When you ask Adam Richman what he's having for lunch, you can't help but get your hopes up. As the host of Man V Food – one of the greatest TV shows of our time – he's gleefully ploughed his way through culinary monstrosities like a seven-pound burrito, a metre-long bratwurst, and a 12-patty cheeseburger without even breaking a sweat. So, Adam, what's for lunch? Seventeen sandwiches? A moped-sized steak? The contents of the nearest pet shop?
"I'm not sure," he says over the phone from Atlanta. "I'm speaking at my undergrad today, so I'm a jumble of nerves right now. I don't know if I'm going to eat at all. I might just stick to water and coffee."
This is why you should never meet your heroes.
Since its UK debut on Good Food in 2010, Man V Food has become more than just a TV show. It's developed into a kind of shorthand friendship tool. If you ask a stranger about Man V Food, and they respond by widening their eyes, gasping with recognition and frantically recounting all the vast wodges of meat they've seen Richman demolish, you know you'll be in good company.
Slowly, by word of mouth, it has blossomed into something of a cultural touchstone for a generation. The premise is disarmingly simple: one man travels around various American pig-out spots – the kind of fast and dirty eateries where you're given a free T-shirt if you can stuff an entire farmyard into your mouth in an hour – and essentially eats everything in sight. One early episode saw him take on a burger as big as a barstool cushion. Elsewhere, challenges have involved 180 oysters, a pile of violently hot chicken wings, and two gallons of ice cream.
If that sounds obscene, it's because it often is. Stumble across an even slightly meat-centric episode of Man V Food and you'll be presented by wave after wave of glistening animal carcass in gruesome close-up, all charred and fatty and dripping with barbecue sauce. It can sometimes come dangerously close to the old Wonder Showzen Hot Dog Factory sketch, where kids narrate footage of meat production by remarking "Delicious murder" and "That's the dark nature of capitalism". It's probably not something that Morrissey has on series link.
'Challenges that use the whole pepper are much, much easier than ones that use pepper extract. That's concentrated; it's just heat'
Man V Food could quite easily slip into the realm of gratuitous meat porn, but it doesn't. The reason, quite simply, is its host. A former bit-part actor – he played a policeman in an episode of Law & Order six years ago – it wasn't until Man V Food that Adam Richman found his true calling. The key to the show's success, Richman claims, is its accessibility. "We can't all play basketball like Kobe Bryant or footie like Wayne Rooney," he says, "but we can all do some pretty significant damage to a delicious meal. I think that at our hungriest, or sometimes at our most inebriated, people surprise themselves at what they're able to eat."
This isn't strictly true. Any idiot can eat more than they should. But if you or I tried to present Man V Food, it'd be a disaster. We'd get full. We'd get surly. We'd catch sight of our gravy-covered chin in the back of a spoon and we'd become so ravaged by self-esteem issues that we'd clomp out into the street crying and retching.
Not Adam Richman, though. He makes excessive greediness look like a hoot. He's in his element on the show: funny, intelligent and endlessly enthusiastic. To watch Adam Richman on Man V Food is to briefly wish you were Adam Richman. At least until you start imagining how catastrophic his poos must be.
"There may have been some discomfort here and there," he admits, "but I'd always prepare. Usually I would do a cleanse after the challenge and then get right on the treadmill." But some challenges must have been harder than others. Which does he prefer, a quantity challenge or a heat challenge? "It's really a case-by-case basis. If you do a quantity challenge, the problem you'd face would be a starchy challenge. If it has a lot of potatoes, a lot of bread or fried elements, that's difficult. With heat challenges, challenges that use the whole pepper are much, much easier than ones that use pepper extract. That's concentrated, and also devoid of flavour. It's just heat. To me, I also felt that the better chefs worked with the real pepper. It's about finding the balance between heat and taste. I could give you a chip, buddy, and you could put ghost chilli extract on it, and it instantly becomes a deathly hot dish. But there's no artistry in it. A good spicy challenge strikes a balance between flavour and fear."
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What if someone gave me a massive burger right now? How should I go about attacking it? "Oh my gosh. Come in hungry. What I used to do was lots of working out ahead of time to get my metabolism and my appetite up. I would be hydrated but not overly so. I'd use tons of condiments to change up the flavour. I'd eat as much as I could in the first 20-25 minutes." After a pause, he goes on. "It's been so long since I did a challenge, it's funny to be talking about it."
Now seems like an appropriate time to break this to you: Man V Food is no more. Back in January, Adam announced his retirement from the show in a single Facebook post. So why bow out now?
"The simplest way to put it is to say that the spectacle diminishes over time," he says. "As a producer, if nothing else, I had to be aware of giving my audience something that they wanted to see. I believe that if you wait for your audience to say they want to see something new, you've waited too long."
There are signs of this restlessness in the recalibrated final series of Man V Food. Going by the name of Man V Food Nation, and transplanted to Food Network in the UK, it sees Adam sample some of the gargantuan dishes that he's become famous for, but this time it's members of the public who rise to the food challenges. Although sharing the limelight can sometimes dilute the glee of the original premise, it makes sense for Richman to split the burden of all that food. Besides, he's adamant that he had a ball filming it.
"These challenges were made iconic by the locals who did them. There's no way that I could have known about a 72oz steak challenge in Amarillo unless thousands upon thousands of locals and travellers alike had attempted it. I guess if Man V Food is me paying homage to these legends, then I suppose Man V Food Nation is the legacy. Everywhere I travelled, people would say, 'Hey, you gotta see my brother eat, you gotta see my father eat, you gotta see my boyfriend eat.' There is nothing like watching a hometown hero being cheered on by his friends in a restaurant that he or she would normally frequent. That's the nice thing about Man V Food Nation. Truly, it's a celebration of all of us."
'We know which came first. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I should be very flattered'
But, even though Adam's days of challenges are over, he hasn't given up on food entirely. "Adam Richman's Best Sandwich In America is the name of the show I'm working on now. It's a competition. Ten regions, three sandwiches per region, resulting in 10 regional champions. Those 10 compete for the title of my personal favourite sandwich in the whole country."
Adam Richman's Best Sandwich In America isn't Man V Food. Man V Food Nation isn't even Man V Food. But what is? Others have tried to replicate its winning formula. Like Man V Food, shows such as Diners Drive-Ins And Dives, Kid In A Candy Store, Outrageous Food and Monster Munchies all celebrate food as spectacle. But unlike Man V Food, they're usually obnoxious. Diners Drive-Ins And Dives is presented by Guy Fieri, less a human being and more an intolerable Biker Mouse From Mars. These shows haven't enjoyed the same crossover success, and Richman knows it. "This isn't chicken and the egg. We know which came first," he says. "I went, I filmed them, I did them, it was the progenitor of the form and I believe that what's first will always be best. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I should be very flattered."
So that's it: Man V Food has passed away. But can it ever be truly dead when it's repeated so frequently? When it's kickstarted a flurry of new burger and barbecue joints all around the country? Hardly. So if you ever see a little boy order more food than he can comfortably eat, or a man putting away so many chips that his eyeballs turn yellow and his face starts seeping grease, then the spirit of Man V Food will have endured. We should pack away those dreams of ever seeing a Man V Food UK series, though. Or should we?
"I truly do hope to have a chance to shoot in the UK soon," says Richman. "Start the grassroots campaign and I'll be over."
Middlesbrough: warm your parmos.
Man V Food: the ones that got away
Richman roped in a local to aid him in tackling the 30-inch, 11lb Carnivore Pizza. Unfortunately, his assistant couldn't keep pace with the great man, and was forced to pay a visit to the kerb, forfeiting the challenge in the process.
Crown candy milkshake
Brain-freeze was Richman's primary concern going into the Five Milkshake Challenge, but ultimately it was the 120 or so ounces of milk sloshing around his stomach that ultimately did for him, in a scene thankfully censored on the show.
Seventy-four ounces of steak and a pound of side dishes didn't look to be much of a challenge at first for Richman, but he soon succumbed to the meat sweats, and, ultimately, the clock, running out of time with only a few mouthfuls left.
The absolutely ridiculous burger
Even a 40-person army, with firefighters, hockey players, a Kiss tribute act and, of course, Richman himself were unable to put away the 190lb burger – at the time the world's largest – stopping short a mere 50lbs away from glory.
Fire in your hole hot wings
Just five scrawny chicken wings, but our man fell foul of the ghost chilli extract on top. Eyes streaming, Richman was forced to bow out after managing only two.
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