Thursday, November 10, 2011

Eating On TV

There's a lot of waiting on the set of a TV show. I learned that having plenty of patience and a decent distraction to be absolute necessities when working on a show. I've had the opportunity to work on a couple TV shows lately for competitive eating related segments.

The first of which was as a technical advisor for the FOX TV show "Bones". Despite the allure of working on a popular show, I ended up putting in some long hours over the course of 3 weeks, casting, planning and sitting in during episode meetings; it was actually a lot of hard work. The production team for the show wanted to film an episode under the back drop of an eating competition - "The Hot Dog In The Competition" and it was up to me to cast competitive eaters, coordinate the logistics of an eating contest during the shoot and advise on the details in regards to all the things involved during an eating competition.

After that, when we were ready to begin filming the eating segments, there were hours of waiting spent between the filming the scenes and time was spent mostly hanging out with the cast and production crew. Though I don't really watch the show, so I only had a vague idea of how everything would fit together. This was resolved after getting a copy of the script and participating in the episode meeting which ended up with me getting excited over how they would  portray competitive eating on television.

Due to the closed set policy of the studio, I wasn't able to get any pictures on set but they did manage to film a behind the scenes segment for the episode:

Although there ended up being a lot of extras with no real competitive eating experience cast, I managed to get some of my local competitive eating friends involved including Naader Reda, Matt Cohen, Aaron Ybarra and Jed Donahue. I also ended up casting a personal friend to play the victim of the episode who I had a lot of fun with in coaching to portray a champion competitive eater. The amount of food we had to sort out for the episode was staggering. Literally hundreds of hotdogs, bananas, chicken wings and oysters were prepared for the various shoots. They hired a catering truck to sort out the contest food and we filmed multiple scenes involving these items. Fortunately, we didn't have to actually consume much of the food because of the magic of editing and we were allowed to spit any food we had in our mouths into a plastic bucket underneath the competition table after every take.

There was a lot of waiting in between setting up each scene so I walked around and picked at the generous catering selection they had set up for the cast and production staff. Though the real highlight of working on the show was the big hot dog eating contest scene which took a full day to shoot. I ended up casting myself for this scene and enjoyed working with actor Skyler Stone on our close race to the finish of an intense hot dog eating contest. The production team let me use Emily Deschanel's stand in while they set up the cameras and lights which freed me up to further wander around and eat more food from the catering table. Despite the long hours and all the waiting, working on the show was definitely a positive experience.

I also worked on the TV show "DVD On TV" for FX. This was for a noodle eating segment against one of the show's hosts, Jennifer Lothrop, while other host, Dave Holmes commentated. There was a lot of waiting for this one too though it was especially challenging since we filmed the segment around 11pm. That's much later than I'm normally used to eating. They ended up wearing panda outfits to fit in the theme of the show and the segment was a lot of fun to shoot.

Though the noodles were pretty gross after sitting out for a while, I managed to eat four bowls worth during the one minute contest while panda Jennifer worked on her only bowl. We had Taco Bell brought in after the shoot and the cast and crew had a very late dinner. Following up the noodles with bean burritos was a weird mix but the staff was entertained by the notion of me continuing to eat after the segment we just filmed. At least I didn't have to wear a panda suit.

Lastly, I posted a new video to my youtube channel to promote these TV appearances I'm making and did a fan requested eating stunt in the process:

I've definitely enjoyed working both behind and in front of the camera and plan to continue perusing more TV opportunities in the future. The only gig better than getting paid to eat it getting paid to eat on TV.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Day and Night

I believe Cole Porter said it best with the lyrics, "Where you are, I think of you, day and night, night and day." to accurately describe the feeling of an unending obsession to satiate one's urges. 

Though he was most likely referring to homosexual sodomy, I'll be using it to describe my own feelings toward eating challenges and contests for the purpose of this blog post. Though I haven't been very active in the competitive eating business lately and have been especially lazy at updating my blog and youtube channel, I have had some epic all you can eat sushi runs in the past month and a half and my obsession with competitive eating has been active both day and night. 

Recently, Kevin Ross and I headed up to Northern California for yet another another eating escapade. This time we decided to stop at Batter Up Pancakes in Fresno, Ca to check out the Grandslam Challenge that our friends in the competitive eating community have been raving about. We arrived about an hour before their closing time of 2pm and the restaurant was cool about preparing a double challenge for us since we contacted them ahead of time. 

The owner was present and eager to see us attempt the challenge since he wasn't present for the record setting attempt Matt Stonie did last year. He finished the challenge in a very quick 6 minutes and 4 seconds destroying the old record of 42 minutes. Since the challenge was only about 4 pounds in total, we would both be going after the time Matt had set. The challenge is to consume a pizza platter sized 25 ounce pancake along with a 10 egg scramble with a cup of cheese and four toppings of your choice mixed in within the 45 minute time limit. 

Normally they serve the scramble on top of the pancake but during his record setting attempt, Matt opted to separate the scramble from the pancake and we did the same. It helped me out psychologically because I've always considered pancakes a sweet food and mingling with a savory combination of eggs and cheese would probably be distracting. To save on mass, I chose to go with double spinach and double onions for my toppings since they would likely cook down in size and Kevin ended up with some mushrooms mixed in and avocados on top of his scramble. 

I thought Kevin's scramble looked more appetizing but mine was still very delicious. He decided to attack the pancake portion of the challenge first while I dove into my scramble. It was fantastic and a definite shame to scarf down so quickly. I finished my scramble at about the same time Kevin finished his pancake. We were both making good time on completing the challenge. My strategy differed from Kevin's strategy of tearing up the pancake. I simply rolled up the entire thing and went at it like a giant burrito. 

This proved to be very efficient as I was able to beat Matt's record by nearly a minute, finishing in 5 minutes and 8 seconds. Kevin struggled a little with the scramble portion of the challenge but still managed to complete it in a respectable 7 minutes and 20 seconds, the third fastest time for the challenge on record. We left there feeling satisfied but not necessarily full and along with the prizes of a t-shirt, mug, picture on their wall and a refund of our challenge money, the owner also gave us a couple free dessert pancakes for the road. I haven't had such an awesome experience with an eating challenge in a while, the guys running the place were fucking boss. 

Here's video of the challenge: 

The next day, after avoiding any alcohol or staying up late we went to Lumpy's Diner in Antioch for their annual hamburger eating contest. Kevin opted out since he did another challenge earlier that day and the notion of paying $40 to register seemed like a waste. I had some decent competition for this event even though last year's champion, Matt Stonie, couldn't compete to defend his title due to his contract with the MLE. 

I would face off against veteran eaters such as Darin Verduzco, Naader Reda, Dax Swanson, Mary Bowers and most notably my old buddy Stephanie Torres. I haven't competed against her since our last hamburger contest in December 2010 and was very eager to see how we'd stack up against each other in a year's time. The contest was the same 12 minute, all you can eat format using plain hamburgers that I lost to Matt with last year by part of a hamburger. He managed to eat 10 of the large hamburgers Lumpy's Diner provides in 12 minutes, a total Stephanie and I would surely be setting out to beat. 

Having beaten his record the prior day at the pancake challenge I was rather confident that I could do the same with hamburgers. I mean it's not like it's current Matt we'd have to beat but "Last Year" Matt. Fortunately they stationed me next to Stephanie so we both could keep track of each other's progress and as the contest began, I could tell that we were both there for business. She employed her usual eating style, tearing the food into smaller chunks while I was using my practiced method, swallowing large portions of food without chewing. 

This proved somewhat hazardous since I coughed and choked a couple times on stage but fortunately didn't reverse. This set me back a little and we managed to keep pace with each other through most of the 12 minutes. Some of the other eaters ended up reversing during the event but I pretty much kept my attention to Stephanie's and my own plate during the contest. It came down to the two of us again and she took the victory by working on her 13th hamburger while I was on my 12th. 

They didn't count partials so here's the official results for the top 5: 

1: Stephanie - 12 hamburgers
2: Johnnie - 11 hamburgers
3: Naader - 8 hamburgers
4T: Darin - 7 hamburgers
4T: Dax - 7 hamburgers

It's nice to see the progress that we both made as eaters in the past year and having both of us beat Matt's record at this contest was very encouraging. I'll blame my loss on a couple bad swallows and nearly reversing during the start, something which I hope to correct with practice, but Stephanie really has come a long way in her eating career and totally deserved taking home the Lumpy's belt and prize money.

I can't wait until our next competition together and maybe another eating challenge. I'm sure I'll be obsessing about it like Porter's song describes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


There's a certain satisfaction to being the first to do something. It's like licking the pudding from the lid of a freshly opened package of jello or smacking a baby that's just been pulled from it's mothers womb.

For what ever reason it may be, it's simply pleasant to be the first.

In terms of restaurant eating challenges, there really aren't many that remain unconquered. It seems like every eating challenge has already been done by some great eater before I started in the competitive eating business. So when I heard about a new local challenge that no one has yet been able to conquer and that it involved musubi, I ended my eating challenge hiatus and drove to Ola Hawaiian BBQ in Fullerton, CA.

It's been about 3 months since my last eating challenge. I've been somewhat reluctant to do these since eating another 5 or 6 pound meal wasn't much of a challenge anymore and the idea of putting down another giant burrito or hamburger seemed bland. I've also made the decision to focus mainly on competitions since the rewards are generally better and I take great enjoyment from competing with other people.

Still, the allure of taking down a decent portion of food again was inviting, especially if it was something that I would enjoy eating. The Stan-musubi challenge is a seven pound musubi comprised of four layers of rice with grilled spam, chicken and beef between each layer. It was named after the owner and uses three sheets of nori to wrap up everything. It is served on a plate with a spatula.

They have somewhat strict house rules for the challenge. You must finish everything within 35 minutes and you are not allowed to get up from the table, fall asleep or use the bathroom. The bill also comes to a hefty $35.00 if you fail, which is a little more pricey than your usual eating challenge expense. If you manage to finish within the time limit, you get the meal for free and your picture on their wall of fame. At the time of this challenge, there was no wall of fame for the Stan-musubi challenge since no one had conquered it yet. 

Apparently the last challenger ended up throwing up near the end and was very close to completing the challenge. So it would definitely be a feat to keep everything in and become the first person to finish this massive musubi. That really was the most exciting aspect of doing this challenge and I kept it in mind as I started.

It came out very hot, and after preparing my water, utensils and napkins, I quickly dove in. This was a big mistake since the musubi was almost too hot to handle. The heat of the food definitely forced me to take some time to use water to help cool it down. However, it was still very enjoyable. The giant layered musubi is pretty much what you'd expect from a regular musubi only at a much larger scale.

My mouth was a bit salty towards the final third of the challenge and I requested for something sweet to help balance out the taste in my mouth. I ended up with a milk tea boba which not only helped wash down the food but also balanced the saltiness with sweet. The boba balls provided a fun texture to chew on after I conquered the challenge.

At a leisurely 17:55, I had managed to become the first person to finish Ola Hawaiian's Stan-musubi challenge. There was also a smaller eating challenge available that I considered doing after the Stan-musubi challenge. It involves eating 9 normal sized musubi but I decided not to since it had already been conquered several times and I may not be able to set the record time since I had 7 pounds of musubi in me. I hope that they introduce an even larger challenge in the future.

Here's video of the challenge:

Ola Hawaiian BBQ
733 N Placentia Ave
Fullerton, CA  92831
(714) 996-3288

The next step in my eating challenge journey is probably looking for the next unconquered challenge. Either that or to try and beat some decent records set by notable eaters. Or perhaps just finding something that I would enjoy eating large quantities of.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Two Contests, One Day

If there's anything I've learned from watching the cookie monster on Sesame Street while growing up, it's that there are no consequences from succumbing to your addictions.

With that in mind, I went ahead and participated in two eating contests in a single day. Since I take so much enjoyment from competitive eating, surely nothing bad can happen from eating 8 pounds of frozen yogurt and then following it up with a hot dog eating contest.

The frozen yogurt happened during the 3rd annual frozen yogurt eating contest at Red Cup Yogurt in Oceanside, CA. And when I say happened, I mean it turned into a non-stop vomit fest. You really can't expect much good to happen when you decide to ingest a gallon of frozen dairy, but they had a surprising amount of people sign up, myself included.

My competition included some of the usual Southern Californian competitive eaters; Naader, Aaron, Matt, myself and Frank. I thought about calling ourselves the Glutton Force Five, but that name had already been taken by an awesome food truck in Chicago. Together with 15 other guys, we were divided into two 30 minute rounds of frozen yogurt competition. The rules were simple, the $300 prize would be split between the three fastest finishers who did not reverse. There was also a matter of beating the 12 minute record set by the winner last year.

I prepared by bundling up with a scarf and beanie in hopes to keep myself as warm as possible while ingesting my bucket of frozen fun. From my frozen yogurt challenge experience in Vegas, I learned that despite my normal lactose tolerance, digesting this much diary would require help. So I took 6 lactaid tablets right before eating my 8 pounds of strawberry frozen yogurt. I felt prepared and confident to do well in this competition.

Though my confidence diminished after watching the first round of guys participate. Only one guy managed to finish all 8 pounds and more than half threw up what they couldn't finish. As much as I love frozen yogurt, I had a bad feeling going into my round. We started by drinking the melted "soup" from the top of the bucket before digging in with the spoon. The brain freeze soon set in and I realized just how unpleasant this task would be.

The frozen yogurt went down easily and I managed to keep shoveling spoonfuls into my mouth without worrying about choking. Naader and Aaron were also making quick work of their buckets. This prompted me to eat at an even faster pace. I felt my esophagus tighten and my heart rate increase to keep my body warm from the pounds of frozen dairy I was forcing in.

At about 5 minutes in, I was nearly done but needed a few moments to compose myself before finishing. It was a very close finish, but I had managed to edge out Naader by 15 seconds, finishing my 8 pounds in 5:53 and winning $200. We both destroyed the current record of 12 minutes as well.

Here's footage of the contest:

Red Cup Yogurt
301 Mission Ave. #301
Oceanside, CA 92054

After this, there was the business of sorting out my qualifier for the West Coast Hot Dog Eating Championship at the Derby Deli in Mission Viejo. I'm nearing the end of my first year in competitive eating and I wanted to put on a good performance for my qualifier. This was my first competitive eating event ever and I'd like to see the progress that I made over the past year.

However, going in with 8 pounds of frozen yogurt sitting inside you was definitely not the way to do it. Both me and Naader were trying out this double contest day thing for the first time and it's probably one of the stupidest moves you can make in competitive eating. Following up a high sugar and dairy meal with a high sodium one is a terrible combination.

We would face off against the newly independent Kevin Ross, Shawn Kirby and some big dude named Travis. Fortunately they would allow the top 3 to continue on to the finals on Labor Day so only two people would be disappointed that night. As usual, the Derby was nicely decorated and we had the stage set up in the lounge area.

It's hard to believe that's it's already been a year since I was stuffing my face with no technique or experience at this place. Nostalgia for an eating competition was a new emotion for me. The hot dogs came out in platters of ten and were pleasantly warm. Of course I'd be dunking the buns in water, but at least the first two hot dogs I ate were decent. Everyone seemed to have a strong start and I quickly got into my usual double hot dog eating technique. Though I already started feeling the wall at only 8 hot dogs in and experienced the strongest amount of regret for the prior contest at that point.

It would have been devastating if I didn't qualify for the finals of the event that I got my start in competitive eating in. I really ought to have taken this qualifier more seriously. To make matters worse, Kevin was putting the hot dogs away at about the same rate he did at the Nathan's qualifier back in June and Naader didn't seem phased at the fact that he just ate 8 pounds of frozen yogurt. Despite there being only 5 contestants, I couldn't slack off if I wanted to secure a spot in the finals.

It was somewhat of a relief, that me, Kevin and Naader were significantly ahead in the last 3 minutes of the contest. I felt that I could take it easy at this point. I just needed to make sure that I didn't throw up and get myself disqualified. So, I  kept pace with Kevin and we all managed to qualify for the finals.

It was very close:

1: Kevin Ross - 19.5 HDB
2: Johnnie Excel - 18.5 HDB
3: Naader Reda - 17.5 HDB

The 3rd Annual West Coast Hot Dog Eating Championship is happening in one week:

It will be a very serious contest. With $10,000 on the line and the likes of Takeru, Pete and Tom coming back to California, it will definitely be the only contest I'm doing that day. I also plan on doing a bit more than 18.5 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

So was cookie monster full of shit in teaching me that unbridled addiction has no consequence? Yes, very much so. In my adult years, I have learned that it's not a good idea to idolize someone with a fist in their ass.

Friday, August 19, 2011


My top complaint in competitive eating is usually the lack of strong eaters to compete against at contests. Although the lack of challenging competition makes winning easier, I don't receive as much satisfaction from my victory and it hinders my performance because I'm missing that sense of urgency needed to push myself during a contest. There's not much sport in going to an eating competition and facing off against a bunch of people with no competitive eating experience.

Though sometimes your wishes are fulfilled in grand fashion. Eating legend Takeru Kobayashi, in collaboration with Dexter Holland of The Offspring, put together a taco eating contest in Huntington Beach, CA to promote Dexter's Gringo Bandito hot sauce. Some top eaters were assembled to participate in this competition to compete for nearly $7,000 in prize money against Kobayashi himself. The competition included "Furious" Pete from Canada, as well as East Coast eaters Dave Goldstein and Brad Sciullo. Californian competitive eaters including Naader Reda, Aaron Ybarra and Matt Cohen would also be competing. The field would be very stacked.

The competition was held at Fred's Mexican Cafe in Huntington Beach at the same time as the US Open of Surfing. The sidewalks along Pacific Coast Highway were packed. It didn't help that the venue's intimate atmosphere made it difficult to accommodate an eating contest but the organizers managed to cram a small stage in a room full of people. Unfortunately, this had the ramification of splitting the contest into two rounds. With all the judges, counters and trays of tacos, there was only enough room to fit half of the 11 competitors.

Despite the logistical set backs, I was still very enthused to participate. I've been looking forward to competing in this event for weeks. I also had the advantage of being placed in the 2nd round of competition so I could observe the other eaters before competing myself and get a good idea of what to expect.

Aaron and Naader participated in the first round and brought the most eating experience to their table. After some jovial introductions, a serious mood quickly set in with the eaters. They realized that they would not only be competing against each other in the first round, but their totals would be measured against the amounts from the guys in the next round as well. For a shot at the money against this stacked field, all of the eaters needed to push themselves to the limit.

During the first round, Aaron quickly took a commanding lead. He stacked about three or four tacos together and ate them simultaneously. Aaron kept this pace up for the first five of the ten minutes before slowing down. Everyone seemed to be figuring out how to eat the tacos as they went. Naader eventually got his stride and steadily ate his chicken tacos. He would catch up to Aaron in the last few minutes and the round came down to the two of them. They both broke the 30 taco mark in the final minute. Aaron ended up edging out Naader with 31 chicken tacos to his 30.

Here's video of the first round:

The bar was set, and after an intense first round, it was my turn next. There was barely enough room for five eaters at the table and with six it felt cramped. After introductions, me and Brad were placed by each other and we negotiated our table real estate. We had hardly enough room for cups with the two trays of chicken tacos placed in front of each eater. For a serious eating contest you can never have enough cups. Looking at the tacos up close, they really didn't seem too complicated to eat. Each one was just a tortilla with a strip of grilled chicken and some cheese inside.

As the contest started, everyone dove right in, cramming several tacos into their mouths at once. I did the same but  I needed to eat a few of these tacos in order to get a hang of how to eat them efficiently. However, with this line up of eaters, every moment counts and the time I spent figuring out how to eat the tacos at the beginning definitely affected my totals. Kobayashi took an early lead, finishing his first tray of 20 while most of the guys were about half way done with theirs. Brad's tray was the only one I could clearly see and since he was a couple tacos ahead of me, I decided that he was the person I should keep pace with.

I struggled with the whole strips of chicken during the contest. It was tough to have to chew through the chicken before swallowing them with water. About midway, I found myself with a mouthful of tacos. I could barely chew with that much in my mouth. So I adapted my strategy to take in smaller amounts and got into a rhythm at the later stages of the contest. Meanwhile, I was hearing incredible numbers from the announcer in regards to Kobayashi, it seems that he had no trouble swallowing the tacos whole.

As the contest neared it's end, it became increasingly evident that this was a race for 2nd place. Keeping up with Brad and Pete was a challenge and we all ate furiously to stay in the money. Christine Kitchenmaster did a great job of keeping me on task and counting the tacos I ate. I really pushed myself during the final minute and the results were a tight spread for 2nd through 4th. Though we were very distant from the winner, Takeru Kobayashi. He won by consuming 81 chicken tacos in 10 minutes.

Here are the results:

1- Takeru = 81 / $5,000
2- Pete = 49 / $1,000
3- Brad = 45 / $500
4- Johnnie = 41 / $250
5- Dave = 37
6- Aaron = 31
7- Naader = 30
8- Matt = 23
9- Jeff = 18.5
10- Jason = 17
11- Cory = 14.5

And here's video of the second round:

It was a struggle to keep up with such a stacked field and I've never placed so low in a contest before. However, in the company of these seasoned eaters, I felt that I did a decent job. This is still my rookie year after all and I'm looking forward to improving a bit by the next time we eat tacos in Huntington Beach. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Taco Practice

A common question I get asked is: "How do you train for competitive eating?"

I know a lot of top eaters out there who don't like revealing their winning competitive eating secrets. But to be perfectly honest with you guys, it's just a combination of intense stomach stretching, hard drinking and leprechaun blood.

That's right, leprechaun blood.

Harnessing the magical properties of a leprechaun's life fluid gives me the edge needed to win an eating competition. But It's not easy to procure. You need to go into the wilderness, be lucky enough to spot a rainbow or two and slay the little bastard with a machete as he defends his pot of gold.

Also practicing with the food you'll be eating is a decent way to prepare for a contest. I recently faced the toughest competition of my competitive eating career at a taco eating contest in Huntington Beach. So I went to Del Taco during their taco Tuesday night and got ready.

Unfortunately, I ended up buying the wrong kind of tacos. I was so enamored with the idea of consuming 50 tacos that I had completely neglected the type of tacos I should be practicing with. I ended up buying 50 regular, hard shell tacos filled with ground beef, lettuce and cheese. These would be much different from the chicken and cheese soft tacos I would compete with.

Being that I had already spent about $20 and the notion of exchanging my bags of tacos for something more appropriate seemed ridiculous, I went home and decided just to have a big meal. At 65 grams a piece, 50 of these tacos would weigh over seven pounds. And with a gallon of water, this would at least be a decent stretch for the contest.

So after some tedious taco unwrapping, I managed to pile all 50 tacos onto three paper plates. I poured a few cups of water and started eating. The main drawback with these tacos was the hard shell. I had difficulty eating them quickly without injury to my mouth. After a while, I ended up using a dual taco process, biting two at a time sideways while swallowing them with a lot of water.

The water really helped soften the crispy taco shells in my mouth and made for easier eating. Though the grease from the ground meat didn't really get along well with the water which made for an unpleasant texture going down. After some tiring taco munching, I managed to get through all 50 but still felt hungry after. I guess the most important thing I learned after this taco practice was to stick to the type of food that you'll be eating during a competition and that eating 50 tacos from Del Taco isn't very fun. It think I'll just stick to the leprechaun blood in the future.

Here's video of my practice run:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Big Fun

"Things are bigger this year."

Those are the words that I kept hearing while walking around the California State Fair in Sacramento last weekend. It seems like an established tradition in the area to not only visit the fair every summer but to compare this year's offerings to those of prior fairs. Apparently, things were bigger this year. Big is good.

We are Americans after all. It's inherent for us to take our big salaries, buy a surplus of over sized goods at Costco and load them into our big cars. And before you assume that this will be some sort of scathing critique of wanton excess in our daily American lifestyle, just stop yourself from getting on that train of thought heading towards negativity city. I'm a competitive eater, I don't only support excess, I embrace it with loving arms. Like I stated earlier, big is good.

And I like fairs. I like how we currently have them popping up all around us like glorious, musical, deep fried temples where we dutifully pay homage to the gods of excess. Bacchus would be appeased. In Sacramento, there were numerous examples of how things were bigger this year. From the 500 horse power world's largest shopping cart to the enormous stuffed prizes people were carrying around, things certainly lived up to my expectations of this epic fair. Also, the selection and availability of food at the California State Fair was nothing short of massive. They even introduced the world's largest corn dog this year.

For me, this theme of big fun culminated into a corn dog eating contest. On this trip, Milo Franks sponsored another one of their corn dog eating contests offering a total purse of $2,800. With first place receiving $2,000 of that purse, this prize money was bigger than any prize they had offered before. The sponsors were no strangers to having an eating contest. This would be the third time they hosted this event and they were very organized in sorting out the logistics of the contest. Milo Franks had card counters prepared, news and media in attendance and lots of corn dogs ready. They also held two qualifiers before the finals last Saturday.

I was hoping that the prize money would attract some very notable eaters to compete with. Perhaps some guys from the East Coast would show up to help widen the breadth of competitors that I have eaten against. Unfortunately, no one bothered to make the trip. At least there were some decent local guys to compete against. There was also the matter of the current record of 15 corn dogs in seven minutes set by Matt Stonie, back in his independent days, that I could contend with. Though the format changed a little, time was increased to eight minutes. That meant I needed to eat at least an average of 2.14 corn dogs per minute or 17.14 corn dogs in 8 minutes to comparatively exceed his record.

On the day of the finals, I felt prepared to take on some corn dogs. Despite tearing my lip the prior night from biting into it during my qualifier, I felt adequately ready for the contest. Back stage, before we were called out to compete, I had a genuine WTF moment when I saw this guy holding a leaky bag of ice on top of his head, drenching the majority of his torso with cold water. My brain ached from try to figure out the reasoning behind this. There was also a guy with a cool rainbow hat along with a couple really big guys and the rest of the eaters. We were quite the motley crew on that stage.

As the corn dogs came out, I thought of the qualifier and how I would handle the corn dogs this time around. Concerns cropped up about how many bites 
I would take before I swallowed water and what I would do if my lip started bleeding again. Probably just keep going I thought. My mind went blank as the contest started and I was cramming corn dogs into my mouth before I realized it. I quickly gained control of my form and got into a steady rhythm. It was my real weakness during the qualifier.

Like the evening before, the corn dogs were delicious. There's something special about freshly hand battered and deep fried corn dogs at a fair. They're completely unlike those frozen turds of processed ingredients that you find at your local grocer. The organizers also had enough sense to not waste any condiments this time around, keeping the table nice and simple. There was only water, corn dogs and napkins.

During the event, I was so focused on preserving form that I had completely lost count of how many I had eaten. There was a growing pile of sticks on my plate, but I had no way of quickly knowing what my total was. It turned out that my counter didn't know either. It seemed like he was randomly flipping the cards behind me for my count. I caught him a couple times missing a flip when I had finished a corn dog. It's good that you end up with a bunch of sticks after eating corn dogs, I was able rely on them to be my count at the end of the contest.

The downside to this was that I didn't know if I was in the lead or not. $2,000 generates a lot of anxiety during a contest when you don't know whether or not you'd be taking it home. The announcer wasn't any more help since he was reading the totals from the counters to give the audience updates about our progress. With about two minutes left, I noticed a slowdown with the eaters around me. People seemed to be getting full. This was a good thing since I was no where near my capacity and was able to just kept plowing through the corn dogs that were brought out.

There was some confusion at the end about the final counts however. My counter was reporting 13 on his sign which tied another guy at the opposite end of the stage. We ended up resorting to stick counting to figure out the actual totals and fortunately the evidence left after corn dog consumption proved my victory. I ended up winning with 18 corn dogs in 8 minutes. 2nd and 3rd had consumed 13 and 12 corn dogs.

Here's video of the event:

It was exhilarating to win the $2,000 and receive congratulations from rowdy audience members. I definitely had big fun at the fair. After a beer, I quickly rushed to the airport to make my flight back to Southern California. My only disappointment was that I was told by someone who competed against Matt Stonie at the last corn dog eating contest that the dogs they used were larger than the ones we ate. So I can't really claim that my 18 corn dog count was a new record even if the event organizers were telling people that it was. I guess not everything is bigger this time around.

We'll just have to resolve it whenever that rematch in the future happens. Hopefully, it will be over corn dogs.

California State Fair
1600 Exposition Blvd
Sacramento, CA  95815

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Best Ramen In Orange County Again

Over time, I find myself growing less fickle when it comes to choosing what food I eat. Apart from pickles, I take great enjoyment in consuming all types of food. From fine dining and my routine favorites to late night drunken fast food runs, I've really been enjoying what I eat. So when I found out that my favorite ramen place in Orange County was holding another eating contest, I became very excited.

Shin Sen Gumi in Fountain Valley, Ca would again hold another ramen eating contest using the same rules as last time. Participants are given 45 minutes to eat a bowl of ramen and as many additional orders of ramen as they can within the time limit. They earn a t-shirt for consuming at least seven extra orders of ramen and a $50 gift card for eating the highest total. I won the contest they hosted last Thanksgiving by eating 16 additional orders of ramen in 45 minutes.

My competitive eating buddy Frank also showed up for a big meal but was oblivious to the fact that there was a contest happening. I encouraged him to do his best regardless and try to beat the highest total so far, nine additional orders. Given my past performance, I was very confident that I could beat that total and worked on eating past the record I set last time.

Just like last time, the first bowl was the best tasting. The slices of pork and ramen complemented the strong dashi taste very well. Though I was there for business and would save savoring the tasty food after I won the gift card. I poured in my glass of ice to cool down the broth and went at the noodles. Fortunately, they were ready for me this time and the chef cooked my ramen ahead of time to ensure that I had a consistent supply. He served me two orders at a time and I made quick progress.

Frank ate his ramen efficiently with a fork, but being unprepared for the contest took it's toll. We both slowed down at around 20 minutes in and I felt fullness set in around my 11th order of ramen. By this time, all the ice I've been adding to cool down the noodles had significantly diluted the taste of the delicious broth. All I could taste were the noodles now.

As it came down to the final 10 minutes, things weren't looking good for beating my record. I was only at 13 orders and would need to eat three more to match my record. It was a strange emotion I felt at that point, I was amazed that I had eaten so many last time but disappointed that I couldn't do it again. I like to think that I've made some progress since November but I couldn't muster the eating tenacity needed to get past my record, a sense of complacency overwhelmed me. Frank had also stopped eating at this point, falling one order short of winning his t-shirt.

I was done. I reluctantly finished my 15th extra order of ramen and watched time run out. I was one short of tying my past performance but at least I had won the contest. As it turns out, the extra orders of noodles weighed half a pound each so eating over 8 pounds of ramen was at least a decent meal. I felt better after walking around when they had me take some pictures. Like I could have eaten a few more orders then, but unfortunately the contest was over. They gave us some complimentary green tea ice cream after which really helped balance the taste of the meal and numb the disappointment I felt from failing to beat myself.

In the future, I hope to eventually beat my record. Even if they don't have a contest, I'd like to just order ramen and test myself against my past performance. At least the $50 gift card I won could cover all that food. They still have the best ramen in Orange County after all.

Here's video of the contest:

Shin Sen Gumi
18315 Brookhurst St
Fountain Valley, Ca 92708
(714) 962-8952

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Spirit of Independence

One of the finest institutions of art and inspiration is Disney World's Epcot in Florida. Inside of their World Showcase pavilion you can find a great example of the embodiment of the American spirit of independence in a statue aptly named Spirit of Independence.

There's something about how a stone man dressed in garb from The American Revolution that stirs one's spirit and just makes you feel liberated. Like you posses the freedom to do as you please and to pursue the endeavors that your heart pushes you towards. Especially if that endeavor is to win an eating contest.

A couple weeks ago, I witnessed some of my competitive eating friends pursue this goal in Hawthorne, Ca. The MLE held a qualifier for their 4th of July Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest there. This event awarded a trip to New York and a place in the contest to the top male and female competitive eater of that day. It would be a brutal contest, with a lot of unknown variables to take into consideration. And to be perfectly up front, it took a lot of restraint from myself to avoid participating in this one.

The competition would include Matt Stonie, Crazy Legs Conti, Ben Taylor, Damon Wells, Kevin Ross and Bryan Beard. It would have been such a thrill to prove myself against these eaters and to finally get that rematch against Matt who I came second to in a burger contest last Autumn. I also felt confident in my hot dog eating technique since I pulled some decent numbers in Las Vegas from my last contest. But I'll wait, I'm still undecided if and when I will participate in an MLE event so I'll focus on supporting my friends in the MLE in the mean time.

One of the most exciting aspects of this qualifier was to see which of the eaters would actually show up. Some declared their intention to compete ahead of time such as Stonie and Conti, while others were a last minute surprise such as Taylor. Though the most anticipated possible participant was definitely, the highly ranked, Ben Monson. I have yet to see this guy do anything since I joined the competitive eating world and apparently no one has heard from him.  

After the line up was sorted out, the eaters prepared their drinks on stage and the contest started smoothly. Going in, the favorites to win were definitely Matt Stonie and Crazy Legs Conti. It made the most sense given their past performance and that they were the two highest ranked MLE eaters participating. The food supply was reasonably organized though the counting for the amount of hot dogs consumed on stage left much to be desired. They only had counters for Taylor, Stonie and Conti and they did not continuously nor accurately reflect what was being consumed during the contest. The only thing that the crowd was certain of was that Matt Stonie was eating a lot of hot dogs.

He seemed to be dominating most of the contest but no one, including the eaters themselves would know the final total until a few minutes after the contest. Christine Kitchenmaster ended up winning the women's division by consuming 8 hot dogs in the 10 minute time limit. However the men's contest had a bit more ambiguity. The discussion about the final totals on stage between the eaters and the judges seemed to take forever. The audience eagerly waited in anticipation.

Surely, the top three would be Stonie, Conti and Taylor. Those were the only eaters they had counters for but when it was announced that Taylor came in 4th with 20 hot dogs, I was very surprised. Someone else had actually eaten more than these guys. And after Conti came in 3rd with 21 hot dogs and Stonie came in 2nd with 25, I honestly had no clue who else could have pulled such high numbers. As it turns out, Damon Wells was the one pulling the high numbers. He won the contest and a spot at Coney Island with 26.5 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

Here's video of the contest:

I believe that the victor is usually the person with the strongest spirit and determination to achieve something. Damon had talked to me about how hard he had been training for this and I had no clue that this would result in his victory at Hawthorne. I'm glad he did so well since it's a testament to effort and pursuit. Though I felt bad for Matt for coming in 2nd at this event. I don't think he mustered up all the effort he could have for this one due to the lack of accurate updates on the amounts people were eating during the contest.

It's okay though, he ended up eating 32 hot dogs at another qualifier after this, also securing his spot at the big event at Coney Island. It will be interesting to see how these two do against one another as well as the other top eaters on Independence Day. I'm pretty sure victory will come to whomever has the greatest spirit.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Food and Eating in Las Vegas

We can't stop here. This is bat country.

Las Vegas holds a special place in my heart. There are so few places in the world where you can readily indulge your vices on a whim. During my last couple trips to the city of sin, I indulged in some great eats, mostly for money but also for a bit of sport.

The first contest I did in Las Vegas involved my least favorite food, pickles. Veteran eater and promoter, Arnie Chapman invited me to compete in Carnegie Deli's pickle eating contest held at The Mirage. My initial reaction was to refuse, the notion of eating pounds of pickles just sounded awful to me. However, they offered $1,000 for 1st place, $600 for 2nd and would give me a free room at The Mirage just for participating. Prostitution is quite prevalent in Las Vegas and food prostitution is no exception. I'll eat anything for money, so I signed up.

Another boon was the opportunity to face off against Joe Larue. It would be fun to eat against someone of his caliber and I tend to perform well when eating against true competition. Joe also participated in the Bar Louie tater tot contest in his part of the country with very comparable results to mine, so this would be a good match up.

I bought a food scale and some jars of pickles for practice. My first practice run was terrible, I barely finished two pounds in 5 minutes at home. My jaw ached from chewing through the tough pickles and my mouth tasted like cat piss. As I packed my luggage, I decided to bring a few practice jars of pickles with me to hone my technique in between my blackjack sessions at The Mirage. I would deifnitely need the practice.

The contest itself was very well organized. Arnie did a great job announcing during the contest and The Mirage set up a stage in the sports lobby area of their casino. We even had some local celebrity judges including ventriloquist Terry Fator and my judge, tv chef Rick Moonen. He awkwardly rubbed my back during the contest and kept yelling "Eat those pickles boy!" behind me.

I'm glad I practiced, going through each of the one pound bowls of pickles felt routine by now and I did my best to put that salty, sour taste to the back of my mind. I kept a close watch at Joe Larue's totals during the competition and he really pushed me to eat more. I truly tried my best to out pace him through the 5 minute contest. He's somewhat intimidating to eat against, towering over me and able to fit two pickles in his mouth at the same time. 

It ended up being a very close contest. After the weighing was done, Joe secured 1st place and $1,000 by beating my 3.8 pounds of pickles with his even 4 pounds. I took home 2nd and $600 but more importantly learned that I didn't actually need to enjoy a food in order to eat it well during competition. I can't wait until I have chance to eat against him again and hopefully I don't need try and relish pickles then. I craved intense sweets after this experience.

Carnegie Deli @ The Mirage
3400 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 791-7111

Fortunately, my next eating challenge involved a lot of sweetness. I Love Yogurt in Las Vegas offers a 100 ounce frozen yogurt eating challenge called "The Devo Hat" challenge. It involves eating four types of yogurt with four toppings totaling 100 ounces out of a plastic hat within half an hour. You have to pay for the yogurt if you fail but victory not only yields you the meal for free, but also another normal sized yogurt, any way you like, to eat at your leisure.

On paper, this challenge sounded like a great idea to me. I regularly enjoy frozen yogurt and they let you choose half of the flavors. It was also a hot Nevada day, so enjoying a nice frozen yogurt sounded very pleasant. I went in and sat at one of their table arcade machines and enjoyed the overly 80s atmosphere.

It seemed like they put  a lot thought into the decor and ambiance. Apart from the selection of different yogurt flavors that dominate the right half of the floor space, there was a selection of candy from the 80s, a wall decorated in boom boxes, new wave music coming from their speakers and The Smurfs playing on their television. I couldn't help but feel nostalgic and realize how much character this decade had. I doubt you could do the same thing for the 90s, though I entertained the notion of eating at a Saved By The Bell themed restaurant.

They quickly sorted out my yogurt, with the house choosing the first two toppings and yogurt flavors. They started with a base of raisins covered in white chocolate, then added plain tart and carrot cake flavored yogurt on top of that with a layer of gummy worms after. I decided to go with peanut butter and chocolate yogurt for my selections though the total weight ended up topping 100 ounces after my yogurt was added so they did not add the two additional toppings like they normally do.

As it turned out, this would be a very good thing because during challenge I quickly came to realize that the toppings were the most difficult part. My only concern was the painful brain freeze from eating cold food at a rapid pace but it really wasn't that bad. You start eating yogurt and your head just gets used to the mild numbness. I ended up eating most of the yogurt in the first six minutes. The tricky part was the hardened candy layered in between. The pliable gummy texture of the worms turned rock hard and I had immense difficulty biting through them.

I ended up spending the majority of my time figuring out how to eat the candy in the bowl. I tried some water to help soften the worms but it really didn't do much. The only thing I could do was swallow them whole since I couldn't chew through the frozen candy. This took a long time but was the only way I could finish the challenge. I finished everything in 18 minutes, a few minutes shy of their record. I felt frustrated and messy afterwards. My hands and mouth were a sticky mess and the sugary fluid hardened my beard like hair gel. I'd like try return and do this one again, on another hot day, hopefully without gummy worms.

Here's video of the challenge:

I Love Yogurt
11700 W Charleston Blvd # 120
Las Vegas, NV 89135-1580
(702) 243-5683

My last eating event in Las Vegas was the chili dog finals at Ellis Island Casino. The casino would hold a 15 minute chili dog eating contest during a food truck event they were hosting. I felt confident for this event since I have experience with hot dogs. They are the golden standard in competitive eating, it's probably the food they would use if competitive eating ever became an Olympic event. I'm also partial to food covered in chili and cheese, so that was a bonus.

The contest had an unusual format where $1,000 would be awarded to the person who could eat a platter of 10 chili dogs the fastest and award $500 and $250 for the two people who could eat the most in the 15 minute time limit respectively. On top of that, they had restricted water to one glass per platter of 10 chili dogs and you had to clean all the debris from your platter before moving on to the next one. It was an extremely strange format but I welcomed the challenging conditions set forth. No dunking buns in water here.

We also had a reasonably stacked field for the contest. MLE legend Richard Lefevre, eating veteran Tom Gilbert and Travis Fowler, who most recently did 21 hot dogs at the Las Vegas Nathan's qualifier, would comprise part of the 10 people competing in this event. Taking home the money wouldn't be easy for this one, but I would definitely enjoy competing with these guys regardless.

Fortunately, they sat us all adjacent to one another so it would be easy to keep track of their numbers during the contest. The plastic wrapped platters of chili dogs came out nice and hot and were enjoyable to eat. The only thing that threw me off were the onions and mustard in addition to the chili and cheese on top of the wieners. Mustard really had no business mixing in with this combination of condiments.

As the contest started, I knew I had to be fast out of the gate. Capacity wasn't a concern since we were just trying to eat 10 chili dogs as fast as possible. I really wanted to get the 10 down quick, win the $1,000 and be done with it. The idea of sitting there and eating for the full 15 minutes was nauseating. Tom Gilbert ended up beating me to the 10. He secured his $1,000, cleaning his platter as I started on my 10th chili dog. Close, but close doesn't count in the vicious world of chili dog consumption.

I guess I was in it for the long haul. So I got into my eating rhythm and worked on the next platter of chili dogs placed in front of me. I ran out of water during my second platter and ate my 19th and 20th chili dog dry. Richard Lefevre was the closest to me at this point, he looked about half way done with his second platter and Travis Fowler was a few behind him.Tom was disappointed that he couldn't eat more chili dogs but at least he provided updates to me and Richard since they sat him in between us.

The fullness set in around 25 hot dogs and I wanted to stop eating at about 27. I had a decent lead over Richard at that point but he didn't slow. I haphazardly expected him to slow down like I did nearing the end of the 3rd platter of chili dogs but he just kept going. He really lived up to his reputation as a high capacity eater, so I just kept eating to maintain my lead.

I ended up going into my 4th tray of chili dogs, starting on my 31st one in the last minute of the competition. I just felt gross, my senses were numb, I was past the point of fullness and all I could smell was chili, mustard and onion. I saw that I had a 3 chili dog lead against Richard at this point so I didn't finish my last chili dog, I was done. As the clock ran out, Richard was on his 29th chili dog, I had half of my 31st on the platter and Tom had an empty space filled with disappointment in front of him.

He told me after that the hardest part was watching everyone else eat for another 13 minutes. I told him not to worry about it, I'm sure that $1,000 helped brighten his day. I took home $500 and placed 2nd with 30.5 chili dogs in 15 minutes. While Richard took home $250 and placed 3rd with 29 chili dogs. Travis said he was disappointed because he spilled his water during his second platter and couldn't eat efficiently after that happened. He placed 4th with 18 chili dogs.

Here's video of the contest:

Ellis Island Casino
4178 Koval Lane
Las Vegas, NV 89169
(702) 733-8901

My eating in Las Vegas was a savage journey to the heart of the American dream. I took home some decent money, made a big mess and felt sullied after. It's such a load of shit when people tell you what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. No, it follows you across the state border on that 4 hour drive back to Orange County and it smells like onion and mustard.

Until next time Las Vegas, even though you make me feel shame and regret every time I visit, I'll be back to eat you again.