We’ve come across plenty of people in the food world who amaze us. Chefs whose culinary creativity blow our minds, oenophiles whose brains are virtually wine encyclopedias, brewers that can taste the slightest variation in their brews, and people who can give you a killer restaurant recommendation (with corresponding menu item) to any city in the whole frickin United States in less than 3 seconds flat. That last one describes the one, the only, Adam Richman. In terms of knowing all the great spots to eat across America, he’s a legend. From taking down legendary meals in Man vs. Food, to searching for the best sandwiches in Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America, to traveling across the country to find the best grub in The Traveler’s Guide to Life, it’s tough to find a more knowledgable dude.
Now, while we’re sure you all know Adam from one of those shows, or maybe even his new NBC show, Food Fighters, where experienced home cooks go up against talented and well-known chefs, you’ll all get to know him a little bit more at the Greenwich Wine & Food Festival. He will not only be doing a demo there (he dishes about what he’s making in this interview) at 3:30 on 9/27, but he’ll also be the host of the Burger Battle that starts at 4:30 the same day.
To prep you for the big day we asked him some serious questions about how to make and where to get a great burger, his favorite baseball team (and the only team that matters)…the Yanks, prime spots to get food in his hometown Brooklyn, his new show, how he keeps things so healthy, and his plans for complete world food-domination.
Kristien: So, obviously we know why they picked you as the perfect judge for the Burger Battle at the Greenwich Wine & Food Festival…you know your way around a burger for sure. We wanted to know, though, what do you really look for in a good burger?
Adam Richman: You know, I think everything has to be balanced. Sometimes you’ll find these burgers where it’s an average burger and an average bun with a pitchfork full of toppings. Or, sometimes the bun is overwhelming, or the burger is falling out. I think that it has to be balanced. I think that you can over topping a burger. Because everything, more or less, can go on a burger…it doesn’t mean everything should.
K: So, if you’re saying that you can pretty much top a burger with anything, but it doesn’t mean you should, what are some of your go-to toppings? Are you a burger traditionalist or do you like them a little different?
I go with old school lettuce, tomato, onion, for sure…pickles, sometimes. But, you know, I’m an avocado junkie so it’s hard to say no (to that). I think onions tend to always work really well on a burger, whether they are sautéed or steamed. Also, a good bacon cheeseburger is also kind of worth its weight in gold.
I think when people have a hit burger, they tend to have three or four really good ingredients. Like there’s a place in Atlanta called The Vortex with a burger that has blue cheese, bacon, and onions. There are three things there, but it’s one cohesive flavor. There is a tendency to sometimes empty the kitchen sink out and by then it doesn’t even make it a difference that the burger is in the sandwich to begin with.
K: Actually, funny enough, I used to live in Atlanta and I used to go to The Vortex for burgers too. They are fantastic!
Oh God, it’s the best. In Connecticut too, though, you can go out to Meriden and go to Ted’s Steamed Cheeseburgers and there it’s about execution. It’s not about toppings, and that’s why Ted’s is so great.
K: We haven’t been to Ted’s, but want to go. We went to Louis’ Lunch (same concept) and, granted, we were drunk and everything should taste better, but I’ll admit, we did not like it too much.
Ah, that surprises me. I’m a Yalie, so I love Louis’ Lunch very much. They do grind the meat there. I think the thing that’s really occurring in the burger space is, quite frankly, the fact that there are people who are much more educated eaters. You have a much more savvy home cook too, and people are now realizing the role that the actual quality or cut of their beef plays. So, it’s just not just a matter of what you put on it.
I’m pleased to say that Pat LaFrieda is not only a dear friend, but we’re co-chairman of the Armed Forces Foundation together. Now, you know, he’s a guy who people are recognizing because they do custom meat blends for their burgers. I know growing up in the day I would have thought, “Custom meat blend..are you kidding?” It was chopped meat or no meat, what do you mean…blend? Turkey burger? It was a burger burger.
K: We love Pat LaFrieda, we have to say. Pat LaFrieda has a spot at CitiField, so we love to get that every time we go to a game!
That’s like a steak sandwich, right?
K: Yes, it’s sooooo good! Oh my God!
The funny thing that I love…and Pat was talking about it with me, is that you have a lot of these kind of snooty foodies who are not really into baseball but will go to (and you’ll have to forgive me because I’m always going to call it Shea Stadium) Shea Stadium aka CitiField and get crappy tickets just because they want to eat sandwiches.
K: That might be us a little…but with the Mets only. Well, I should say Dan’s a Mets fan (so he goes for the game), but I’m a Yankees fan like you are.
I would do it too, because I’m a Yankees fan. I have to say my friend is now on the Mets, much to my chagrin…but I would go to support him. I return even though he’s gone to the other side.
The thing is now we’re in a very advantageous position where stadiums are really curating the edible experiences that they’re giving to fans. You hear names like Danny Meyer, restaurants like Fatty Crab that are popping up at Barclay’s. So, I think that’s a very special, very cool thing.
K: So, with that then, what’s your favorite place to eat either in or around Yankee Stadium?
I don’t usually go to Yankee Stadium for that because I’ve usually already eaten since I like to go to evening games. I’ll grab a sandwich at the ballpark, or something like that, but I’m still blown away that you can get sushi and roast beef there! There are so many options that you have there. I remember when my friend Joba Chamberlin was pitching I saw that there were certain seats where you can get stuff served to you there. Oh, they have really good garlic fries at Yankee Stadium. But, they have a lot of those sandwiches that are actually carved meats…that’s actually pretty tasty.
If I’m eating in the Bronx, though, if I’m going out to the Bronx for food, I’m generally going to up to Castle Hill for Chino Latino or Arthur Avenue for Italian. But, I really don’t eat around too many places in the Grand Concourse.
K: What about in Brooklyn, where you’re from…what’s your favorite restaurant?
I don’t have just one, there’s just no possible way I could pick one, and that’s not a copout. It’s just I know Brooklyn really well and now there is a new food scene there, too. Like, you have everything popping up. And, I mean…how do you compare Talde to Brennan & Carr’s roast beef to Spumoni Gardens to Convivium Osteria to Elberta’s to Buttermilk Channel? It’s just so much. And, honestly, a lot of the great food finds are sometimes in a little grocery or little market. I also like to go to old school Brooklyn. I really don’t spend a lot of time in Williamsburg. I’ve been to Bushwick a couple of times, Bed-Stuy a little bit, Fort Green a bit because it’s one neighborhood over, but I guess I’m a creature of habit.
Dan: So, you’ve definitely eaten a lot and all over the place, but we’re wondering what’s the craziest burger you’ve ever had, but not like crazy wow this is disgusting, this is overdoing it. We mean crazy good.
[Takes a deep breath] There are so many great burgers…I love the Gargiulo Burger from Brennan & Carr in Brooklyn. I also host New Taste of the Upper West Side and every year 5 Napkin Burger absolutely kills it. I think 5 Napkin Burger is a great burger, I think the Hukilau Burger in Laie in Hawaii is really delicious. Another is the Juicy Lucy at Matt’s Bar in Minneapolis is a great one. There’s a Midwestern chain called Culver’s who are known for their custard…their butter burgers are pretty good. I love Sang Yoon’s burger at Father’s Office in Los Angeles: that’s an excellent hamburger. Double Double Animal Style from In-N-Out Burger. The Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien. Also, Yeah! Burger in Atlanta: there’s a lot of really good ones. OH! The Maverick Burger at Mason’s Southern Provisions in Nashville is also super tasty. It’s an off-menu burger, but they’ll have it sometimes. They use a compound shallot oil, tomato jam instead of ketchup…it’s just awesome.
D: In your new show, Food Fighters, home cooks compete against professional chefs So, we were wondering if you had to give some advice to some of those home cooks that were on the show or just some home cooks in general, what would you tell them to help prepare a really great burger?
Give the home cook on the show advice? Those guys are better than me! I mean, they impress the hell out of me. Those guys are crushing it!
K: Haha, true. More like our readers, the typical home cook.
For a great burger, I always say you don’t want to handle the meat too much. Wet your hands so the meat doesn’t stick to it and don’t overseason…a little bit of salt and pepper should do it. Don’t pack the patty super hard…you want to roughly combine the meat. Oh, and, you dimple it so it will retain its shape when its on the grill because, essentially, everything tightens and that’s why you end up with those little dome shaped burgers. So, just make a small dimple with your thumb and that should do it.
Ah, and, never ever press down if you’re grilling a burger. It takes all the juice out of there. Put it on the grill, leave it for a little bit until you get a nice crust, flip it and take it off. Then let it rest for a second or two, just let the juices redistribute. And don’t over-condiment it!
Now we live in a day with things like artisanal pickles. A guy who was my understudy on the first show that I did out of drama school at Yale, this guy Bob McClure is now the main pickle guy: McClure’s Pickles. And Bob McClure is the pickle impresario. You’ve got these great pickles out there, great heirloom tomatoes, great onions. You get slices of those and ketchup, mustard, maybe a little mayo, whatever. You don’t need to go into chili con carne and stuff like that. Don’t be afraid to keep it nice and simple with a good bun.
If you think about it, it’s just a balanced bite. You’ve got sour, you have a little of acerbic bite to the onion, with a tartness and semi-sweetness in the tomato, the lettuce has a little more crunch, a little more of a toothsome tear, and then the ketchup is a little sweet with a little bit of tart, mustard has a bite, mayo adds a little bit of umami—and that’s it. There’s a reason that this is a classic combination. There’s a reason why it doesn’t have to get messed with. People start putting in short rib and foie gras…[rolling off a long list], that’s just too much.
D: We definitely love the show, we’ve been watching it the past few weeks…and it’s a different kind of format than your other shows. So, we were wondering what do you really like about this kind of experience?
For me, having done all these shows like Man vs. Food, then Travel Channel had begun to put my name in the title. You know, I always disliked the fact, but I understood why—you certainly can’t fault them for it. They began it all with Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America, Adam Richman’s Fandemonium, or things like that and it’s fun of course when you’re the focus, but I love putting the focus on other people. I’m not a chef. I’m a pretty damn good home cook, like I think most people who will be in attendance at this festival [Greenwich Wine & Food] are…most people in this country are not professional chefs, they’re home cooks, and good home cooks at that. And, I think that’s the core of my love of food, my love of cooking, my love of culinary preparation, and culinary exploration.
I think that it’s a beautiful thing to have home cooks celebrated on the same stage and same arena as the great culinary minds of our time. And, I think that it’s a really beautiful opportunity to do that, to let these people win life changing money and to show them that they can go toe to toe with the best around and to prove that they have, as they say in England [speaks in an accent], “They’ve got the minerals!”
K: Changing it up a bit… obviously for us as food bloggers, we are always trying to find a balance between enjoying great food and drinks and going out with people and the other side of that, staying in shape. So we try to eat healthy and light in between our meals out so that we can enjoy ourselves. We also do P90X3 5 days a week to try and balance it. So, it’s no secret that you got yourself into great shape, so we were wondering if you had advice for some of our readers who happen to be huge food lovers too?
What I do, generally speaking, is I pick and choose my spots. But, I dropped a bunch of weight on my own with just 100 calories, 200 calories every two, two and a half hours. I tried to drink a gallon of water a day, and take 10,000 steps using my Fuel Band. So, that’s probably the main ways that I’ve done it.
Now that I’ve been playing soccer more, my trainer encouraged me to go vegan, actually, when I was training for my match in Manchester. What I do is I will keep my diet at least 80% plant-based, and the only times I’ll deviate are when I’ll make it count. That way when I have that burger I can dive in with reckless abandon because I know that I’ve been well disciplined the rest of the time. I really feel like I gain more from the taste and I don’t need, necessarily, as much of it. It’s like when I bite into that burger, all the richness that I might otherwise not perceive if I’m on a meat-based diet…I get the full strength of it because I’ve been eating largely plant-based food up until then.
D: I was actually vegetarian for 10 years and tried to be vegan for three days. It was just tough. Wherever I went, I had to ask, “Does that have cheese in it, is there milk in that?” It was just so overwhelming.
You know what the thing is? I think a lot of people (and you’re right) don’t want to ask…they don’t want to be that guy. Or the servers don’t have enough product knowledge to know whether or not it’s got eggs, milk, cheese…well, then, what other holes are in that server’s knowledge? I’ve been a server from the most mundane places to the most high end places, and you need to know for food allergies, you need to know for people’s ethical beliefs. I had a gentleman come in and he was Muslim and he wanted to make sure there was no pork products in his meal, so I had to make sure there was absolutely not even an ounce and that the vegetables weren’t rendered down in any kind of pork fat. So, you’re right: going vegan requires vast amounts of preparation. Checking the airlines a few days before making sure you have a vegan meal or taking it on the plane with you, or if I’m going to a place with no options, I’ll take some food or I’ll pick up an apple or a banana. Be hungry when other people are eating and just eat later.
D: Is there anything new you’re working on or anything we should keep an eye out for?
I have a cookbook about to come out! It’s called Straight Up Tasty: Meals, Memories, and Mouthfuls from My Travels. Basically, it’s recipes that I’ve made for families and friends combined with other recipes that I’ve picked up along the way like a dish I had in Portland, Maine…a flavor combination I had in Croatia, and a little bit of an homage to a dish I had in a restaurant called Lucques in LA. I put the stories of where the inspiration came from, going from one to the next to the next because I think food is a continuum. If you try a sauce in Palermo and you take tomatoes from your garden and use it with Thai Basil, suddenly that continuum is your story and whoever you serve it to. So, I do stuff like that. That should be coming out next year.
And, I’m very pleased that Alamos Wines, with whom I did my Daring Pairings thing, renewed with me. Actually, the recipe that I’m doing at the festival is my Sloppy Cho, my homage to the street food in Argentina, my version of Choripan, is a daring pairing.
So, I’ve got that going and I’ll let you know what’s happening in the TV space when I know. [He laughs and we follow suit.]