Man v. Food: What you need to know about the new host

Man v. Food was a juggernaut of food television, and fans could agree that host Adam Richman made it the success that it was. So when it disappeared from air and Richman stepped down, it was clearly the end of an era. But The Travel Channel wasn't done yet.

When a relative newcomer to the TV scene was announced to replace Richman and continue one of television's most epic food journeys, the social media outcry was real and it wasn't very nice. Replacement host Casey Webb took his hard knocks before an episode even aired, but he hit his stride, made the show his own, and was popular enough that he kept the gig — longer than his online naysayers thought he would. He won over not just fans of the show, but restaurant owners and chefs, too. So, what makes this now-experienced host and food challenge survivor tick behind the scenes? Let's find out.

He was called up from bartending

Webb has some serious food cred, and he's actually started in the same place countless other people do: washing dishes. According to the Travel Channel, he's held down almost all the non-traditional jobs that crop up in the food industry, from management to selling wine and spirits. He says he was working as a bartender when he got the call confirming he was going to be the next "Man" in Man v. Food, and it was a phone call that completely changed his life.  

Webb grew up in Little Silver, New Jersey, so it's not entirely surprising that a lot of his restaurant experience comes from New York City. He's said the restaurant and the food world (and the people who live there) are at the very heart of all he holds near and dear, and also adds that his other passions — travel, meeting new people, and performing — mean that getting the Man v. Food gig is his dream job. Webb added, "I am having the time of my life criss-cross (sic) our beautiful country making new friends and taking on epic challenges!"

He had no idea what he was going to be hosting

Anyone who suspects Webb went out looking for the hosting gig he eventually got is sorely mistaken, and when he talked to Stars and Celebs, he shared the epically accidental way he ended up as Man v. Food's new host.

After making a few appearances in small roles — you can catch a glimpse of him as a hockey player in Chasing Amy and briefly as a cop in Boardwalk Empire — he decided to pitch his agent a food show where he would basically go to different cities and try food at different places. Instead, his agent asked him to audition for a then-unnamed hosting gig, and he said, "I was like 'Yeah, let's do it.' As an actor, I feel like you're never in a position to give up an audition because you might not ever get another one."

So, he auditioned, and had no idea what he was actually auditioning for. Even after he was told he got the job, he still didn't know what he was going to be doing, until…

"Physically, I turned the page on the contract, and the second page said Man v. Food."

When he auditioned and signed, he says he didn't even know they were looking for a new host or that the show was off the air. "It fell in my lap, really."

His first food challenge

Sure, Man v. Food goes to all different kinds of places all across the country, but people really know it for those food challenges. Webb chatted a bit with Jersey Bites when it came time for him to take the reins of the show, and he said that while he had his own experience with food challenges, that was a while ago.

He did his first when he was only a child, and that time, man won. The challenge was to eat an 18-inch pizza to join the Pete and Elda's Whole Pie Eater's Club, and finishing off those massive slices earned him a T-shirt. He's said he would definitely do it again, but now, he's got more on his plate.

Webb has said (via the Travel Channel) he and his friends used to take on some of the local food challenges, and the goal was just to get the T-shirt. He fully admits he never did anything on the sheer scale of Man v. Food challenges before joining the show, but says he's "up for any challenge that comes my way."

He's super diet-conscious

When your job is to eat insanely large quantities of food in between tasting other kinds of food and exploring some of the best restaurants a city has to offer, well, let's just say that's about as much of a polar opposite to an athlete as you can get on the occupation scale. But Webb says he channels his inner athlete every time he takes on a food challenge.

"A professional athlete is taking care of their bodies and eating well," he explained to US Magazine. "They're preparing themselves mentally and physically. I have a sports background and especially with a challenge as big as the ones I have been taking on, you really need to find your focus."

He says that just like an athlete gets in the right mindset before a big game, he does the same thing before a challenge. And during his down-time, Webb says he focuses on eating healthy, working out, and making sure he gets his forty winks. He's quick to stress that when the cameras aren't rolling, he doesn't just keep eating like he does when he's working. "I'm very conscious of my diet," he says.

He's hoping for celebrity guests

Man v. Food is one of the Travel Channel's longest-running series, so it's not surprising that it's remained pretty much the same: man comes, man sees, and man tries to conquer. It's a fun, simple formula that made the show great, after all, so why change it?

For the most part, the show's stayed the same after Richman left and after the reboot with Webb. But Webb told ET that if he has his way, there might be a bit of a shake-up to the program.

"I would love nothing more than to bring on some friends," he's said. If you're wondering what that would look like, he was talking about his old friend Amy Schumer at the time. Webb — who's made appearances on Inside Amy Schumer — sang her praises as he said he would love to be able to include some celebrity guests on the show. Sound good? Or should it just be left alone?

Homage to a PBS chef

Every cook, professional or amateur, has people they look up to. When ET asked Webb who his inspirations in the kitchen were, he gave some answers that might surprise you.

His first was Martin Yan, host of the PBS show Yan Can Cook. Webb says his father's favorite cuisine was Chinese, and that — coupled with Yan's fun, humorous attitude toward cooking — made the show a favorite for him and his family. "…such vivid memories for me," he says of the show. "Unknowingly, his and other shows would be the entry point for what has now become my career."

He also says Justin E. Wilson and Mary Ann Esposito helped him fall so completely in love with food, that restaurateur and fashion designer Eddie Huang is a major inspiration, and also adds Anthony Bourdain to the list. He says Bourdain in particular holds a special place in his heart, and that his book Kitchen Confidential really hit home by opening the door on the down-and-dirty that went on behind the scenes in a kitchen.

Hosting helped him hit a weird bucket list item

For most people, hosting their own television show might be a bucket list item — a tough one to get to check off, but on the bucket list nonetheless. Weirdly, Webb told AM New York that hosting Man v. Food opened a door for him, and allowed him to check something off his list: making pizza in a real, honest-to-gosh, New York City pizzeria.

Webb says that even though he grew up in pizza places across the city, he was usually stuck with washing dishes and working in the front of house. "You weren't allowed to make pizza, or I wasn't," he said. "To go back there and make pizza in an actual pizza place in New York City — I hit my bucket list. In Brooklyn, of all places."

Not only has Webb gotten the chance to hit the kitchens of a pizza joint, but he's had the unique honor of having a pizza named for him: the Caseydilla. He says he had no idea that was even in the works until it happened for the show, and that he hopes it's going to be back on the menu again and again.

He had a tough time being himself

Starting a new job always comes with challenges, and when Webb sat down for a Q&A with Ali of Potluck with Ali, she asked him what kind of challenges he faced during those first, crucial episodes. You know, aside from filling those big, big shoes.

Webb said every day was so fast-paced that he didn't have time to think about too much besides getting used to the grueling pace of filming all the different segments of a show in such a rapid-fire fashion. He also said he had trouble with something else: just being himself.

"They wanted to get me comfortable with what I was doing, because they don't want a character. They wanted Casey talking to chefs, talking to patrons, and tasting the food, as I would. Being myself was difficult in the beginning."

But, he also says that as soon as they told him to relax and be himself, the tension was gone and he found his groove.

He'll eat anything for a good reason

Adam Richman walked away from Man v. Food with a list of things he just wouldn't or couldn't eat anymore. It was a small list, but a list nonetheless. Webb, on the other hand, told Us Magazine there's nothing he won't eat and the only rule he's sticking to is that it just has to be fit for "human consumption." That leaves a whole lot of wiggle room, and he also told Ali of Potluck with Ali that he's at a point in his life where he just might be able to go back and eat one of the foods that really, really gave him chills before: live shrimp.

"It wasn't really my jam," he said. "Just a little funky for this monkey."

But, that said, he also says he's willing to try anything for a very specific reason. From his earliest days in kitchens, he was told that in order to work in a restaurant and in the food industry, he needed to taste everything. The only way to be able to talk to people about food was from personal experience. "You need to know what you're talking about, and that was important to me."

He was the first to try one challenge

After filming his first season of Man v. Food, Webb was able to look back over the cities, the experiences, and the challenges and name the scariest. It was the so-called Zombie Burrito from Genkiyaki, which was only a two-and-a-half pound burrito. It wasn't the size, Webb told BUILD, but the heat.

It was the hottest thing on the menu, packed full of some of the hottest peppers in the world, and Webb had the dubious honor of being the first person to even attempt the challenge.

"I love hot food, but these challenges go way beyond normal consumption," he says. If it was easy, it wouldn't be a challenge, and Webb adds that during his off-camera down time, he's slowly been working up to and through eating hotter and hotter peppers in preparation for future challenges. Leading up to filming, he went through a phase of having all his meals laced with ghost chilis, and say what you like about him, that's some serious dedication to the cause.

The best and the worst… so far

Now that Webb has some monumental challenges under his belt, he can speak a bit on what's been his least favorite and biggest challenges.

He told Parade that The Diablo Burrito at Allan's in Portland, Oregon was one of the worst things he's had to do on the show. It's not just the time or the quantity, he said, but the heat. "For me, the spiciest are the hardest because not only do you have a time limit, but you have a chemical reaction in your mouth and the heat just keeps rising."

When it comes to the challenge that he honestly can't believe he did, he said it was Steel City Sammiches and their Stuffaluffagus. In spite of that bit of disbelief, he's also named their area — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — as among his favorite places he's been to… so far. He told Fox News that he has some surprising favorite food cities: Pittsburgh and Boise, Idaho.

But when it comes to his favorite encounter, that goes hands down to Leah Chase in New Orleans. He and the 94-year-old chef made Creole gumbo together, and he called it "life changing." He continued: "They have fed all walks of life over several generations. The whole experience — cooking together, learning its history and passing the time was something I'll always remember."

It's more about community than food

When fans think of Man v. Food, it's probably the food challenges that come to mind first. It seems like it's the most engaging for the viewers, but Webb told Stars and Celebs there's something else it's about for him: community.

He says he's kept in touch with most of the people he's met on the show, all thanks to social media. They flew past the 100-restaurant mark, and Webb says that in most cases, they spend about three days in a city. "And," he adds, "that's a ton of amazing human beings and a lot of great food along the way. So I have a lot of new friends."

Webb stresses that the sense of community isn't just about the people behind the scenes, but the fans, too. He started being recognized on the street very, very quickly, and that's cool by him.

"People come on up to me and it's like the greatest thing…. they feel like they can come up and talk to me. And they can. And I really love it…. the only way to treat anybody in life anyway is… as if you know them."

And that goes double for the kids. "I mean for me, if I can make a kid laugh or smile, I feel like I've done my job."