Even a humble bagel can tell a story for Adam Richman DRM ’03, host of the television show “Man v. Food.”
In his talk at the University Bookstore Thursday, Richman explained that “the bagel you have when you’re running to class” has its own interesting history. Starting as a gift for a Polish prince, the bagel made its way with Jewish immigrants to North America and gained inspiration from prepackaged food in the Korean War. Even now, Richman said, it has not stopped its journey.
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“We’re part of that continuum,” Richman said.
Richman, who spoke to over 80 people at the talk to promote his latest book titled “America the Edible,” captivated his audience from the beginning. He had no notes with him, preferring to speak extemporaneously, and he proved himself to be hilarious and earnest as he explained his childhood love of food and the beginning of America the Edible.
He started keeping a food journal in 1995 while studying at Emory University. The journal, which he described as “a diary, with food as a point of departure,” was a result of a breakup. Richman had a moleskine notebook with him—probably to write dramatic breakup poetry, he said—when he encountered a small jewel of Atlanta’s restaurant industry.
“It was a panacea for all my ills,” Richman said. “It made me feel less ill, less broken. The place that would get me over that hump served baguettes with poached pears and brie.”
He continued this journal throughout college and augmented it as he traveled around the country, aiming to find places locals went and eat what locals ordered.
Success did not follow immediately. Richman landed a few small acting roles, including understudying Bela Lugosi on a play on Ellis Island, before he joined Man v. Food.
“I couldn’t afford cable until I got on cable,” Richman said.
From the start, Richman addressed why he chose to write “America the Edible,” denying that the book was a first step of an insane self-promoting campaign that would sequentially lead to “an Xbox interactive giant burrito game.” He said he did not want to come across as a “snooty foodie,” hoping that nothing he did would be as inaccessible or elitist.
“A meal can be a kick-a– meal or it can be an experience,” Richman said. “If I [wrote the book], maybe someone else would look at their food in a different way.”
After his talk, Richman autographed copies of “America the Edible.” Along with college students, the audience included many older fans as well as some families.
The Shields family, one of the many families at the talk, said they watch “Man v. Food” all the time. The television show is a favorite of the Shields children, Lauren, 10, and Alexis, 7. The two girls said they especially love Richman’s food challenges, in which he attempts to conquer different food obstacles, such as spiciness, for example a plate of hot wings, and quantity, such as a massive grilled cheese sandwich. The Shields were part of the dozens who waited in line for Richman’s autograph.
“He was one of the most humble, down-to-earth men,” said Todd Shields, father of the girls. “You can tell the man has a really deep affection for Yale and New Haven.”
Cristine Pinon ’12, who also watches Man v. Food, said she found the talk a good opportunity to learn more about Richman’s own history.
“You never really get a full sense of his personality from his show, but he is really interesting with so many stories to tell,” Pinon said.
In essence, Richman spoke like a dinner host, welcoming the audience into his life and urging them to see more than what is just in front of them.
“Sharing food with someone is a beautiful, nice and spiritual experience, nurturing by its very definition,” Richman said.
While Richman has done an episode on Hartford, Conn., the foodie has never put New Haven’s eateries on primetime.