He Plays With Food
An affable biologist double-dips his chips for TV science.
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Adam Ruben last summer took a few breaks from developing a malaria vaccine to tackle more pressing issues.
Like just how much backwash is in your bottled water? Is it possible to woof down six saltines in under a minute? Does spittle wind up on birthday cake when you blow out the candles?
Wilmington-raised Ruben, a molecular biologist by day, was tapped as a guest expert in 13 segments of Food Network’s “Food Detectives,” a show hosted by Ted Allen that debunks the greatest myths, misconceptions and mysteries about food.
Ruben took on dirty bar counter snacks, diet cola and Mentos, and the famous “double-dipping the chip” faux pas.
The show’s producers needed science, so a casting call went out for scientists who have stage experience. Ruben, a standup comedian, fit the bill perfectly.
So Ruben filmed with a buddy his own segment about the saltines challenge. “I had to do it myself over and over and over again,” he says. “By the end of the day my mouth was so cut up.”
After a screen test (about preventing tears when chopping onions) and a pilot (about the 5-second rule) Food Network picked up the show. Ruben became a fixture, engineering experiments, most dealing with bacteria, to test whatever gnarly case came his way.
Ruben filmed eight segments for the first season of “Food Detectives” and five more for the second. As of June, it was not known if the show would return for a third.
The 30-year-old graduated from Concord High School in 1997, then earned his doctorate from Johns Hopkins after four years at Princeton. He works full-time at Sanaria, a biotech firm in Rockville, Maryland. His employers had no issues with Ruben’s side gig, which sometimes landed him in unsavory situations.
When filming a segment in Central Park about unsanitary water fountains, the crew encountered a man rinsing bicycle grease from his hands, another who wanted to wash his produce, and a third who lifted his little dog to the nozzle to drink.
In one of Ruben’s favorite episodes, he and Allen traveled to a Chinese restaurant in New York to debunk the myth that the additive MSG is harmful.
“I got some hate mail from a woman who is on some kind of consumer advisory council, and she’s certain MSG is the devil,” Ruben says. “I guess she thinks I’m paid off by the glutamate lobby.”
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