The mother of all eating competitions -- Nathan's Hot DogEatingContest in Brooklyn, N.Y. -- is just around the corner, and contestants are no doubt training hard to take the title on July 4th and perhaps surpass the record 68 hot dogs. This year, 2006 winner Takeru Kobayashi says he’ll be watching and competing unofficially, offsite. Want to do the same (or perhaps you’d like to face off against the monied yuppies of Wall Street who are turning competitive eating into a civilian power sport)? Well, you’d better start preparing. Writer and food lover Matthew Moll tried his hand at an eating competition after getting some advice from former Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest finalist David “The Coondog” O’Karma. Here, he shares the tips he learned from the experience.
Bard's Burger in northern Kentucky is the home of The Bardzilla challenge. According to employees at Bard's, about 150 big-eyed patrons have attempted to take down the 6-pound Bardzilla in just one hour. Only about 30 have succeeded. The Bardzilla consists of 10 burger patties, 10 slices of American cheese and a mountain of hand-cut fries.
The Coondog says most digestive systems can’t handle 2 pounds in a single sitting. I was determined to prove that I was an exception. To help me stay focused and get through the challenge, The Coondog gave me a few tips. Here’s how it all (OK, most of it) went down:
1. Get accustomed to feeling full.
O’Karma suggested that I build up an appetite by working out and getting comfortable with the feeling of a full stomach by drinking plenty of water the night before. That part was easy. What I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) prepare for was the volume of food entering my body. O’Karma said that when he competes, he builds up to the weight of the challenge during the week. If the challenge calls for 8 pounds of food, he trains by gradually forcing down that poundage in pineapples. This simply wasn’t practical for my wallet or my vanity.
2. Find your inner glutton.
You need a big stomach and a small brain, O’Karma explains. He calls it “common sense vs. competitive spirit.” No one should ever intake this much of anything, but if I wanted to succeed, I needed to awaken the dormant gluttonous carnivore that lived inside me. To do so, O’Karma encouraged me to find an anthem, a fight song or a mission statement. His mastication mantra? "Eat it to defeat it." I adopted those words and got into attack mode.
Three patties down. Cruising.
3. To find your second wind, start finding ways to vary the taste.
Challenging your body to ingest several pounds of meat and carbs is probably an edible form of torture. Eventually, the physical toll will toy with your mind. O’Karma suggested reassembling the ingredients to get the taste of fullness out of my mouth. "At some point everything starts tasting like crayons."
After the fifth patty, I began to break down and couldn't swallow. Pounds of grounded bovine taunted me like a boozed-up heckler in the cheap seats. To cope, I tried assembling mini-burgers with fries as the bun, but the meat sweats had already begun. The prey was now the predator.
4. There is no shame in not finishing; there is shame in leaving the challenge on the restaurant floor.
I knew going in that the odds were in favor of the stacks of meat. But as O’Karma said, someone like me tries a food challenge for the story and the “goofball factor,” not to find a new career. With 15 minutes left on the clock, four patties, four slices of cheese and some fries remained. I didn’t want Bard’s cordial staff to turn on me, so I couldn’t go projectile.
In the end I ate about six and a half patties, the bun, and several handfuls of fries, which I estimated to be 3.5 of the 6 pounds of the challenge. I didn’t earn the coveted Bardzilla T-shirt or earn membership into that elite group of eaters.
As I waved the white napkin-flag of defeat, Teri Geraci of Bard's left me with these parting words: “If you’re a man, if you’re a REAL man, you can eat 3 pounds of beef, 2 pounds of fries, and 1 pound of cheese.”