone or fit bands and stuff. It's just even the difference of parking a little further if you're driving somewhere, but just making sure you get in a certain amount of walking, a certain amount of movement, and making the right choice - it sort of allows you a little wiggle room to have fried chicken when you're in the mood for fried chicken because if you've been eating relatively healthy or clean eating, you give yourself a little bit of, well, like I said, a little bit of wiggle room - a little bit of space to still indulge.

Question:
Do you have any information on when Man Finds Food will be airing?

Adam Richman:
I do not. I do not.

Question:
Could you talk a little bit about how the world of food on T.V. has changed since you got into it? How much has it grown, what's different now? What's the biggest difference?

Adam Richman:
I think by virtue of the fact that there's room for someone like me in there that you have marquee names that are marquee chefs. There are prodigious, like, there's culinary talents out there that have had extensive training in the United States and abroad.

But then suddenly you're finding guys who just have been doing four generations of backyard barbecue have shows and websites; guys like me that have been working in the restaurant industry since they were 13 years old and picked up everything they know, or I won't say everything, but the lion's share of what they know on the job and learning from home cooks and learning on their own. So, I think that changed.

I think that there is a more educated eater and a more education diner, you know? The notion of the foodie has kind of taken hold. So, when you know you not only have the sort of T.V. food personality, but there's a whole culture that surrounds that personality, in terms of knowledge of that chef as much as knowledge of the food itself that there's a greater investment in it; I think it's bigger - you know, exponentially bigger year by year; the festivals, the food festivals are proliferating all over the country and all of the world, in fact.

So, I think that there's a degree of glamour and a degree of attention that it may not have had in the past. And there's also a significant, like, personality-driven element to it that kind of goes beyond the food, in some respect.

Question:
What's the most unusual food that was prepared during the filming of the show?

Adam Richman:
That is a great one. You know what, I think this is what's sort of fascinating, is that the home cooks have their five best recipes. So, they know them like the back of their hand. And in more cases than not, it's, like, a second or third generation recipe by the time it's gotten to them.

The pro chefs have vast, vast oceans of talent and expertise, but they don't know the dish until right before and they don't have any recipe, like, that they're following. They just sort of have to go on what they know. And all I can tell you is when you see little simple things like cookies or spring rolls or whatever; but when you have someone that isn't following a recipe, some of the pro chefs, like, made these modern art masterpieces, but they're bizarre. And they succeed in varying degrees, culinarily speaking. But it's the beautiful thing for me.

And I'm not saying it just because I'm the host. Like, just if I were to step out of this as a viewer, because it's not just about the culinary skillet play but because there's a huge element of strategy because the professional chef doesn't know what the recipe is until just before. But also, the contestant doesn't know what professional chef they're going up against and what their expertise is until right before the food fight.

What's fascinating is that, you have a contestant will put a professional chef in a fish out of water type of situation and deliberately throw them a curve and throw a seafood chef a chocolate chip cookie, for example, and somehow that seafood chef gets in his something that needs to be seen to be believed.

Question:
What do you hope the viewers get from watching the show?

Adam Richman:
I grew up worshiping and respecting the home cook. I'm sure you're probably like me. My mom makes the best blank, I look forward to Grandma's blank. I mean, for every kid that ever, like me, took Thanksgiving leftovers back to college and stuff like that you have those dishes. And for me, it's to see the home cooks get a chance to shine and get their respect in the same arena as true culinary titans. I mean, there are chefs that are going up against that are legends in the industry.

And to see not just, like, the home cooks themselves get recognized and get financially rewarded, but it's little things, like, that I hope people can see is to watch kids see people cheering on their mom and their mom being a hero and seeing the look, not just on the mom's face but the kid seeing mom in that light. That is, like, gold. It's the greatest because it's about the best of all of us. It could be your mom, it could be my mom.

I mean, you have everyone from an African American decorated soldier who was wounded in action to a mom who developed a recipe that she's actually cooking because her son had autism and would only eat foods of a specific color; someone who created a recipe for his college roommate; something someone made for their wife on their first date and it became a thing.

The stories are so real and so human and so accessible that, for me, I say this with no, like, press behind it. It's always made me psyched to go into work, because the home cooks obviously are with whom I spent the most amount of time and they are such good, real people and such good, real, relatable people and they're like your family. And you will see something of yourself in them or in the people rooting for them that they've brought with them in their camp. It's the coolest; it's really so neat.

Question:
How do you like hosting these competitions versus the shows where you're the one in the spotlight traveling around?

Adam Richman:
I liked it. I mean, it was complete night and day, obviously. But even when I was hosting it, I just was trying to be the conduit. I mean, I truly stay in touch with the lion's share of the restaurants that I've had the fortune of filming on location with them.

But for me, I think that it's really kind of great because you're sort of facilitating the story and moving the competition forward. And I'm sort of learning as the audience does. And I think that there's a sort of very genuine, very real moment of discovery. And people, I think, pick up on that. When a home cook, for example, uses an ingredient I don't see coming or a technique or if someone cuts their finger.

That there's something as simple as forgets to turn an oven on or walks into a happy accident. There's something that, again, is surprising and fun and kind of kinetic and makes the energy super strong. When I was doing challenges and all things like this, you're too close to it to sort of get the scope of the competition. But if you're watching the clock tick down and watching a little boy, like, chewing on his fingers watching his mom trying to make some dish that he told her to make that he wants her to win, it's a very, very, very different ball game.

Question:
As you're doing more of these high profile shows, like, on a broadcast network like Food Fighters, you're obviously more in the spotlight than ever as we've seen on social media. I'm just wondering how you handle everything you do, even outside of the show being tracked so closely by everybody?

Adam Richman:
It's a wakeup call. You go from zero to 60. And that's the trade-off. You have this amazing opportunity, and that's truly what I consider myself to have had. I have grown up in a very food-centric family. I'm blessed that I live in New York. I've lived in D.C. I love eating around the world and around the country and stuff. And that's all well and good, but I've been fortunate enough to fuse my passion and my profession. And it's all great to appreciate or it's great to be lucky or to take advantage of that. But that's the exchange; that's the exchange you make. And like it or not, that's the state of affairs.

And truly, like, NBC has been so amazing to me. And there is that feeling of, like, oh, I just got called up to the majors. And I'm sure any major league or major league athlete will tell you that there is a degree of comportment that comes with being a minor league ballplayer that changes when you go to the Yankees, you know? And that's the world we live in. If you want to have a career, that's the exchange you make.

Question:
Do you find that home cooks have more of a think on their feet mentality more so than the professionals? I understand that professionals have mishaps in the kitchen, but home cooks also don't have the advantages that may be a professional restaurant chef might have in their kitchen. Do you think that's more so than others?

Adam Richman:
I think that there's different improvisation skills, as you put it, which I think is the right word. I think there's different sort of improvisational strength that each cook possesses. Like you say because a professional chef is used to having a dinner rush and having to turn out a bunch of plates and to turn them out pretty and efficiently and so have everything cooked well, by the same token, you have the moms who are used to the three kids banging and the working a full day, in many cases, and then having to go home and cook and to cook through some difficult circumstances.

I think that it really depends upon, at least in the case of Food Fighters, the recipe itself. You know, on one hand, the home cook, for example, has been making this recipe for years; knows it like the back of her hand but perhaps isn't used to working under a crushing time limit. A chef may be used to churning out multiple dishes in that time limit, but doesn't know this recipe or hasn't worked in this particular kitchen; doesn't have a particular sous chef or a particular piece of equipment that they rely on.

And I think that sort of is the thing, that there's pluses and minuses for both and there is numerous reasons why each chef could win, which is, to me, like, what makes Food Fighters so compelling is because, well, you're like, wow, this guy could do it because X, Y and Z. But she could do it because of X, Y and Z. And there's no wrong answer. And in many cases, it's a game of inches; it's pretty cool.

Question:
I also like the premise of it that I feel is very unique in how one person is battling different chefs to go up the tier, or to win a money prize?

Adam Richman:
So, basically, the home cooks bring five of their best recipes and go against five mystery chefs. The chefs ascend usually in level of sort of ability, accomplishment and in terms of, like, training and I mean, the final chefs in each of these food fights are titans, true titans of culinary skill. And the thing is, as I said, they don't know what dish they're making until just before the food fight. And they come up with a strategy based upon that chef's expertise. So, you see the battle change, so to speak, depending upon who they're fighting.

Question:
How well do you get to know these contestants, maybe before or during the episodes?

Adam Richman:
You know, I get a chance to speak to them a little bit before the show. I may ask a question or two about the recipe just because if something is really interesting or an ingredient is really interesting, I may want to ask a question about that, just so these people can get props for some really, really great culinary ingenuity. And I spend more time with that particular contestant, that particular food fighter, more than anyone else during the day.

So, I'm pleased to say that I've actually stayed in touch with a few of these people just through social media and stuff, just because they're, like, these stories blow your mind. That's, I think, the thing that gets me is that you have one woman from Guam who was one of I forget how many children; they all lived in a corrugated metal hut and she's the first member of her family to go to school, to leave Guam and goes on. And she's a brilliant cook. And a grandpa and what they're all competing for.

And I admit it wasn't a matter of being a cynic; I love competition shows. I really do. There's something, though, about watching somebody win life-changing money and being part of that in some way that is better than anything in the world. Because that's the thing. I get a chance to talk to these people when the cameras are off and the stakes are real.

NBC and the great people at Electus they didn't come up with these stories. These are real stories. If someone says I'm competing because my sister's had a rough run and I want her to -- her and her son to have X, Y and Z or my daughter has this disability and I want her to have X, Y and Z, it's a real thing. Her daughter's right off camera and the stakes are so real that you can't help but latch on to these people and love them and want them to win.

Question:
What would you like to say to everyone who's a fan and supporter of you and your work?

Adam Richman:
Thank you, more than anything in the world. I know how fortunate I am, I really do. I really do how very fortunate I am to do what I do and to have done what I've done. And you know, I don't have a big culinary degree or a fancy restaurant with my name on it. I just got me. And for anyone that's ever supported me and been there, believed in me, from the bottom of my heart, I've just got to say thank you.

Question:
Which celebrity chef were you shocked to get on the show and where you surprised that any of them did better or worse than you were thinking they would do against the home cooks?

Adam Richman:
I'm being dead honest - every single of the big guys, because those all blew me away; like, there were moments where I would have my moment into camera and do the host part because you have to move a competition along and express rules or what's happening or what's going on.

But then when the cameras would be off me and just getting close-ups of the cooks doing their thing or the contestants kind of smack talking to each other, I would have these surreal moments, like, I remember Alec Baldwin was once doing this scene with Ben Kingsley and he was telling, like, one of the EPK people on set he was saying, like you're about to work and then you stop and you go, oh my God, that's Ben Kingsley. And you would look over and go, oh my God, that's G. Garvin, that's Cat Cora, that's Ang Jou, that's Duff Goldman, it's just remarkable; Manouschka Guerrier.

And that's the other thing, too. I feel that a lot of people forget that there's five chefs in every competition and they're all impressive, too. So, someone who owns a very simple food truck is throwing down and then a professional chef getting flummoxed at a simple breakfast dish. It's really, really amazing. And to see, you'll have someone that I know well, Chef Marcel Vigneron, who was in some molecular gastronomy. And he does all kinds of crazy stuff with chemicals and liquid nitrogen and stuff.

And then you have cooking against someone who's got her nana's pot and her mom's apron and her great-aunt's spoon and they're going head-to-head. It's a culinary mortal combat, but with a heart, I guess.

Question:
How did Food Fighters come about for you?

Adam Richman:
I keep saying the great people at Electus, but I had a teacher in grad school that said always work with people that are better, smarter than you, because it makes you raise your game. And that's everyone at Electus. I mean, I'm not some great brain train or anything like that. But truly, Chris Grant, Tim Puntillo at Electus had really conceived of the show. And it changed.

That was the other thing, too, that they involved me at the very beginning. And I was allowed to be part of the process, which I have to believe is the exception and not the rule. And they allowed me to put my personality in there and my creativity in there and they welcomed it. But they had created it. They obviously have a track record of vast success in scripted and non-scripted television and then you add NBC into the mix and it's really, like, I was very lucky.

I kind of hitched my wagon to a star, in many respects. And they've been nothing but good to me, you know? And I actually had posted a picture back in the day and I sent it to my whole family of the very first time I pulled into a parking spot that had my name in the peacock on it. That was a very big day for me.

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