Life & Culture

Interview: Adam Richman sheds his weight

The Man v Food star talks to us about Myleene Klass, how he lost all that weight and being a good Jewish boy – despite his love of treif


Heat control, restraint and technique. It is impossible to cook up a good barbecue without these three key ingredients. So says Adam Richman , the Brooklyn-born personality who is co-judging ITV's latest foodie series, BBQ Champ.

"Heat control is very important," he says. "You have to build a good fire, get your coals nice and hot but know where your hot spots are. You have to know where you have the ability to roast, fry and bake. Number two is restraint. A lot of people throw tons of sauces, toppings and whizz-bang-wizardry where they do not need to. Sometimes, just a little salt, pepper and garlic is more than enough.

"Then, technique. You need to let the meat rest after you cook it - you can't just slice it. You don't want to use a high-sugar glaze very early on, because the meat can go black. You don't want to press down on a burger. If you just study some fundamental techniques, you're going to have a great barbecue."

Needless to say, Richman, a trained sushi chef, is passionate about food. He became a household name after starring in the American television series Man v Food. The show, which ran from 2008-2012, saw him travel across the US to take part in mammoth food challenges. With no apparent regard for his arteries, viewers watched him eat ten grilled cheese sandwiches, a 4.5lb steak with a jacket potato, and 23 tacos - among other stomach-busting sittings.

It was car-crash TV, watching an enthusiastic and competitive podgy boy from New York gnaw fatty food in limited time. But that look has long gone. Richman has ditched the shlochy T-shirts and sideburns. He's now wearing three-piece suits and sharp ties. He's grown a beard and shed the weight -with the aid of a three-month vegan diet.

In short, Richman, 41, has grown up. This, he says, disappointed some fans: "When I lost weight, people felt betrayed that I had lost weight." Most fans of the show have struggled to forget the Adam Richman of Man v Food. Does it get frustrating that that is what he's known for? ''Frustrating is a loaded word," he says. "Sometimes it is a little bit tough because it's the show that opened doors for me. It was in 32 countries, it gave me a life beyond my imagination. I am always going to be grateful."

But one thing has stayed with him from Man v Food. While scoffing down pork sandwiches, Richman wore his Magen David necklace. A Yale School of Drama graduate, he got the necklace while playing narrator Reuven Malter in a stage adaptation of Chaim Potok's novel, The Chosen.

"I'm wearing it right now," he says. "It is steel, on a metal-beaded chain, like a dog-tag. I like that it is a tough Magen David. Also, while I was playing Reuven Malter, I was wearing tzitzit every day and kept kosher for a while - my mother was very happy."

Growing up, Richman was fed on his Grandma Rose's gefilte fish, his Grandma Gildred's meat-balls and his mother Sharron's matzah lasagne. He attended the Solomon Schechter and Rabbi Harry Halpern day schools.

Now, Richman lives in eruv-surrounded Park Slope, which is home to a significant Jewish population in Brooklyn. "I go to synagogue," he says. "I've come to embrace the English translations of some of the prayers because sometimes you say the 'shemoneh esrei' (amidah) and lose sight of what the words actually mean."

His commitment to and relationship with Judaism runs deep. He supports the Hebrew Burial Society, an organisation that helped fund the burial of his uncle David, two years after his father Jeffrey died. "It was a heavy endeavour for a 23-year-old kid to have to lay a stone for his dad and then at 25 to have to get a stone for his uncle," recalls Richman, solemn at the memory. "They actually helped bury my uncle at Mount Ararat Cemetery in New York when my family's plot is. It was a big thing."

People who claim that he can't be a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn and eat treif are "a**holes" in his opinion. Underplaying his enjoyment of treif would be disingenuous, he says.

"I don't keep kosher at home, even though I kept kosher at temple and at school. Yes, I can appreciate a nice piece of gefilte fish like anyone else, but I happen to like shrimp and lobster. In my profession, it is something I would need to do. Yes, people are vociferous about it, but I feel like God is too big to fit into any one definition. And I believe that tzedakah - having a degree of menschkeit to you - and being a good person and giving to the temple…"

More than that, Richman, whose family originally hail from Leeds, is a Tottenham Hotspur fan. He's even got his own chant, which he recants enthusiastically. Walking into Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium once, he was overwhelmed as fans hollered: "He eats what he wants, he eats what he wants, he's Adam Richman, he eats what he wants. Yiddo, yiddo, yiddo."

He adds: "It was amazing. That was in the Tim Sherwood days, when they destroyed us 4-0."

Like so many in the community, I get the sense that his support of Spurs is comparable to a religious following. And so I ask what he makes of the "yid army" banning order?

"I am of two minds about that," he says. From what I've read, the term of calling Spurs supporters 'yids', came after Chelsea supporters used to make gas chamber noises. Non-Jewish supporters of Tottenham stood in solidarity with their Jewish brethren and said 'no no no – we're all yids, we are all in this together'.

"There's also this notion, just like the African Americans have done with the dreaded "N" word –you take a word-usage that was born out of violence, suppression and subjugation, and all of a sudden you take ownership of it, and it becomes a rallying cry. I have to say, because it's so ingrained in the true old guard of the Spurs fan, that I take it as a big compliment."

Richman is excited by his latest project, in which UK amateur barbecuers will battle it out for the title BBQ Champ 2015 and a £25,000 prize. The winner will have to impress Richman and his co-judge, restaurateur Mark Blatchford, on the five-part series, fronted by Myleene Klass.

And Richman is generous in his description of how we Brits barbecue. "Because it's always sunny in the States, the notion of outdoor cooking is easy, effortless and common," he says. "Whereas here in the UK, you have such a limited window of outdoor time that you guys really just maximise it. British barbecue has gone from another word for 'cooking whatever you can find on the grill', to a degree of artistry, technique and greater culinary merit."

And, yes, it might have once been a grill dominated by men of the house but Richman says that is changing, too. "Two of our [BBQ Champ] competitors this season are women," he says. "They are unbelievably gifted. There's this very macho, primeval type of cooking but you can have greater nuanced flavours coming out of barbecue and women are showing us the way there.''

Speaking of women, rumour has it that Richman is dating Klass. He's apparently been showering her with gifts. "Whatttttt!!" he says, laughing.

"I adore Myleene. She is smart, strong, capable, beautiful - pick any great adjective. But the thing is, we have built arguably one of the best shows you are going to see this year serving the food space in the UK, and I believe we'll be back.

"You know, you don't dip your pen in the company ink. I'm lucky, but I ain't that lucky. I don't get to eat brisket for a living and date Myleene Klass. It's either or."

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