Joe Ricchio is one of those guys that you remember meeting. Maybe it’s his curly hair and intricate tattoos — no joke, he’s got a bacon-themed tattoo on his back. Maybe it’s his exuberant, unabashedly crass personality. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’ll drink and eat you under the table, while making you laugh uncontrollably. He’s like John Belushi, Hunter S. Thompson and Anthony Bourdain, rolled up into one big, brash package. He’s a memorable dude.
And for those Mainers who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him in person, you can get to know the Portland-based Ricchio and his crew now that the first episode of “Food Coma TV” has debuted online. The series, created by Ricchio, producer Alex Steed and director Kurt Graser, takes the guys to locations all over Maine, with 10-minute episodes exploring each location’s food, nightlife and culture. While some of the content of the show isn’t appropriate for all ages — there’s mature humor sprinkled throughout, though the clip the BDN has is profanity-free — interested viewers can head over to the website and watch the episode in full, for free.
“If you like Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee, you won’t like this,” said Ricchio, 32, a Yarmouth native.
The first episode is about Bangor, and it’s a fast, hilarious, utterly irreverent look at the burgeoning food scene in the Queen City, visiting Bangor Wine & Cheese Company, Fiddlehead Restaurant, Nocturnem Drafthaus, Dysart’s and Giacomo’s over the course of the show. Ricchio eats and drinks with reckless abandon, downing everything from the creative comfort food at Fiddlehead to a late-night plate of poutine at Dysart’s. Just watching it is enough to put you into a food coma — that borderline catatonic state of being that results from eating far too much. It’s a state of being that Ricchio frequently experiences.
“Some people call it gluttony. I just call it my life,” he said.
The original concept for the show sprang from Ricchio’s blog, Portland Food Coma, which he started on a lark in February of 2009. Ricchio has worked in 29 different restaurants over the last 16 years, in Chicago and in Portland, most recently at acclaimed Japanese restaurant Miyake, in Portland’s Old Port. He’s a serious home cook, too. He left the service industry earlier this year, and he currently sells wine at South Portland Wine Company. If there’s one thing he knows well, it’s food and wine.
“I’ll always identify with waiting tables and bartending. I’ll always hang out with restaurant people. But I love to write about food, too, and it seemed [back when I started] that everyone had a blog, so why not me?” said Ricchio. “I figured I’d do three posts and then forget about it. But the reaction that I got from people was way stronger and more positive than I ever expected.”
Portland Food Coma gave Ricchio a unique, strong voice in the Portland food scene. He’s hosted a number of charity dinner parties in Portland, he was featured on the Maine episodes of Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” and Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” and last year he was named the food editor for Maine Magazine. Alex Steed, 28, a community organizer and social media marketer based in Cornish, took notice of Ricchio’s engaging personality. The pair eventually hatched the idea of taking Ricchio’s words, opinions and boundless energy on the road — initially as a series of readings from the blog.
“The idea was that we would go on a punk rock tour of Maine, and Joe would read from his blog at different places,” said Steed. “But why would people come out to see a guy from Portland read his blog? We needed to have a reason for people to attend. That’s where the TV show idea came from.”
The idea was then to think outside the Portland box, and to cover the restaurants and bars outside of southern Maine that are frequently overlooked by national food and travel publications. Steed and Ricchio recruited Portland filmmaker Kurt Graser, 31, and a handful of volunteers. All they needed was cash, which arrived in the form of a Kickstarter campaign they started in early August, through the fundraising website. The goal was to raise $6,000 by Sept. 22. All told, they raised $7,065 from people all over the state.
“It was such a success. It was a huge confidence boost for us,” said Steed.
The tone and feel of “Food Coma TV” is somewhere in between road documentary and no-holds-barred comedy. Steed is a fan of shows from the ’90s, such as “The Adventures of Pete & Pete” on Nickelodeon and “The State” on MTV, which both featured a kind of surreal, anarchic humor. For Ricchio, his approach is equal parts “Insomniac with Dave Attell” — a Comedy Central series that ran from 2001 to 2004, in which comedian Dave Attell and a camera crew went out drinking in cities across the U.S. and Canada — and Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.”
“It’s got a little bit of the Anthony Bourdain vibe, but I think it’s a lot more Hunter S. Thompson than that. It’s a bit gonzo,” said Ricchio. “Bourdain blazed the trail for this kind of show, but I think we’re more unhinged and more loose. I think what’s cool about it, especially with this first show, is that you don’t have to be from Bangor or familiar with Bangor to get it, or even from Maine. It’s just some guys going to places and having fun.”
“Food Coma TV” just shot its second episode at the Fryeburg Fair, as well as a “mini-sode” about the Stanley Cup visiting Krista’s Restaurant in Cornish. There are three more full episodes to be filmed this year in Sanford, Lewiston and the St. John Valley.
“We’re obviously figuring out exactly what the style of the show is going to end up being,” said Steed. “We’re having a lot of fun experimenting and seeing what happens. And we’re just having a lot of fun shooting the episodes themselves.”
Steed and Ricchio would ideally like to see “Food Coma TV” get picked up by a cable channel, such as the Travel Channel or the Independent Film Channel. Regardless of whether or not that happens anytime soon, they have plans well beyond the five-and-a-half Maine episodes they plan to produce.
“After we shoot the rest of our Maine episodes, we’d love to start moving outward, to other parts of the country and the world. We’d like to go to events where people are totally earnest about what they’re doing, but it seems totally bizarre to an outsider,” said Ricchio. “I’d love to shoot an episode at the Gathering of the Juggalos, that crazy Insane Clown Posse festival thing. I’d love to go to Paris, or to Vietnam, or to Palestine. But we’ll stick with Maine for now.”
To watch Food Coma TV — which contains some potentially offensive language and content — visit foodcoma.tv. The next episode, about the Fryeburg Fair, will appear online at the end of October.