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.

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