TCA Tour, Day 1: “Man vs. Food”

It probably won’t surprise you regular PH readers that the person responsible for introducing me to the wonder of the Travel Channel series, “Man vs. Food,” is none other than our own Mike Farley. As near as I can tell, the guy lives, breathes, eats, and sleeps food-related television, which is why I always defer to him when the opportunity arises to screen a new series that falls into this particular wheelhouse of his or to interview someone who’s part of such a show. Indeed, he’s already had a nice conversation with Adam Richman, host of “Man vs. Food,” about the show’s first season. But, now, the show is gearing up for its second season, which is why Mr. Richman was in attendance at the TCA tour.

First off, the guy earned my immediate respect when Joel Keller of TV Squad noted that Richman tends to do better in the challenges with hot
foods than the ones which are quantity-based, then asked him how he does it, wondering if perhaps he lines his mouth in wax.

Richman immediately grinned and said, “I saw that ‘Simpsons’ episode!”

NICE.

In actual response to the question, however, he explained, “I actually work with a chef of Indonesian descent, and he was actually the one who sort of opened my eyes to spicy food. Basically, he said, ‘You need to train your palate to taste the pepper, not just the heat, because some peppers have a more sweet or fruity taste, some are more vegetable.’ And that’s honestly what I do. I also happen to really enjoy spicy food just as a taste, so I really enjoy the taste of what I’m eating and I’m sort of able to take the sting out of it and really just enjoy the flavor of it, whereas with quantity challenges, it’s delicious food, there’s just quite a lot of it.”

I managed to get a question into the proceedings myself, bringing up the episode from Season 1 where Richman’s Travel Channel cohort, Andrew Zimmern, swung by and introduced him to the wonders of lutefisk. Given his reaction to the fishy Norwegian “delicacy” (and, believe me, even just bringing it up resulted in an expression from Richman which clarified that he had not become a fan since the episode was filmed), I wondered if there had been any challenge he’d been pitched where he just said, “Uh, no, I’m good, thanks.”

“Well, I mean, we had…what, 60 locations to start off with?” Richman asked “Man vs. Food” executive producer Charlie Parsons, who was sitting next to him onstage.

Parsons confirmed the number, admitted that he had suffered through lutefisk himself (“I was on that shoot, so I had to man up and try it out, and I’ll never do that again”), then politely jumped in to answer my question from a production standpoint.

“It’s an open dialogue between Adam and myself,” explained Parsons. “Variety is the key for this series to go on – big cities, small cities, places that have undeniable passion for their product and that speak to the community – but it’s a dialogue between us.

“So far, I’m not sure we’ve pitched anything that you’ve sort of put your foot down on,” he said, grinning at Richman, “but we talk so we hopefully don’t hit that spot. But lutefisk could be next season…”

“Oh, no,” Richman replied, without so much as a moment’s hesitation. “No, that’s not going to happen. But I will tell you this: I think that it’s important to not only have a challenge that actually looks good on camera, but I think it’s important that it comes with its own sense of drama, its own sense of history and lineage, how many people have attempted it. Because that’s the great thing: you go to these towns, and if people haven’t tried it, they know someone who has. It’s kind of part of the food fabric of this culture. So for me, I think that the challenges that I might steer away from are ones that might be repetitive of ones that we already have or ones that are just sort of either big-for-big’s-sake or such.”

As far as what we can expect to see during Season 2, there’ll be a pancake challenge in Hawaii that sounds delightfully starchy, but the premiere – look for it on August 5th – will take place in San Antonio, TX, and will see Richman revisiting the horrors of the ghost chili by way of a little concoction known as the Four Horsemen burger.

“Anything involving the ghost chili is definitely, definitely a Herculean feat,” he admitted, and given the other three Horsemen, you’d better believe that it’s gonna be a full-fledged apocalypse in your mouth. “Jalapeno, habanero, serrano…all hot. On the same burger, super hot. And then a ghost chili elevates it to something of Dante proportions.

“In terms of the new season, I’ve had such a blast, and it’s not like a sound bite,” swears Richman. “I really have had such a blast. Hawaii was amazing. Philadelphia was incredible. Vegas…I think Las Vegas has kind of largely become the providence of a lot of celebrity-owned restaurants, and what we did was find places that locals go to, places off the Strip. That was particularly fulfilling and edifying for me personally, to see a side of Las Vegas as a city independent of the casino life and the celebrity-owned restaurant. I would definitely say those were some great, great episodes that people can look forward to.”

Parsons, unsurprisingly, agreed with his show’s star, but he expanded further on the reasons why fans will dig Season 2.

“Another thing to look forward to for the next batch of episodes is the energy that’s just mounting in these cities,” he said. “When word starts to trickle out in the community that’s embraced this show, the ‘Man v. Food’ fans that just love the show and just have this connection with it, they show up in droves. It’s standing room only – at best -at some of these places, and not just for the challenges…because as you know, we go to three different places per show to try to get various tastes from one destination. But the energy is just off the charts this season. It’s fantastic.”

Confirm for yourself on August 5th, when Season 2 of “Man vs. Food” premieres on the Travel Channel.

  

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