Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Different Takes

The Broken Yolk Cafe, in San Diego County, offers the highly inconsistent Ironman Challenge. 12-egg chili cheese omelet, home fries, and two biscuits. I've finished it four times, and each time it's come out differently. You can get more potatoes (or less), more eggs (or less), and the biscuits can be normal or gigantic.

But, when you take on a restaurant challenge, you play by the restaurant's rules. The platter could be 6 or 8 lbs. Well, it's a nice assortment of food. This picture makes me want breakfast.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Three Men, Two Pizzas

An interesting situation arises when two different friends want to complete the same team pizza challenge with you. From my standpoint, I came to the only reasonable conclusion: complete the challenge separately with both guys. And do it on the same day.

Rosati's in La Quinta, CA offers a 16" stuffed crust pizza challenge for two. You gotta pick six toppings, and as usual I recommend going all vegetable. Veggies lose more water weight when they cook, and they are less salty than meat toppings so you'll probably take in less water as you eat.

If I had to judge, the pizza weighs in around 8-9 lbs. It takes almost an hour to cook, so I'd say to call it in if you're interested. Winners get their pictures on the wall and a gift certificate refund of $30.

The day of decision was a Saturday in October. I met Matt Cohen at the pizza place with one goal in mind: we were going to destroy the time record, which stood around 24 minutes. Matt's always had great success in speed and sprinting competitions whereas I do better in long distance challenges.

We would need to split the difference today. I pressed hard to finish my half around 11 minutes. Matt started off like a rocket but had still one piece left at the 12-13 minute mark. We divided the last piece (4.5/8 for me) and took the new record in 15m30s. To Matt's credit, the pizza was dense as hell and his volume skill is definitely improving.

Four hours later, it was time for supper. I met up with John Rivera and prepared to face another 16" stuffed crust challenge. Most competitive eaters don't know John yet, but he knows quite a few of you. He lives in Joshua Tree and found out about me after we traded Hogzilla burger records at the Route 62 Diner in Yucca Valley. Most recently, he set a pancake record at the IHOP in Rancho Mirage after nearly doubling the house best.

But this time we were going after pizza, not burgers. The 30 minute time limit didn't seem intimidating even though with food in my stomach this second go would be considerably harder. We ended up splitting this challenge right down the middle, with a win in 27 minutes. John finished his last bite a few moments before mine. 

Two wins over the same challenge in one day.. the owner of the place couldn't believe it, but he was happy to add two more sets of winners to his Wall of Fame.

At the end, my total was 8.5 pieces or just over one entire 16" deep dish. It's not clear to me that I could have finished the entire pie solo in 30 minutes, but it might be something to do one day. There's also a solo 12" deep dish challenge (no winners yet), but I don't think that will give me much trouble.

At least pizza always tastes good. This one tasted great, probably the most buttery and flavorful deep dish I've yet to sample. Rest assured the gift certificates won't sit around unused.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Legend of Babyman

Several years ago, my friends had a son. For whatever reason, I decided to nickname him "Babyman." It was funny at first. Over four years later, the moniker is out of place. I wonder what I'll call him in another ten years.

When he was a baby, he ate a ton. There was a running joke that I might have to take him under my wing one day. That probably won't be happening.  But, the lad is definitely a fan of my side work. His parents tell me he often demands to watch the PCH episode of Man V Food Nation, usually several times a day. I'm glad someone liked it.

Steaks... why did it have to be steaks? 

Friday, November 18, 2011

72 oz Side of Beef

The Iron Hog Saloon, a few miles away from Victorville, offers a 72 oz steak challenge modeled with near exactitude off the Big Texan in Amarillo, Texas.

Getting to the Iron Hog is a bit of a journey. After reaching Victorville, you must drive through several miles of dusty desert road. At some point you wonder if you're going in the right direction. GPS says that you are, but in the desolation you begin to doubt that tinny voice telling you to drive ahead.

It's a biker bar, yes, but they take their challenge very seriously. Here is the competition table. Once time begins, you get one hour to plow through the steak and various sides or you owe them $100. This price tag is a bit steep. I'd say it's the biggest deterrent to any brave soul taking the challenge. On top of the table is an official rundown of the rules and some local trivia.

Now it's time for some backstory. Prior to my visit, I had never done a steak challenge. The idea of trying to eat 4 1/2 lbs of meat seemed intimidating. When I filmed with Adam Richman on the set of Man v Food Nation a week prior to taking this challenge, Richman made sure to sell the point that I'd never done a steak challenge. But, facing a 3 lb tri tip sandwich (which I did for the show) is a bit different from facing a 4.5 lb steak with assorted sides.

Yeah, it's that big. Easily the size of 8 or 9 ordinary steaks that a man or woman would eat for dinner. Before my visit, there was only one challenge winner. Her name is Stephanie Wu, an enthusiastic eating challenger who completed several challenges and operated a sophisticated website documenting challenges before mysteriously disappearing. I hope she's ok, wherever she ended up. Her record time was 59 minutes.

The cook brought out the platter, let me choose my knives, and we were off. I chose to focus on the meat first. In about 8 minutes the steak was over half finished, so I switched over to the potato and tomato slices. Though I didn't have to, I also finished the optional lettuce and cantaloupe slices. They were good for varying up the flavor.

My finish under 29 minutes caused a small uproar in the restaurant. It cut the record time in less than half, so I understand the shock, but there's many eaters who could have finished this challenge in under 15 minutes. Knowing how to tackle a huge steak now, I'm certain I could improve on my own time. It made me nervous when customers would crowd in to watch, but it's not everyday that someone rolls in and manhandles the biggest meal on the menu.

And without a doubt, this is a challenge that I would love to do a second time. It tasted phenomenal, the cut of meat wasn't too fatty, and there are several sides on the menu so there's plenty to choose from. Given the price tag there's no way they'd let me have another one on the house.

They even have a guest book! There's only been two challenge restaurants, in my experience, that offered that nice touch. The other, famous for pancakes and weary travelers, will be the focus of an upcoming post.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Video: 20,000 Calorie Challenge

Finally, here's the video of the 20k calorie challenge. Some referred to it as the 20k intestinal run. Trail mix was simply a bad choice for a volume challenge. The pumpkin ice cream made the experience palatable at least.

The video is more or less a parody of "Epic Meal Time" crossed with Man v Food. My students did a good job asking questions and providing commentary during the challenge. This production will likely serve as the starting point for a multimedia club at my school. Hopefully we will find more interesting things to record besides food.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fishy Choice

I know some people who won't touch sushi at the supermarket. Well.. as long as it's still edible...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Riding the Sunset

If you can eat a 3 lb sandwich in short order, Hollywood's Sunset Deli may have a free meal waiting for you. Their Challenger Sandwich normally costs $30, but finish faster than the current champ your meal is on the house, along with a cool shirt, and your pic on the wall of fame and website. You also earn the right to create a sandwich to be placed on the menu. 

The sandwich comes with several cuts of meat and your choice of cheese. If you have any issues regarding taset or diet, they will gladly sub out one food for more of another. 3 lbs is not going to be a huge test for a serious eater. The issue is getting over the time limit. When I visited last February, the record was 19 minutes, held by a local customer.

My strategy was simple. Use the soda that comes with the meal to moisten the bread and push through the massive meat pile. 19 minutes was not a huge hurdle to climb and I was able to finish just over 16 minutes. The staff could tell I was on my way to a win early on, though they hoped I could do it sub-15. Everything was delicious. I think my only regret was that there wasn't more food to be eaten.

And yes, you do need to eat the pickle to be counted a winner. Time stops when the last bite is swallowed. Whatever glory I earned from this challenge was fleeting. Kevin Ross, newly independent, recently visited the restaurant and topped my time with a finish under 11 minutes.