Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fun With Sushi

I absolutely love sushi.

There have been great distances traveled and lofty prices paid to satisfy my sticky rice and fish desires. It's one of the few foods that can rival bacon in capturing my heart and dominating my palette. It's my competitive eating weapon of choice. Both the sushi record I set at Sushilicious and the Gozilla Roll Challenge at Sushi Delight have been my favorite eating challenges thus far.

So when Ra Sushi recently hosted a series of eating contests at their various locations across the country, I simply needed to participate. At stake was a year's worth of sushi, $600 of gift cards to Ra Sushi. Fortunately, there were two nearby in Orange County and I decided to compete in the contest at the Tustin District.

Dubbed Maki Madness, the competition was organized into tournament style brackets between 32 participants. There would be four rounds, eliminating half of the field at each round, until only the final four remained. Each round was a race to eat two of Ra Sushi's signature tootsy maki rolls until the finals where contestants would attempt to eat as many of the sushi rolls within three minutes to determine the winner.

Given my strong affinity for sushi, I was really looking forward to competing in this one. I felt I could do very well with a food I so commonly ate but also because the notion of winning and enjoying $600 worth of sushi gluttony really drove me to do my best at this event.

On a stormy Sunday afternoon, I met my buddy Aaron for some more fast paced competitive eating action in Tustin. We found that Frank from the pastrami eating contest a couple months ago would also be participating. It's always fun to see some familiar characters at these events. We opted to compete in seperate brackets in order to avoid eliminating each other before the finals.

It was a packed house of contestants, supporters and customers at Ra Sushi. Each heat of the contest was well organized and the rounds went by quickly. The sushi rolls tasted great, just a simple combination of crab, shrimp, cucumber, rolled in sushi rice and peppered with tempura flakes. They went down easily with water and I ended up eating both rolls simultaneously during my heats.

There was so much excitement in the air both during and in between each round, people really got into it. It was fun to have the opportunity to watch others compete before participating yourself. We had a bit of merriment in talking with the other contestants and their supporters in between rounds. Aaron, Frank and I all advanced to the finals, things were looking good for us.

By now, the audience seemed eager to see who would come out on top. All of the eaters seemed to be feeling the six sushi rolls they had consumed earlier during the preliminaries. But that did not detract from the vigor that the contestants expressed in the final round. After the first minute of the finals, it quickly came down again to me and Aaron vying for that top spot. We pushed each other to truly earn that prize. Bite after bite, there would be no slowing from either of us until it was over.

Three minutes after the start of the finals, I had won by eating seven sushi rolls against Aaron's six. We hung out for a bit afterwards, having some more tootsy maki, dessert and Okinawan beer on the house. It was a delicious precursor to the $600 in gift certificates I had yet to enjoy.

Here's are the results and video of the final round:

1st: Johnnie - 7 sushi rolls
2nd: Aaron - 6 sushi rolls
3rd: Frank - 3 sushi rolls
4th: Tom - 2 sushi roll

An unexpected bit of fun from this competition came afterwards. I was invited to participate in a televised eating contest against anchors from the KTLA Morning News to promote the upcoming Huntington Beach competition. Ra Sushi's public relations girl,  Lauren, did a great job of getting me sorted out as she did coordinating the eating contests.

I met her and Ra Sushi's regional manager, John, on an early Thursday morning at the KTLA Studios in Hollywood. Another fun surprise was getting to meet Chyler Leigh in the green room who plays my favorite tv doctor, Lexie Grey, from Grey's Anatomy. I had just finished getting caught up with the current season too, so it was somewhat surreal to meet up with her at the studio.

The televised segment was a brief one minute eat off between myself, the general manager from the Huntington Beach Ra Sushi and three of the KTLA Morning News anchors. Michaela and John provided commentary during the segment and I made quick work of my three sushi rolls. It ended up being so much fun that I forgot we were being televised and I just enjoyed the experience for what it was.

It must be great to come work at this studio every day and just have fun with interesting people. Here's the segment from KTLA's website:

Lastly, I met up with Matt Cohen and Naader Reda at the Huntington Beach sushi eating competition to lend my support. Their Maki Madness experience was more stacked than the one I participated at in Tustin. They had to compete against last year's champion, Jed, as well a Jimmy L. and Jimmy P. who both had some nice showings at prior eating contests including IFOCE qualifiers. Frank and John K. from the Tustin contest also participated.

This definitely wouldn't be an easy win for anyone. Part of me wanted to jump in for the sake of competing against this strong field, but I promised to share the wealth of gift cards being offered. So I avoided being a douche and enjoyed watching an exciting set of preliminaries.

Unfortunately, both Matt and Naader were eliminated prior to the final round, being paired against Jimmy L. and Jed early on. Matt especially put up a decent fight with excellent form the whole way through. The final four ended up being Jed, John K, Jimmy P. and Jimmy L. They brought out a plate of 10 rolls for each of the finalists to consume in the 3 minute round.

Both Jed and Jimmy P. maintained strong form despite all the sushi they ate in the prior rounds. John ended up eating the least but was promoted to 3rd place after Jimmy L. reversed at the end of the contest. Both Jed and Jimmy P. were able to start on their 7th sushi roll as time ran out and a one minute eat off began 5 minutes later to determine who would be this year's champion.

The tie was arguably close but both eaters seemed determined to take home the $600 prize during the eat off. Despite Jimmy P's strong showing, Jed was able to push past and consume more sushi in the eat off. Eating 3 more sushi rolls after consuming over a dozen earlier is no easy feat, he definitely deserved the win.

Who knew sushi related activities could be so much fun? Never have I spent more time thinking about and having such an awesome time because of sushi. Ra Sushi deserves much gratitude for putting together such wonderful events and for giving out so much sushi.

This has also been an excellent opportunity to continue developing my competitive eating skills. Another win for me and for sushi. I can't wait to eat some more.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Three Guys, a Girl & a Pizza Place

About half a year ago, I discovered that I could get free food, prizes and money for eating a lot of food.

This discovery is sort of like how a comicbook hero figures out their super powers for the first time. Only that the super power is just eating a lot of food.

Like Spiderman, you get the desire to test the limitations of your abilities. And like Spiderman, you evetually get your ass handed to you by the Hobgoblin. In my case, the Hobgoblin was a pizza.

Not just any pizza, but the largest deliverable pizza in the world. This was the 50 pound, 54"x54" Giant Sicilian at Big Mama's and Papa's Pizzeria in Hollywood.

The challenge is normally for 7 people to consume the entire pizza within 2 hours. This achievement awards $1000 cash and a refund for your $200 meal. The only team to ever succeed was a strong team of 7, who polished off the Giant Sicilian in one hour and fourty minutes last year.

Some of my competitive eating friends and I have been discussing just how few people it would take to finish this challenge. Obviously that depends on the people involved, but at minimum for a group of four, you need individuals who can eat 12.5 pounds worth of pizza by themselves.

So we put together a team of strong competitive eaters to see if we could handle the task with four. This included myself, Matt Stonie, Tom Gilbert and good ol' Xanadu. Kind of like a competitive eating Fantastic Four. I was confident in my team mates, each person had some pretty impressive eating achievements.

As for myself, there's always some doubt before I do these sort of things, even for the smaller eating challenges. That's why I practiced last weekend at the Red Devil with their 10 pound pizza challenge to see if I could handle a lot of pizza. I had no idea what my eating limit was, but knowing that my typical Souplantation visit runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 or 13 pounds, I felt that I had a decent chance of pulling my share of the pizza.

Our buddy Matt Cohen got us sorted out with the pizza place and we all got together Saturday afternoon to give this thing a shot. There were also a bunch of our competitive eating friends present to watch the challenge and encourage us. I really appreciate the sense of community we've been fostering with the competitive eaters in California. It was awesome to have everyone there.

Their presence certainly helped. We weren't sure if this challenge was possible to complete with just four people, but we were sure that it was going to be incredibly difficult.

That's the whole point.

Even though they doubled the prize money to $2000, it was never about the money. For me, it was just to see what my limits were. I've never lost an eating challenge before and it would be kind of silly to just keep eating 5 or 6 pound portions of food and be surprised to have completed it. It's like Spiderman beating up children then bragging to his friends of his accomplishments on Facebook.

Nope, there are bigger mountains to climb. I think that's the true spirit behind an eating challenge. To try eating something that you're not sure you can finish and the main reason we set out to eat 50 pounds of pizza with just four people. So we got ready, drove to Hollywood and waited an hour for this thing to cook. Then we just started eating.

We each claimed a quadrant and dove in. It was interesting to see the variation in eating styles. I ate mine just like the Red Devil pizza by folding slices together to form sandwiches while Xanadu tore hers to pieces, eating the cheese first. Matt ate his straight, saving the crusts for later and Tom just went at it. No fancy strategies, he was remarkable.

We got through most of it in the first hour but that's when things really slowed down. It seemed like we all hit the wall about then, and our large, mouthful bites turned into nibbles. I mixed up my drinks. Which was probably a bad idea in retrospect because after water than lemonade, the Coke I used next really hit my stomach hard. Aaron Ybarra was there and very helpful in fetching drinks and napkins while we ate.

I broke my own rule about using stomach filling carbonated beverages during competitive eating. After the Coke, I was constantly burping. I hoped it would make more room for slices I still had left. I felt sick, I was drunk on pizza. It didn't help that people were resorting to using strange condiments to mix up the flavor, it really grossed me out. Perhaps I should have used my mayonnaise to settle my stomach. Everything is better with a mayo.

The last burp I took around 75 minutes, didn't return air, but a mouthful of chewed pizza. It totally caught me off guard but I quickly put a napkin over my mouth to avoid making a mess and ran for the bathroom. I hit the limit, Hobgoblin wins this round. We were disqualified because of my reversal, and I felt awful. Not from reversing, but from disappointing my team. Everyone did such a great job, we had about a fifth of the pizza left.

Who knows how much more we could have eaten in the remaining 45 minutes, or what would have happened if I just took a break from eating to let my stomach settle. But I won't live in hypotheticals, I'd rather accept my first defeat at an eating challenge and plan to improve for the next one. It's at least something to work on and besides the eating challenge, it was a wonderful experience to just hang out with so many of my competitive eating friends and talk about food for hours. It's a strange coincidence that the nights I throw up are usually the most fun.

I'll definitely work on my capacity and return to eat that Giant Sicilian. That's what Spiderman would do.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pregnant Eating

Pregnant women are a severely under-admired group of people.

Simply because of the fact that these women truly know how to enjoy food. They understand the importance of satiating one's cravings, going at great lengths to satisfy such appetites, eating more food than a typical person would consume and accepting the masochistic inevitability of their condition. I have true admiration for these women.

In my recent weeks of competitive eating, I've realized that my behavior pretty much falls in line with that of a pregnant woman. I've gone to great lengths to enjoy food in order to satiate my cravings too. And I also tend to waddle like one after doing so.

My first craving led me to a lively turkey taco eating contest in Encinitas. Mr. Peabody's hosted their Turkey Taco Showdown as a fund raiser for a local girl's water polo team. They offered $100 to the person who could eat the most 12 ounce turkey tacos in 15 minutes. Having tried a couple for practice previously, I certainly had a craving to eat more tacos and hopefully win some money in the process.

The contestants included myself, my buddy Aaron Ybarra and some colorful characters. There was a cowboy who competed as 'Chuck Norris' and 'The Norweigan Hammer' who wore a giant foam hammer hat during the contest. Brie Cardosa of Mr. Peabody's did a wonderful job organizing the contest and coordinating with the girl's water polo team.

The contest itself was extremely hectic. We had tons of yelling and cheering from the semi drunken audience as well as the water polo girls that were assisting the eaters by keeping track of the tacos they consumed. The turkey tacos themselves were just as tasty as I remembered though somewhat difficult to eat due to the amount of ruffage on top.

I paced myself given the long duration of the contest. A strategy which had me worry in practice because Aaron, a guy competing as 'Wyatt Earp' and Neil were all eating at a frenzied pace, putting up some strong numbers early in the contest. Though I could barely tell what the actual count was with all the noise from the yelling and the hammer reversing after eating four tacos. I decided to ignore the the distractions, keep form and just steadily eat. This led me to victory. I ate 11 turkey tacos, just over 8 pounds worth, in 15 minutes.

Neil did an excellent job coming in 2nd with 9 tacos. While Aaron and Wyatt tied for 3rd with 8 tacos a piece. In retrospect, I probably should have eaten at a little faster pace because I still had a bit of room after. This was remedied with some Guinness, Cap'n Crunch, an ice cream sundae, hamburgers and fries with friends afterwards, definitely good times.

The t-shirts they gave us, the tacos and the overall experience of the contest were awesome. And the $100 didn't hurt either.

Here's the full contest results and contact information for Mr. Peabody's:

1st - Johnnie: 11 turkey tacos
2nd - Neil: 9 turkey tacos
3rd (Tie) - Aaron: 8 turkey tacos
(Tie) - Wyatt Earp: 8 turkey tacos
5th (Tie) - Mike the Plumber: 4 turkey tacos
5th (Tie) - Chuck Norris: 4 turkey tacos
7th - The Norwegian Hammer: 4 turkey tacos

Mr. Peabody's
136 Encinitas Boulevard
Encinitas, CA 92024-3657
(760) 753-7192

My next eating event was an unsanctioned eating duel with Kirk Bernard. This guy contacted me on Facebook and challenged me to an eating showdown after I beat his record of 38 plates by eating 60 plates of sushi at Sushilicious in Irvine.

I happily obliged mostly because I was craving sushi, one of my favorite foods, but also because I wanted to see what kind of capacity Kirk possessed. I love to eat with other sushi enthusiasts, especially those with large capacities. And I'm not one to back down from challenges.

Our duel occurred at Zenko Sushi in Mission Viejo during their $19 all you can eat sushi lunch. Kirk told me that after being kicked out of several local sushi places that Zenko Sushi caters to those with large appetites. He regularly eats there 3 or 4 times a week. I was pretty damn excited!

We ended up sticking to nigiri sushi with extra rice and salmon skin handrolls for the sake of counting. The food was delicious, especially the warm salmon skin hand rolls they served. Kirk put away a decent amount of sushi, eating 80 pieces of nigiri and 11 hand rolls. I ended up winning with 120 pieces of nigiri and 5 hand rolls. Kirk was oblivious to most of my eating exploits and seemed genuinely surprised when I kept pace and exceeded his consumption.

The duel turned out to be less of an intense, macho driven battle and more of a casual lunch discussing the competitive eating world and personal training. I can't say we really drove each other to eat more. We didn't push to capacity nor ate quickly, but rather just enjoyed our all you can eat sushi lunch. It was pleasant.

Afterwards, I encouraged Kirk to try out eating competitions because of his strong competitive drive and good capacity. We'll definitely have some return trips to Zenko Sushi.

Zenko Sushi
28892 Marguerite Pkwy # 190
Mission Viejo, CA 92692
(949) 347-0844

My most recent craving ended up with me trying something different in Granada Hills. Different not because of the type of food but because of the format of the challenge. I would attempt to be the first person to complete the 2 person Red Devil Pizza Challenge alone.

The challenge is a straight forward 10 pound, 28" pizza with four toppings. They give you and a partner half an hour to complete the challenge. You are awarded the meal for free, a picture on their wall, a t-shirt and gift certificates for 2 more 28" pizzas for completion. The real challenge for me wasn't only the time limit but just being able to consume the entire thing. I wanted to test my capacity and had no idea if I could pull it off.

I had done a similar challenge with Stephanie Torres a couple months ago in about 17 minutes. I knew that I really had to hustle to get it under the 30 minute time limit. She also held the time record for this pizza, completing the challenge with our buddy Aaron.

I was really craving pork. That led to my invention of 'The Extreme Hawaiian' pizza. It's like a regular hawaiian, pineapple & canadian bacon, but with the addition of bacon strips and bacon bits as my third and fourth topping. Lots of bacon, this pizza was fantastic!

I ended up powering through the first half in about 8 minutes and sluggishly finished the rest in 29:38, just under the time limit. The bacon flavor was amazing the whole way through which certainly helped. I could have saved some time by talking less and not fiddling around with the tray so much.

It felt awesome to be the first person to finish this challenge alone and the group of guys watching were very supportive. More importantly, it helped me realize that I still had room for more. I ate an ice cream sandwich for dessert after and drank a pitcher of water, a very good meal.

I did this one as practice for an even harder, upcoming challenge. Which I feel more confident about now that I've eaten this pizza. I strongly recommend trying this solo for strong eaters looking to guage their capacity.

Here's video of the challenge:

Red Devil Pizza
17553 Chatsworth Street
Granada Hills, CA 91344
(818) 832-0950

Turkey tacos, nigiri sushi and bacon pizza. Cravings surely fit to satisfy a pregnant woman or at least a competitive eater.

With the excessive eating and swelling of your abdomen, it's a common analogy to compare how you feel after competitively eating to being pregnant. And though I will never get to experience such an event, I like to think that I'd have what it takes to carry a human child. I certainly behave much like a pregnant woman. Well, except for the routine consumption of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.