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Baja Bean Co.'s chef and owner Jeff Allums with Denny, right, digging into The Donkey, a five-pound burrito (Photo courtesy Food Network)
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Denny, right, looks on in shock and awe as The Halligan Bar & Grill owner and chef Shawn Gregory stacks a Flatliner: "A three-pound sandwich that starts with a half-pound burger and features a portion of all Halligan signature-smoked meats separated by layers of melted cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, topped with beer-battered onion rings and Halligan Sauce, all on a 6-inch bun." (Photo courtesy Food Network)
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In The Black Sheep, Denny attacks a Manassas battleship sandwich next to owner and chef Kevin Roberts. (Photo courtesy Food Network)
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The host's favorite dish in Richmond? The Halligan Bar & Grill's Halligan Bar-B-Q Nachos with pulled pork (Photo courtesy Food Network)
Josh Denny is a man with a plan, and it entails finding the nation's biggest, most towering, piled-high foods for his new show, "Ginormous Food." While the Food Network host's new series is only halfway through its first season, it's just been signed on for an additional 13 episodes. The reason for its immediate appeal is clear: Denny's roots in comedy make for an energetic rapport with not only the chefs and restaurateurs he meets along the way, but also the diners who share his meals. Each episode features one city, and on Friday night at 8 p.m., you can watch Denny tackle some of Richmond's biggest items, whether it's a five-pound burrito from Baja Bean or one of The Black Sheep's nefariously long battleship sandwiches. In advance of "Richmond's Monumental Meals," we caught up with Denny about his trip to the River City and how he got here.
Richmond magazine: First off, how does this happen? You started in standup, but how did that turn into your own Food Network show?
Josh Denny: The production company [Lusid Media] that does our show found me via my comedy-and-food podcast “March of the Pigs,” and asked me to send in some self-taped audition material. Eighteen months later, here we are!
RM: Well, now you've got "Ginormous Food" and the podcast, but when did your love of All Things Food begin?
Denny: I’ve always been a huge food lover. It comes through in a lot of my stand-up act as well. Ever since I was little, food was always a big part of my life, whether it be family gatherings, business meals later in life — you name it. I used to cook with my Aunt Tad when I was younger. All of my best memories involve a meal of some sort.
RM: What's the immediate reaction you have when you first see that heaping stack of meat or crab cakes or, like you had here in Richmond, a five-pound burrito?
Denny: My first reaction is, “I’m glad this isn’t 'Man Vs. Food!' ” I could only imagine the challenge of finishing these things myself, so I feel lucky to have a show where we share food with patrons in the restaurants. Overall, I’m just really impressed by the creativity and ingenuity that goes into these dishes. They’re not just massive in size, but they’ve all been delicious, too!
RM: Because the show is so new, you've only been able to hit a few cities; how did you decide on a Richmond stop for the first season?
Denny: Richmond really has a budding culinary scene. When looking at cities in the area, we overall felt like D.C. and some other choices have been done to death. We rolled the dice on Richmond, and it definitely delivered. Some of my favorite dishes from this season, ginormous and otherwise, were from Richmond!
RM: What were some highlights from your trip to the River City?
Denny: One of my absolute favorite dishes was the barbecued pork nachos at The Halligan Bar & Grill. Just the perfect blend of spice, flavor, texture. All of our Richmond foods were great, but if I had to pick one I’d pick those!
RM: You've seen a lot of positive reactions to the show, especially within local dining communities, once a city's episode airs. Can you tell me a little bit about the immediate impact the series seems to be having on small business?
Denny: It’s really been great! It’s truly my favorite part of our show. I love seeing the posts on social media from the business owners about lines out the door of their businesses the day after airing, with people traveling from cities away to try their "Ginormous" dishes and do any eating challenges associated with them.
RM: You've written on your own site about struggles with weight, a lifelong challenge that I'm sure isn't made easier by hosting a show about laughably stacked-high food. How do you look out for your health when you're on the road and once you're back at home in L.A.?
Denny: It’s certainly a challenge while filming, as our days tend to run about 12 to 15 hours total. It’s not always easy to muster the energy to get in a workout. When I’m home from the show, I try to eat low carb and low sugar as much as possible, and I try to avoid caffeine as well. I generally work out three to five days a week, mixing cardio and weight training, and focus a lot on proper vitamin and supplementation usage.
RM: Is there any food you won't try for this show?
Denny: I would have said yes in the beginning! I was never really a big fan of mollusks, but I had mussels from Mussel and Burger bar in Louisville, which became one of my favorite new foods, so I’d have to say no. I think I’ve always had a pretty open mind, but the food we’ve seen in season one has definitely broadened my horizons. I feel like I’d miss out if I was dismissive of any foods.
Catch Josh Denny eating his way through Richmond when "Richmond's Monumental Meals" airs this Friday, Jan. 27, at 8 p.m. EST. If you can't catch it this week, here's a schedule of additional dates and times you can find the "Ginormous Food" episode on the Food Network.