In­side the stom­achchurn­ing world of com­pet­i­tive eat­ing

Emirates Man - - CONTENTS -

Deep within the folds of hip Lon­don eatery Meat Liquor, neon lights icker, mu­sic booms from speak­ers and the stench of bar­be­cued meat hangs thick in the air. As wait­resses con­tort be­tween din­ers bran­dish­ing trays the size of trac­tor tyres, there’s not a va­cant chair in sight and a queue grows ever longer out­side. Yet such hul­la­baloo is mere white noise com­pared to to­day’s main at­trac­tion – a 6’ ” man moun­tain from Mis­souri stop­ping by for lunch.

He’s not hard to spot, ei­ther. Strid­ing into the restau­rant dressed head to toe in his own-branded sports­wear and anked by a sixstrong doc­u­men­tary crew, 2 -year-old Randy Santel ap­proaches the ta­ble where a few ea­ger spec­ta­tors have al­ready as­sem­bled and re­trieves some industrial sized cut­lery from his back­pack, be­fore stop­ping to pose for pho­tos with two fe­male fans who have trav­elled half­way down the coun­try just to say hello. It’s the kind of en­trance you’d ex­pect from a lm star, or per­haps a Pre­mier League foot­baller. But then, Randy Santel is in­deed an ath­lete, al­beit one whose big­gest as­set is his cav­ernous stom­ach.

On a 2-date culi­nary tour of the United King­dom – by the end of which he will have con­sumed over 200,000 calo­ries – Santel’s visit here is on of cial busi­ness, to tackle a chal­lenge he hopes will form win No 2 6, as he takes the eld in a sport rapidly grow­ing around the world com­pet­i­tive eat­ing.

On the menu to­day is Meat Liquor’s Triple Chilli Chal­lenge a , 20 calo­rie meal fea­tur­ing a chilli con carne-cov­ered hot dog, a burger stuffed with jalapeno pep­pers and a large help­ing of fries buried un­der yet more spicy beef chilli, all cov­ered in cheese and driz­zled with bright yel­low mus­tard. The feast weighs 1.6kg and costs 2 (Dhs1 0), but is free if com­peti­tors nish within ten-min­utes. It sounds big enough to feed an en­tire fam­ily. How­ever, Santel doesn’t look fazed. This is a man who’s al­ways had an ap­petite for the ex­treme.

Weigh­ing a gi­gan­tic 2 -stone when play­ing Amer­i­can foot­ball at Mis­souri State Uni­ver­sity, portly Santel would’ve been deemed mor­bidly obese by the reckoning of any doc­tor, yet could con­vert his size into freak­ish power in the gym – his bench press record an out­right scary lbs (2 . stone).

Af­ter grow­ing tired of both Amer­i­can foot­ball and weigh­ing the same as a re­frig­er­a­tor full of bricks, Santel switched curly fries for car­rot sticks in his diet and upped his ex­er­cise regime in or­der to shed some fat. Then, in 2010, he en­tered a mag­a­zine com­pe­ti­tion that of­fered a hol­i­day to New ea­land and guest spot on TV show

Spar­ta­cus Gods Of The Arena to the en­trant with the great­est body trans­for­ma­tion within 12-weeks. Prob­lem was, as he learned of the con­test one month af­ter it’d al­ready started, Santel was left with just eight weeks to get ripped like no other.

Armed with a strict diet plan and a train­ing sched­ule that meant work­ing out three times a day – not to men­tion an all or noth­ing

dis­po­si­tion that’d see him die sooner than come sec­ond – Santel slimmed down to 16-stone, ac­quir­ing mas­sive biceps and blis­ter pack abs along the way. In just two-thirds of the time and ahead of thou­sands of oth­ers, he won the com­pe­ti­tion.

And yet Santel’s rav­en­ous ap­petite re­mained, with the body­builder toast­ing his victory and ditch­ing his su­per clean diet plan by tak­ing on The Poin­t­er­saurus – a restau­rant chal­lenge that of­fered a 00 bounty (Dhs1, ) to any­one who could nish their 2 -inch pizza. Team­ing up with a friend, Santel won that, too. And lit­tle did he know at the time, but it was his rst foray into what would soon be­come his ca­reer – trav­el­ling the world as a com­pet­i­tive eater.

Like a bloated stom­ach be­ing stuffed full of food, the weird and won­der­ful world of com­pet­i­tive eat­ing is grow­ing ever larger. With an in­creas­ing num­ber of restau­rants of­fer­ing free din­ners, T-shirts and even cash prizes to din­ers that can van­quish meals that weigh as much as new-born ba­bies, it seems pos­sess­ing the ap­petite of a small army can some­times pay. What’s more, hun­gry in­di­vid­u­als stretch­ing their stom­achs against the clock is be­com­ing a bona de phe­nom­e­non in the sport­ing world, too.

“I think it’s the sport of the peo­ple,” claims Ge­orge Shea, founder of sanc­tion­ing body, Ma­jor League Eat­ing (MLE). “Every­body knows what it’s like to eat three hard-boiled eggs and how full they would be, so if they see some­one eat 50, they get an im­me­di­ate sense of how mon­u­men­tal that is.

“I think that in a lot of sports, even some­thing like ten­nis, high jump or pole vault, there’s a signi cant bar­rier of en­try to most peo­ple. But there’s no such bar­rier to com­pet­i­tive eat­ing and I think it re­ally con­nects with peo­ple that way.”

Com­pet­i­tive eat­ing is not strictly new, with con­tests dat­ing as far back as 13th cen­tury Norse mythol­ogy – de­tail­ing a matchup be­tween the god Loki and his ser­vant (the lat­ter won by eat­ing his plate). In more re­cent times, pie eat­ing con­tests at county fairs have be­come a sta­ple part of Amer­i­can cul­ture, whereas MLE chairs events for just about ev­ery food­stuff out there – in­clud­ing birth­day cake, chicken wings, wa­ter­melon and even raw cow brains.

The jewel in the com­pet­i­tive eat­ing crown is with­out doubt Nathan’s Hot Dog Eat­ing Con­test, held ev­ery 4th of July on New York’s Coney Is­land. Founded in 1 16 – the rst of cial eat­ing chal­lenge on record – four im­mi­grants squared off to de­ter­mine who was the most

“Ev­ery­one knows how full you feel af­ter eat­ing three boiled eggs. So if peo­ple see you eat 50, they get a sense of how mon­u­men­tal that is”

pa­tri­otic, with an Ir­ish­man swal­low­ing 13 hot dogs in 12-min­utes to seal victory. Since then, the con­test has be­come a fun­da­men­tal part of Amer­ica’s In­de­pen­dence Day cel­e­bra­tions – with en­trants chew­ing for their chance to win the cov­eted Mus­tard Belt and share of the $40,000 purse (Dhs147,000). More than 60,000 fans de­scend on Coney Is­land to catch the an­nual con­test live, and in 2014 a record 2. mil­lion TV view­ers watched the men’s and women’s (a xture since 2011) nals un­fold on sport chan­nel ESPN2.

Coin­ing the term ‘com­pet­i­tive eat­ing’ in the 1980s, Shea is a man se­ri­ous about his food and claims his eat­ing fed­er­a­tion will be “a world­wide sport­ing fran­chise sim­i­lar to FIFA” within a decade. Think his tongue is in his cheek? It isn’t. Shea is so con dent that he’s gen­uinely ag­grieved eat­ing chal­lenges are not yet rep­re­sented at the Olympic Games.

“We have tried many times in the past to get into the Olympics, but we were snubbed,” Shea ad­mits. “I think you would nd com­pet­i­tive eat­ing as an ab­so­lute crowd favourite and would fur­ther

in­vig­o­rate the games – I nd it so much more en­ter­tain­ing than any other in­di­vid­ual sport out there.”

For all the work of Ma­jor League Eat­ing and Nathan’s Hot Dog Eat­ing Con­test, there’s no ques­tion that a great deal of the buzz around eat­ing chal­lenges re­cently is in no small part thanks to Adam Rich­man. Host of the Man v

Food fran­chise that ran in the late noughties, the cult TV pro­gramme saw the Yan­kee food fa­natic travel across the United States to taste the nest deep fried fare, with each episode cli­max­ing with Rich­man fac­ing off against a food con­test within the state in ques­tion. And yet, in spite of his in uence in breath­ing life into the com­pet­i­tive eat­ing scene, Rich­man – who re­tired from chal­lenges in 2012 – doesn’t share Ge­orge Shea’s view that eat­ing should be an Olympic dis­ci­pline.

“No, no, I don’t think it has any place at the Olympics,” Rich­man laughs. “It’s a lit­tle ba­nanas how in­tense it’s be­come, but I think there’s a distinc­tion be­tween a big sun­dae chal­lenge ver­sus some­thing that has a fed­er­a­tion, a char­ter, that’s a real sport­like en­tity. Look, I’m not say­ing it’s a phys­i­cal feat to be ig­nored or un­ap­pre­ci­ated, but it’s noth­ing that I would equate with the 100 me­tre dash.”

Along with claims that com­pet­i­tive eat­ing pro­motes obe­sity, en­cour­ages waste and typi es West­ern greed, one of the gen­eral pre­sump­tions about the sport is that its ‘ath­letes’ will by de­fault be gi­nor­mous, sloth-like men. On the con­trary, much like body­builder Randy Santel, com­pet­i­tive eat­ing’s big­gest names tend to be svelte by na­ture – as too much belly fat can in fact pre­vent the stom­ach from ex­pand­ing. And in terms of the eat­ing realm’s mar­quee celebri­ties, two men in par­tic­u­lar have shone bright in es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as house­hold names, stir­ring up a bit­ter ri­valry in the process.

Rake thin, re­served and with a loose com­mand of English, Takeru Kobayashi ies di­rectly in the face of the lardy stereo­type of a big eater. A six-time world hot dog eat­ing cham­pion at the In­de­pen­dence Day event in New York, Kobayashi dou­bled the pre­vi­ous record of 25 hot dogs dur­ing his rst ap­pear­ance in 2001, eat­ing a vomit- in­duc­ing 50 dogs. But for Kobayashi – nick­named ‘Tsunami’ – suc­cess has come at a price.

“I now live with jaw arthri­tis,” he says, via his trans­la­tor. “Parts of your body are not like knives, where you can sharpen them again. When they be­come bad, they can’t be xed – like a soc­cer player’s knees or ten­nis player’s el­bows. For a com­pet­i­tive eater, that’s your jaw. The hinge on the jaw, that part is not go­ing to get bet­ter, it’s go­ing to get worse.”

Fly­ing the ag for the USA is Kobayashi’s all-Amer­i­can ad­ver­sary, Joey ‘Jaws’ Chest­nut. With count­less ti­tles to his name – hard-boiled eggs (141 in eight min­utes), deep fried as­para­gus (12lbs 8.75oz in ten min­utes) and grilled cheese sand­wiches (47 in ten min­utes) to name just three – Chest­nut’s ar­rival on the scene sig­nalled the be­gin­ning of the end for Kobayashi. Steal­ing his Nathan’s hot dog crown in 2007 – with 66 snarfed to Kobayashi’s 63 – Chest­nut was also vic­to­ri­ous in ’08 and ’09, be­fore a con­tract dis­pute saw Kobayashi banned from both Nathan’s and Ma­jor League Eat­ing events from 2010 on­wards.

With Chest­nut now un­beaten for eight straight years (over­tak­ing Kobayashi’s record of six), the world record now stands at 69 hot dogs eaten in ten min­utes, set by Chest­nut in 2013. Though Takeru Kobayashi still com­petes at non-MLE con­tests (re­cent feats in­clude 62 slices of pizza in 12-min­utes and 130 tacos in ten), fans are left to won­der if the pair will ever lock horns (or rather jaws) on the same stage again. And with no wor­thy con­tender for Chest­nut in sight, Nathan’s Fa­mous’ con­test will con­tinue be a duller place in the ab­sence of the skinny, Ja­panese chom­per.

HUNGER GAMES Randy con­sumed more than 200,000 calo­ries on a re­cent tour of the UK

CALO­RIE COUNT­ING Top and bot­tom left: Contestants at the an­nual Nathan’s Hot Dog con­test. Mid­dle: Randy at Pops Pizza, Quincy, USA

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