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: