Adam Richman Goes Deep On Pepperoni And What Makes Pizza Special – Exclusive Interview

Adam Richman smiling
Adam Richman smiling - Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

As a born-and-bred Brooklynite, Adam Richman knows his pizza. He's eaten a lot of pies during his time hosting shows like "Man v. Food" and "Adam Eats the '80s" too. As a pizza connoisseur, he jumped at the opportunity to work with Hormel to promote the brand's Pepperoni Pizza Pop-Up Shop; the shop is releasing limited-edition pepperoni-themed merch like clothes, games, and furniture every day for a week leading up to National Pepperoni Pizza Day on September 20. To get the pepperoni hype going, he also starred in a YouTube video where he modeled many of the pepperoni-themed goodies that will be going on sale.

In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Richman talked about all the slices of pizza he's fallen in love with over the decades in New York City. He also shared his personal pepperoni preferences along with some creative uses for everybody's favorite pizza topping. And since he's the host of the History show "The Food That Built America," he couldn't help but put on his historian hat and tell us the story of pepperoni — and how this humble cured meat helped bring prosperity to America's heartland.

Read more: Best Pizza Places In America

Selling Pizza Bagels For Charity

Pop-up pizza bagels
Pop-up pizza bagels - Instagram

I saw you hosted a pizza bagel fundraiser for the Maui wildfires recently. How did that go?

It was awesome. We raised thousands of bucks in one night. It was me with Cugine, or as most people probably know him, Meals by Cug on TikTok and IG. He and I have been friends for a little minute. His platform is massive, and the bagels from the pop-up are insanely good.

I love Hawaii. It's my favorite place on planet Earth. I recently discovered through that I have a cousin there that I recently met for the first time, and I've been doing the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival for a while. I've always loved Lahaina, and I know a lot of people who lost homes and livelihoods and relatives. It was cool to use my platform and make something really good.

We used a lot of Hawaiian ingredients. Hutchinson Farms up in Eastchester — he gets Maui onion, Hawaiian basil. I had the Hawaiian salt that I had at home. We were able to make a true Hawaiian sauce. Mike's Deli — on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx — made the fresh mozzarella for us that morning. The best bagels, the best cheese, the best ingredients ... Thousands of miles from Hawaii, a bunch of New Yorkers showed up. You can get great food anywhere in the city, especially downtown, and they showed up to donate thousands of dollars for a bunch of people who don't have that luxury. That's pretty awesome.

How To Judge A Great New York Slice

Pizza in NYC street
Pizza in NYC street - James Andrews1/Shutterstock

Speaking of New York, you're a lifetime New Yorker. In terms of New York-style pizza, what are the things you're looking for in a great slice?

I prefer a thinner crust, not like a potato chip, although I could appreciate that too — like Imo's in St. Louis, or even Domino's thin crust. I have love for that cracker crust. But for me, for New York-style, it needs a little bit of a crisp, a little bit of a tear, not too doughy. Sauce has to be rich, tangy, not too sweet. The mozzarella can't be too salty. It all is about ratio. You can't burn out one of those crusty craters of death in the crust. I want to eat the crust — I want to eat the pizza bones.

That's a big thing. It's about ratio — the ratio of toppings and quality of them. It always sucks when you get the pizzaiolos who don't care. The pizza comes, and it's like one guy's got a buffet on his pizza, and one guy's got no toppings. It's got to be evenly distributed.

Adam Richman's Favorite Pizza In Westchester

Adam Richman holding focaccia pizza
Adam Richman holding focaccia pizza - Facebook

What's your go-to spot in the city? Or do you have a bunch?

I always had a bunch. I lived in Brooklyn, and the neighborhood changed. The Brooklyn I grew up in was not the one of the ironic mustache, trucker hat, and hot yoga. My buddy likes to say there was the Brooklyn of Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers, and the trolleys, and then there was the Brooklyn of Interpol and Williamsburg and "The Real World" and Adrian Grenier living in Bushwick. I grew up in the DMZ in the middle of those two eras. We didn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. It was a very different type of Brooklyn.

For me, it depends. Now, you have the super bougie Neapolitan slice. I love places like Speedy Romeo or Motorino. Also, now I've moved north of the city to an area called Westchester, and there's a massive Italian community. I recently discovered a place, and I highly recommend it. I have no skin in the game — this is the dead truth. I was meeting my real estate broker when I was looking to rent a spot up there. While I was waiting, right by the Metro North stop — realistically, maybe 25 feet from the track itself — is a place called Pizzarelli's Casa de Focaccia. It is next to a Dunkin' Donuts. It's in a little weird strip mall-y thing.

Not glamorous.

But what a slice. I went there, and fortunately the girl behind the counter recognized me. Her daughter was a fan of the show. She said, "You've never had our focaccia?" I said, "No." She shows me the menu — it has small print, "Casa de Focaccia." I said, "All right, I'll try it." I go for the regular slices, typically; I go for pepperoni slices, or pepperoni and hot pepper. But the best compliment I can give them — it comes out sizzling, and the focaccia's pillowy and crusty. You taste the quality of the olive oil.

The Pizzas Of Adam Richman's Youth

Adam Richman standing in front of pepperoni store
Adam Richman standing in front of pepperoni store - Hormel

Adam Richman [continued]: Growing up, I used to go to a place on Coney Island Avenue and Avenue U called Prince of Pizza, or a place called Trio on Avenue U ... I think it was on 12th or 13th. But that was the thing — it was where you lived, and you would scope out the places that you liked near where you lived.

When I moved into my first big boy apartment in Brooklyn, my own spot, there was a spot called Steve's on Fifth Avenue, and it was home of the sesame seed crust. He'd never tell me where he got his mozzarella. Never told me. It tasted like milk. It was like drinking whole milk.

At my first job, I was working in advertising — actually, in media buying, so it's the decidedly more painful and mind-numbing variant of advertising. I was in my cubicle. I was very much hand to mouth [and] had nothing but Steve's pizza. Breakfast — Steve's pizza. Come home — dinner was Steve's pizza. That was the truth. But that's the magic of pizza.

Look at your phone; look at the emoji for pizza. It's pepperoni pizza. That's the appeal of it. For me in Westchester now, Carlo's in Yonkers and Pizzarelli's in Scarsdale are two of my favorites. Someone just said, "What, you've never been to Eastchester Pizza?" I said, "Well, I'm trying to do crunches and stuff, man. I'm trying to see my belly button."

Fast Food Pizzas From The '80s That Need A Comeback

Adam Richman with Domino's breakfast pizza
Adam Richman with Domino's breakfast pizza - YouTube

Last year, you were trying a bunch of extinct '80s pizzas for "Adam Eats the '80s." Is there one that you think should come back?

There's one I think should be more popular. California Pizza Kitchen does this California Club pizza, and it's got salad and avocado and all that stuff on it. The Domino's breakfast pizza was absolutely mind-blowingly good. I had a flat tire, and the lady who came to fix it for the rental car company — I gave her this pizza. She's like, "This is the best tip anyone's ever given me." So I would say that and the Calizza from Pizza Hut. Those are carb, dairy, and pepperoni magic.

What's on the Domino's breakfast pizza? Is that a scrambled egg situation?

Bacon, egg, cheese, sausage, and they butter the crust so it's like toast. Back in the day, they had a partnership with USA Today where you would get coffee, a breakfast pizza, and the paper. The issue was, pizza people order around the clock, but breakfast pizza was ordered during a finite window. They stopped selling it at 10:30 and they couldn't make it work, so they had to cancel it. But it was awesome.

Flat Vs. Cupped Pepperoni

Hormel cup pepperoni
Hormel cup pepperoni - Hormel

Adam Richman [continued]: To be fair, now that we're talking about National Pepperoni Pizza Day, no one realizes that pepperoni's not Italian — it's American. They've been making it here since 1915. It's American.

It's from New York, right?

It started with Italian immigrants making it around 1911, making versions of salsiccia. But George Hormel started making pepperoni in 1915, and that's how it spread. That's how it got popular. That's why there's turkey pepperoni, flat pepperoni, and cups and all this. If it's American National Pepperoni Pizza Day, there's no one else to work with the first name in American pepperoni. It has an Italian-sounding name, but that's ours, bro.

Speaking of pepperoni, do you prefer cups or flat?

I like the cups from an aesthetic grease-chalice standpoint, but for a pizza topping, I don't need to be playing hungry, hungry hippos trying to catch the stuff falling off my pizza. And I'm a professional; I've got a big old gob. No — I like flat so you get a little bit in each bite, and you get a little crisp around the edges. I'm sitting here salivating like Pavlov's pizza person. I like the cup from an aesthetic perspective, but a cup I pick off the pizza, and then I eat the pizza.

Serve pepperoni cups on their own. Just serve cups, people. Have everyone come around, do a shot of grease, and eat the pepperoni cup.

How Adam Richman Likes To Eat Pepperoni At Home

Adam Richman pointing at calendar
Adam Richman pointing at calendar - Hormel

Throwing it way back to your "Man v. Food" days, how much pepperoni do you think you've eaten in one sitting?

What a great question. I owe the town of Austin, Minnesota a great debt of gratitude. I did a pizza challenge in Kennesaw, Georgia at a place called Big Pie in the Sky. In fact, in the opening credits of "Man v. Food," you'd see me hold a slice next to a baby, and it was bigger than the baby — that was that place. Conan O'Brien described that pizza as though it looked like someone put a pig through a shredder.

But remember, I'm a Brooklynite, and you don't get this figure being an expert in quinoa. I've definitely eaten pounds of pepperoni — truthfully, because I would buy it. I truly do love it as a food product because it has meat and spice and salt. I remember going on fishing trips with my dad, and you get pepperoni and you'd have the knife, and you'd cut little slices of it and the cheese.

I love making an antipasto salad. One of my favorite things to do ... I remember talking about this with the folks at Hormel, even before working together. I have the turkey pepperoni in my fridge at all times — on God, I'll swear on a stack of the King James Bibles — and I slice it super-duper thin into ribbons and brown it, add eggs and garlic powder and stuff, and make an omelet. I mix together ricotta and mozzarella, and you roll it. It's almost like a calzone, egg omelet-blintz thing. I don't know.

But that's the thing with pepperoni. As an American foodie — hell yeah, that's ours. As someone who works with Hormel, it's like, "Hell yeah, that's ours." I like the fact that Hormel is doing pepperoni merch drops at like 1:00 p.m. every day of National Pepperoni Pizza Week.

Pepperoni Is A Working-Class Hero

Adam Richman standing next to pepperoni factory
Adam Richman standing next to pepperoni factory - Hormel

You're the original pepperoni hype beast.

I'll take that. It's a hype feast. Look, it's a food that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a food that people love. Yeah, I could be out here rocking shirts about foie gras, huitlacoche, and caviar, but I like being the people's champ. I like that my shows have created an 80% to 300% increase in business in mom-and-pop shops. That's what I mean.

All jokes aside, think about how many thousands of families have been able — through the Hormel plants in Iowa and Minnesota — to continuously put food on their own tables because of the consumption of pepperoni. That's so cool. It's not just taking pride in a made-in-America product, but in all these hardworking, unsung heroes that are on the factory line and stuffing the casing, slicing it, and packaging it. They never get love; they never get their merch; they never get their flowers. The heartland's the backbone of our culinary experience.

It always pissed me off that we talk about farm-to-table, yet we live in this day and age where the people who work at the farm can seldom afford to eat at that table. These people are day in, day out, working the factory line, trucking, shipping, delivering, packaging, dealing with cold storage in the cold chain. That's the thing. Pepperoni's popularity has allowed the town of Austin, Minnesota to thrive and allowed people to work.

I went to Austin, Minnesota to shoot some of the content that I'm going to start putting on social. They are the nicest, kindest, most hardworking people. Some days, I thought I worked hard, and then you see these dudes. You're like, "Whoa, okay. That's hard work. That is the hard work that matters."

Every time you're buying pepperoni, you're supporting thousands of working-class people.

100%. 110%. And championing American food. I've had pepperoni pizza in Warsaw. I had pepperoni pizza in Iceland. I've had pepperoni pizza in Australia. I've seen it sold in Ireland.

Why Pepperoni Is The Best Pizza Topping

Adam Richman pointing at pepperoni lamp
Adam Richman pointing at pepperoni lamp - Hormel

What do you think it is about pepperoni that makes it successful across the world?

Number one — visually, it pops. That's the emoji for pizza, pepperoni. Also, from a flavor profile, with pizza, you have starch, you have creamy flavors, and maybe a little salt. The condiments at every pizzeria — it's oregano, a pungent spice; red pepper flake, a heat spice; and garlic powder, something that's profoundly savory. What if you mashed these things together into a meat incarnation to make the meat, cheese, and bread combo? There's even a great restaurant in Portland by that name because it is so quintessential. A cheeseburger is, in and of itself, meat, cheese, and bread. The grilled cheese with bacon, the Philly cheesesteak, the Philly roast pork, the Cubano — meat, cheese, bread.

Pepperoni [is] visually impactful. Great flavor profile. You can cook it different ways. Even the fact that you can say to me, "Cups or flats?" — we can talk about things like that like pepperoni connoisseurs. Why not have a store that celebrates it?

When you walk into a pizza shop, what slice are you ordering?

I love pepperoni. There's always pepperoni, and I love a good chicken slice. They call it the chicken parm slice with the chopped little bits of chicken parm on it. [I'm getting] pepperoni and that, plus an ice-cold root beer.

New items will be dropping every day at the Hormel Pepperoni Pizza Pop-Up Shop from September 13-19.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Read the original article on Mashed.