Friday, August 19, 2011

Stacked

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. 

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