Casey Webb, the new host of the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food, is a Garden State native with a big appetite. I got the chance to speak with him at the beginning of his first season hosting this longtime foodie-TV staple.
Webb, who has lived in both Red Bank and Little Silver, got started in the restaurant industry washing dishes at 14 and has never looked back, and before landing his dream job, he was slinging drinks in Brooklyn. He’s spent most of his life moving his way up the food-industry food chain, learning the biz inside and out, and cultivating his passion—and palate—along the way.
Love at First Bite
After he took down his first food challenge at a young age, Webb knew that he had found his calling. After all, anyone who can consume eight, 12-inch slices in one sitting has a unique stomach. Truly.
He first tackled Pete and Elda’s Pie Eater’s Club as a kid, which includes a challenge that dares contenders to consume an entire 18-inch pie in one sitting—in exchange for a t-shirt and bragging rights. (Boardwalk-style slices are big: about 1.5 times the average slice.) When I asked him if he would do it again he said, “Bring it on.”
His love for and knowledge about food shines through during our conversation. From his restaurant experience to his self-inflicted culinary challenges, Webb has a unique insider’s perspective on the food scene. Now he’s sharing it with his viewers.
Webb made his debut as the new host of Man v. Food on August 7, with a two-episode feeding frenzy in New York City and Milwaukee. Much like his first foray into Monmouth munchies, his challenges included a giant Reuben and wings hotter than the beach in mid-July.
Conversation with Casey
I had the opportunity to talk Man v. Food and, of course, Jersey with Webb. We covered everything from hometown treats to our favorite secret spots to a mutual love of Mogo Tacos. With a personality as bold as the six-habanero-ghost-chili-wings challenge, this Jersey guy has a lot to offer on Man v. Food.
JERSEY BITES: What can viewers expect from this season of Man v. Food?
I quickly discovered how much fun I was having and I wanted audience to see that. I want the audience to have fun and [I want] to convey my passion for restaurants. I absolutely love interviewing and sharing excitement and the pride of restaurant owners. For me, it is so exciting to land in a new city, like Portland, Oregon, and see trees and smell the air, and then visit a rocking place like Chicken and Guns where they’re cooking this amazing food outside. People should go to these places and taste these foods because they’re incredible.
How did you get this gig?
I pitched a food show idea to my agent, and it turned into an interview for Man v. Food. My interview was actually [via] Skype, in my apartment in Brooklyn, with the producer. From there I had to recreate a segment from the original Man v. Food, for my audition.
Do you get camera shy?
Wow. I’ve never been asked that before. I have experience in TV and food so the camera is second nature for me. I just treat the camera like another person. I love to interview the waitstaff and have fun with it.
What are your favorite local NJ restaurants? What do you order?
I would have to say Piccola Italia, in Ocean, NJ. Chef/Owner Brian Gualtieri is a friend of mine and the food is out of this world. My favorite dish would have to be the scallops and fried calamari. At Birravino, in Red Bank, my favorite dish would have to be the split pea soup and lentil with fried egg, with olive oil and parmesan cheese and cracked pepper. They only have it in the fall but it’s worth the wait. At Barnacle Bill’s [in Rumson], I always order the cheddar burger—my mouth is watering just thinking about it. Honorable mentions go to Pascal & Sabine, Brickwall Tavern, and Porta, in Asbury Park.
My favorite bar would be Jamian’s in Red Bank. As for my favorite cocktail: tequila in all shapes and sizes. I love the live music there, too.
What is your go-to spot for a good slice of pizza?
There are so many places for a good slice in New Jersey. That’s what I love about the dining scene—that and the fresh ingredients. I love farm to table and there is no shortage of it down there. Even pizza places use local ingredients. For classic I go to New Corner in Red Bank. For a more rustic slice, either Birravino or Porta. They’re all little different, which I love. My favorite old-school pizza is at a place by where I grew up. It isn’t there anymore, but I’d give anything for a slice of Napoli’s pizza. If I had to narrow it down to once slice I’d pick all of them.
What food can you never eat enough of?
Ramen! I love ramen! And I love farm to table; the fresher the better. That’s why I’m a fan of Birravino, because it’s local, fresh and traditional.
What’s your favorite boardwalk food?
For traditional I’d have to say zeppoli. For more out-of-the-box food I’d say Mogo Tacos. My favorites are the chicken—it’s killer—and shrimp and veggie. I like to add a bunch of kimchi to them. I had them last week and I will probably have them again this week.
Man v. Food airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. on the Travel Channel.