Serious Reads: America the Edible, by Adam Richman
"Richman provides a softer, more intimate insight into his life as a theater student and struggling actor in the years before he made it big."
All Travel Channel junkies are familiar with the big grin and bigger appetite of television host Adam Richman. On Man v. Food, the actor-turned-TV-star takes on food challenges across the country. There's nothing too spicy, too sweet, too enormous for Richman's adventurous tastes. In a new book, America the Edible: My Hungry History, from Sea to Dining Sea, he tracks decades of his own food travels across the United States, peppering his tales with recipes and photos.
The book is half a story of food-fueled wanderlust and half a personal memoir. The chapters of the book are themed by city, each city connected to a different stage of Richman's life. When I first opened the book, I expected superlative-heavy recollections of food challenges in the vein of Man v. Food. Instead, Richman provides a softer, more intimate insight into his life as a theater student and struggling actor in the years before he made it big.
His chapter dedicated to Brooklyn, his hometown, is full of pride and homage to New York's gritty ethnic diversity. He relates the joy that accompanied an actor's-budget meal of comfort food with his mom at the Big Sky Cafe in St. Louis, Missouri. And one has to admire his persistence in tasting every lobster roll he could find during a "research trip" to Portland, Maine.
A simultaneous narrative emerges of the various women Richman encountered in these cities. Indeed, at times he shares an uncomfortable amount of detail about his passionate, food-loving girlfriends. Sometimes these anecdotes are cute, like when he and a fling took a long Jeep ride through Hawaii and feasted on shaved ice. Sometimes, as when he recalls the "throaty gasps of humid, magnolia-scented air" provoked by a flame in Savannah, the book turns a bit lacivious.
Readers should be warned: if you already know that Richman's coy smile and exaggerated mannerisms set your teeth on edge, do not touch this book. He is as over-the-top in writing as on screen, sometimes to the detriment of otherwise worthy food prose. Descriptions of succulent fish or crisp, juicy fried green tomatoes are alternated with stories of French fries that "ruined [him] like an innocent on prom night." While entertaining at times, this style is probably not to everyone's tastes.
I enjoyed this book for its earnest appreciation of local American cuisine. Richman writes from his heart and his stomach, often while on the road in a beat-up Dodge, and snaps grainy black-and-white photos to preserve his most excellent food memories. Even if one isn't smitten with his borderline-crude style, it's impossible to deny that this man genuinely loves food. And as a kindred food enthusiast, America the Edible left me with a smile on my face and a craving for a really great lobster roll.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves consuming and learning about as much food as possible. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine. She blogs at Feasting on Providence.