The Man of the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food was back in Tampa last week on a national food truck tour. Red Stag by Jim Beam sponsored the tour, and four cities made the schedule: Tampa, Indianapolis, Chicago and a fourth city to be voted on by fans. Richman himself, using Red Stag’s line of bourbons, designed all food recipes. He and his crew stopped by CL Space for a chat, and brought along a truck full of food and drink.
CL: Is it good to be back in Tampa?
AR: I dig it and I’m really fortunate to have seen how the culinary scene evolved. I remember coming down here and going to Ted Peters’ Smoked Fish and obviously go to Bern’s — in the day and age of the ultra-sleek Ikea steakhouse, you go into this mega-plex that looks like Liberace’s mudroom. But my thing with Tampa, culinarily speaking, is you have bay seafood, ocean seafood, and this really rich Cuban culture that’s completely and totally undiluted. You’re able to create such a vast array of foods from those three elements. In the sort of scope of sweet spot of culinary talents here, it’s pretty incredible.
So are you preaching the gospel of Tampa cuisine?
I am, actually. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles have myriad food critics and myriad restaurants. There are tomes written about these scenes. I’m bringing my menu to Tampa, to places that have a culinary scene but maybe not one of the ones that’s hoity-toity, with people in skinny jeans referencing Shins quotes.
What is your go-to comfort food?
I think it depends on where I am in the country and what time of year it is. I love mac and cheese, for sure. Specifically, in Detroit, [at] Slows Bar B Q. I get their mac and cheese shipped to my house for Thanksgiving. I call it Mac and Crack.
Is there a country you want to visit for a massive pig-out session?
I want to explore Singapore more. [Before my first visit there], I made a bad bet on street food in Thailand. I’m a Jewdha-Buddha, I’m a Jew that has studied Buddhism. I studied at this little temple in Chalong and there were little vendors. I lost a bet on some street food there and it slammed me shut like a book.
What do you do when that happens?
Pray and go ask how long is this flight? So I’d like to give Singapore another day in court. I really want to go to Vietnam. I’ve never been to Cambodia or Southeast Asia. I’ve never been to China; I know there is a lot of regional variance in China. I think linguistically I’d get hammered. I need to get some Rosetta Stone on that ASAP.
You’re doing The Best Sandwich in America now. What do you think it is about the sandwich that is so primal? Everyone likes sandwiches. Name any chef in the world and there is a sandwich they love. What is it about sandwiches?
Every culture’s got one. I do believe that the sandwich at its core is your imagination bound by two pieces of bread. If you have bread, you could open your fridge and find something to make a sandwich out of. It is a portable meal. It’s like the great equalizer. From the wealthiest family in this country to the most indigent family in this country, there is a sandwich. Right here in Tampa, we featured two of your Gulf Coast sandwiches. Skipper’s Smokehouse is making a blackened grouper reuben. They use marble rye, so you’ve got that aromatic, seedy smokiness. They use homemade Thousand Island dressing, then they carmelize the sauerkraut on the grill so it takes some of that fartiness out of it. And then it’s a great Gulf Coast fish. So I love it. Again right here in Ybor City, the Cubano sandwich has its roots right here in Tampa. Miami may lay claim to it, but when Ybor brought cigar manufacturing here, he brought that Cuban culture. The Cubano and Media Noche sandwiches in this city are out of this world. [Aguila Sandwich Shop’s Media Noche and Skipper’s grouper reuben were both featured on his show recently.]
We’ve got the fresh bread baked here, with the palmetto leaves still on the bread.
I love you for knowing that. I actually sent one of my interns to go to the bakery where you can see the swirls in the bread from the palm leaves. I think that is so special.