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Food For Sport - If You Have The Stomach For It
email this pageprint this pageemail usEd Schwartz - PVNN
January 26, 2010

On July 4, 2009, Joe Chestnut retained his title by eating 68 Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs and Buns in 10 minutes, 3 1/2 more than his arch-rival Takeru Kobayashi of Japan.
With all the attention focused on the Super Bowl, it is easy to overlook a "sporting event" that will take place on July 4 at Coney Island. The event is called: The International Federation Of Competitive Eating - Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

This culinary event is at once exciting and gross. Last year’s event was seen by 40,000 folks live and millions more on ESPN. I saw the finals on TV and once is enough. If you think you like hot dogs, consider this: last year, six-time champion Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi and two-time defending champion Joey Chestnut were the favorites going into the event. And the bookies had it right - Chestnut prevailed by setting a new world record, downing 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Kobayashi was second with 64½. The event was a gas, no bun intended.

I didn’t realize until a few years ago that there was such a "sport" as competitive eating. It involves an international circuit where participants ingest great amounts of steak, ice cream, hamburgers, wings and burritos, to name a few snacks.

Hall of Famers include such stalwarts as Rich LeFevre, who once ate two 6-pound steaks; Tim Janus who knocked off 43.5 chili dogs; Brad Sciullo who whipped through a 15 pound hamburger, and the ever popular Pat Bertoletti who ate a five pound burrito in 1 minute and 41 seconds. To put this feat in perspective, I can just about finish one half-pound burrito at the Burrito Revolution, a local lunch counter.

Competitive eating is not a sexist thing; women do pretty well at this sort of grind. For example, Kate Stelnick once ate an 11 pound hamburger and Sonya Thomas, the bivalve queen, downed 52 dozen oysters, a record not yet matched by man or woman. For the faint at heart, 52 dozen oysters equals 624 of the little slipperies. Gives new meaning to the phrase "down the hatch!"

I am a great admirer of Ms. Thomas — svelte at her fighting weight of 100 pounds - the thinner winner. Long known by her nickname, "The Black Widow," she is a top-ranked, Korean-born American competitive eater from Alexandria, Virginia. Thomas joined the International Federation of Competitive Eating in 2003 and quickly rose to the top of the ranks, beating eating artists like Ed "Cookie" Jarvis and Eric Booker. At the 2009 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, the emcee introduced her as the "leader of the Four Horsemen of the Esophagus" during her introduction.

Thomas is the number five competitive eater in the United States, and ranked sixth in the world, with 29 world titles. Her nickname, "The Black Widow," refers to her ability to regularly defeat men many times her size. While the size of her stomach is only slightly larger than normal, her skinny build is perhaps her biggest advantage, since it allows her stomach to expand without the fat layer getting in the way. That’s my gut feeling.

But, I wander... back to the "upcoming," so to speak, Hot Dog Eating Contest. The winner is given possession of the coveted international "bejeweled" mustard-yellow belt. The belt is of "unknown age and value" according to IFOCE co-founder, George Shea, and rests in the country of its owner. Due to the string of Japanese wins in the first half of the 2000 decade, the belt had been on display in the Imperial Palace in Saitama, Japan near the Nakazato Danchi campus. It was moved to the United States as a result of the 2007 contest win by Chestnut and will remain in the United States as a result of his win in 2009.

Will Chestnut retain the crown? Will arduous training allow Kaboyashi to cut the mustard and be back on the winner’s podium? Can the Black Widow pull an upset? Not to worry. I will announce the results as soon as I get them — if you have the stomach for such news.

Ed Schwartz has been involved in many aspects of fine wine for 30 years and has worked with top wineries in California, Italy and France. His writings on wine, food and travel have appeared in the SF Chronicle, LA Times and Image magazine.

Click HERE for more articles by Ed Schwartz

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