Monday, February 27, 2012

Concluding Cheesesteaks in Corona

Here is the assembled cast from yesterday afternoon's cheesesteak contest. We're smiling after the rumble, but there was a definite battle at the table.

Some contests go off without a hitch. That isn't always the case, unfortunately, but we still manage to have a good time no matter what's going wrong.

OK, so here's the rundown. It was a 10 minute contest. We would eat all the 10" cheesesteaks we could, and the winner would get $50 cash, a $25 gift card to Mill Creek restaurant, and a gift card to a local racing track. Nothing for second prize and below but a free meal.

The food looked incredible and tasted memorable. However, there wasn't enough pre-made to handle the action of the contest. We started with three sandwiches apiece. Once things got going, the kitchen had to rush to get more food to us. Some of the competitors were true sports. When it was clear that Kevin Ross and The Spicialist were clearly ahead, and food wasn't ready to keep their pace, the others gave them their spare sandwiches.

Matt Cohen, Mary Bowers, and especially Frank Paulin deserve major credit for being team players. Frank spent the last 1:10 of the contest without any extra food placed in front of him. It definitely hampered his performance in my mind.

The rules of the contest did not suit me well. Dunking was forbidden. I don't do well in picnic-style events for that reason. Getting down 4 sandwiches was a fight. In fact, Cohen was level with me until the last few moments, when I chipmunked half a sandwich. He wasn't happy about that.

Mary also struggled with the no-dunk rules. The only guys who weren't affected by the contest format were The Spicialist and Kevin, who managed to pack in 5.5 sandwiches each when the time stopped.

It looked like a tie for first place. And this is where the biggest controversy of the day occurred. The owner of the restaurant naturally holds full discretion over the contest. Seeing that The Spicialist swallowed his food first, he was awarded the tie-breaker win. This surprised Kevin. And, of course, those of us with serious eating contest experience were taken aback as well.

The whole issue stemmed from a lack of clarity regarding the rules for a finish. Part of the problem was that every cheesesteak contest held at Philly's Best in Corona in 2011 was dominated by Johnnie Excel. No one got close to Johnnie, so the winning decision was clear.

But this time, mere bites separated a champion from merely a full stomach. Had Kevin known about the swallowing provision (cleared mouth), I have no doubts he would have made a stronger effort to power down that last mouthful. We were all under the impression that they were counting empty plates to tally results. I expected an eat-off.

That being said, The Spicialist fully deserved to win. He's put in a lot of hard work recently, and proven that he has the tools needed to do well in competitive eating. Results are showing for him far and wide. He put in a winning number yesterday.

Hot words followed the decision, but fortunately better judgment prevailed, things were smoothed over, and all was well. Just so there's no confusion, the tension was not between the two top competitors. The conflict was limited to the nature of the contest decision. It's unfortunate that these things happen, but they do.

That's another eating contest behind us. We're all looking forward to the next one. If nothing else stands in the way, Southern California's finest could clash over corndogs at the Redondo Beach kite festival in two weeks.

Corona Cheesesteak Results 02/26/12

1T)  The Spicialist           5.5 sandwiches* declared champion
1T)  Kevin Ross               5.5
2)    Naader Reda             4
3)    Matt Cohen               3.5
4)    Frank Paulin             3.25+ * no food for last 1:10
5)    Mary Bowers            2.5

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cheesesteaks Return to Corona

There may not be blood, but there will be cheese. Philly's Best of Corona is celebrating its 6th anniversary with another cheesesteak eating contest.

Southern California's crop of competitive eaters will be congregating for this cheesy affair. Mary Bowers, Kevin Ross, Frank Paulin, Matt Cohen, The Spicialist, and I will eat all we can for 10 minutes. At the end, Corona will crown a new cheesesteak eating hero.

Noticeably absent is Johnnie Excel. He's the local hero, with a record of 7.25 cheesesteaks in 10 minutes. I hear there's a bonus on the line if any of the competitors can break his record. Otherwise, the contest will provide the winner with $50 cash and a gift certificate.

Cheesesteaks are fast becoming a favorite of mine. Let's see if I can top 5 sandwiches this time (though I wouldn't mind eating 8). This has been a strange month for me. Normally known for doing challenges, I've snuck in four contests in February.

Is this a sign of things to come? What else does 2012 have in store, besides unanswered questions?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Raising the Bar

The bar was set at 41 pancakes last night. Johnnie Excel and I have started this game of one-upsmanship recently, and it shows no signs of vanishing into the cold night.

It started a long time ago, really. We were curious as to who would win a capacity battle between the two of us. Unfortunately, differences in our skill sets made most comparisons impossible. Excel does well in speed contests, whereas I achieve my best in longer competitions.

We discussed meeting at a buffet. Nothing really came of that (yet). We clashed recently at Chick Fil A's nugget eating contest, but that really wasn't a fair test. Chicken nuggets aren't Johnnie's favorite food and the salt content deterred most participants from going for broke.

But pancakes are a whole other matter. We both love them. Luckily, Denny's runs a $4 promotion for all-you-can-eat pancakes. Finally, there's a potential proving ground for us.

Last year, I was featured in the local Yucca Valley newspaper for eating 33 pancakes at Denny's in 90 minutes. Now, Johnnie has raised the bar to 41 hotcakes in two hours. Can I push it to 45?

And yes, those are pictures of hot dogs up above. I will leave the symbolic meaning up to you.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Interesting Results

Yesterday's chicken nugget eating contest wrapped up in under two hours. I won the contest for the fourth time with a record total of 212 nuggets, exactly double the 106-total my predecessor posted in the very first Chick Fil A (La Habra) contest.

The new women's division crowned a brand new champion in Cheyenne. She ate 50 nuggets and outlasted several talented opponents. After the contest, Cheyenne told me she decided to enter the contest after reading one of my old blog post's about Chick Fil A. Well, those were certainly very kind words. There was something cool about getting someone new into competitive eating.

Now, onto the interesting details of the contest. My main competition in the event was Johnnie Excel. At the start, he dominated the proceedings by eating 50 nuggets at a very brisk pace. I was behind Excel for quite awhile. He pushed me to eat aggressively. Johnnie slowed down around 100 nuggets, mostly because they were incredibly hot. I also believe that the sodium overload was setting in.

When Johnnie was almost at 120 nuggets, I was nearly at 130. This was 30 minutes into the event. I hadn't expected to take the lead that soon, knowing how quickly Excel can eat from past experiences. He decided not to drag out the two hour contest and stopped eating after 120 nuggets. This would actually be good enough for second place. In all honesty, the nuggets were viciously salty and greasy. It's not the type of food you want to eat for the long haul. One day, we will have a true capacity battle with a more palatable food.

This contest reflects a major accomplishment for me. It's my first-ever contest victory over Excel, though I would characterize it as a forfeit win. Johnnie was not maxed out when he stopped. Salted out maybe, maxed out no. I'm going to have to work very hard if I want to best Excel in another competition, short game or long.

Third place went to John Rivera, who ate 110 nuggets in his first-ever eating contest. He represented the High Desert well. There were people there cheering for him and he had a great time. I'm looking for him to do more damage in future competitions. His speed with hot dogs isn't bad at all. Fourth place went to The Spicialist, who ate 100 nuggets in a very non-serious effort. In fact, he ate 20 nuggets hands-free and doused several of his nuggets in ghost pepper flakes.

Though I broke my own previous record by 6 nuggets, I was not full at 212. The Spicialist told me not to go further, mostly because of the vast sodium intake I was dealing with. That, and to leave more ground to cover in future contests. There were still 20 minutes to go and I have no doubts that 230 was within my ability. Next time!

Special thanks go to Frank Paulin, who put up a personal best of 90 nuggets in his third appearance at a Chick Fil A contest. He weighed samples of nuggets and determined that I ate nearly 8 lbs. His share was 3.3 lbs.

John Kim participated as well. He ate 40 nuggets but didn't push himself to any limits. I'm looking forward to participating with him again next month at RA Sushi. Mary Bowers was on her way to winning the women's title but suffered an unfortunate reversal of fortune after consuming 50+ nuggets early on.

A little salt on an open wound perhaps, but she was a good sport about it. She finished the day smiling, which is more than I could say for myself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Looking Down the Pike

When 2012 started, there were a few goals floating in my mind. One was to find an eating challenge that would defeat me. In that aim, I have succeeded. The first fail of 2012 was spectacular. It warrants its own post and there will be pics and video of it.

Closer at hand now is the Chick Fil A nugget eating contest this Saturday, in La Habra. I'm the three-time defending champion with a house record of 206 nuggets. My competition this time is impressive: Johnnie Excel, The Spicialist, and quite possibly Tom Gilbert. I will consider it a major triumph if I win. I don't doubt the 206 nugget record will be shattered by more than one of us.

My minimum goal is to put away 230 nuggets in the two hours. I am linking a charitable donation to my performance in the nugget contest, so I'm hoping my fellows and my own internal drive push me to put up a huge number.

And beyond that, I haven't forgotten that February is National Pancake Month. I'm hoping to do something outrageous in that vein before the Ides of March are upon us.

But first... chicken nuggets await.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Nugget Bowl

Once again, we find ourselves on a winding road heading to the next confrontation. This Saturday is Chick-Fil-A of La Habra's first nugget eating contest of 2012.

The contest is special for me because I'm going in as the champion. That's not something I can say often. My specialty in competitive eating is challenges. Few contests match my skill set for eating over a long period, but this one fits the bill. It's two hours of drawn-out nugget eating.

But two things make this contest unique. The first is the creation of a separate women's division. Mary Bowers is making her nugget debut this weekend, and barring an appearance by Stephanie Torres or Jessica "The Queen of Cuisine," I expect her to take home the title.

The second factor of interest is the stacked field I face in this contest. The three contests of 2011 attracted little attention, but my 206-nugget house record is bringing eaters out of the woodwork. Frank Paulin and The Spicialist are returning for another contest. The Spicialist proved my biggest threat ever in the last competition, downing 197 nuggets before calling it quits.

John Rivera of Joshua Tree is making his contest debut at Chick-Fil-A. His strong skill enabled him to topple my Hogzilla burger record at the Route 62 Diner in Yucca Valley twice. In fact, he is their current champion at 16 patties (4 lbs). No doubt, he will do some damage this weekend.

John Kim, who participates in various Southern California eating contests, will also be present. There's also a chance we could see participation by Stephen Obar and various members of Wreckless Eating.

However, that doesn't fully describe the magnitude of the threat facing me this time out. Johnnie Excel has decided to make his debut at the nugget contest this weekend. A long awaited capacity battle between us now looms.

I won the nugget title 3 times last year, but Excel may take it all away. He holds a 9-0 record against me in eating contests. The best chance I have against Johnnie is in a long distance contest such as this, where his edges in technique and speed are minimized.

No doubt it will be a close battle in La Habra. Johnnie Excel always takes his contests seriously. I will fight hard to keep the title a fourth time, establish a new record, and finally get a win over the most dominant eater in Southern California.

Friday, February 10, 2012

3 Men, 21 lbs of Pudding

Have you ever had the urge to gather up two of your buddies, crack open three huge cans of pudding, and see who could eat the most in 30 minutes?

Yeah, the thought has struck my mind from time to time. Fortunately no one has taken me up on the offer. Those oversized industrial cans of pudding probably aren't that tasty.

Enter the illustrious characters of Wreckless Eating. These guys specialize in eating the disgusting and the unexpected. Think of them as the forgotten segment of competitive eating. Most of us want to eat a ton, and preferably quickly, but these guys really just want to shock you. I'm developing a taste for it. Fear Factor meets Man V Food.

Matt Zion, Chris Wreckless, and Havik endured a long distance battle to determine WE Pudding Champion of 2012. I was sidelined from the challenge mostly because my specialty is mass consumption. My role in the video is limited to coaching.

But, there's a silver lining. I got in the golden line: "Go 'Til You Blow," which may become the new mantra of competitive eaters everywhere. Anyone who's been involved in an eating contest knows what I'm talking about.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Winging It

Photo courtesy Wingstop Socal facebook

This Saturday looks to be another gathering of the greats in Southern California. Wingstop is hosting a chicken wing eating championship at its Irvine location this Saturday at 1:30 PM. How many wings can you eat in 90 seconds?

Survivors from the qualifying round advance to a 30 second championship round. The winner receives free plane tickets. Runner-up wins a year's supply of chicken wings. Everyone who participates gets free lunch and a T-shirt (particulars still unclear at this point).

I'd like it better if this were a 90 minute contest. The event has already caught the attention of speed demons Johnnie Excel, Kevin Ross, and the Spicialist. It wouldn't be a surprise if Frank Paulin or Mary Bowers showed up as well, as they are Orange County locals.

All five of the previously mentioned competitors have picked up wins in wing eating competitions in the past few months. This will be my first serious shot at a wing contest. I won't make any predictions, because 90 seconds is intense enough to favor any of the people I listed. It's near a university, so I'd expect some collegiate wing eaters to show up too.

It's going to be a fun sprint. It's always nice to hang out with friends. Fortunately for me, it's early enough in the day for me to find something else to eat later.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Charity Cheesesteaks in Corona

Last Saturday was fun in an interesting way. Philly's Best of Corona, working with Johnnie Excel, set up a cheesesteak eating contest outside of the local Sam's Club. Johnnie's role (mostly) was to draft Southern California's competitive eaters for the cause.

In the first round, we had Frank Paulin, Matt Cohen, Mary Bowers, The Spicialist, and I vying to see who could eat the most 10" cheesesteaks in ten minutes. We functioned as a draw to get people out there, watching and donating. Proceeds would benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The second round was interesting. Would-be participants would make donations in order to play, and their prize was the chance to square off against store champion Johnnie Excel, who won several cheesesteak contests at the Corona location of Philly's Best last year. A special prize awaited anyone who could break Excel's record 7.5 cheesesteaks in 10 minutes.

Well, it turned out that no one could touch Johnnie's 2011 record. The first round of the contest was won by The Spicialist with 5.5 cheesesteaks, edging me out by one sandwich. It wasn't a terible result. This was my first cheesesteak contest and The Spicialist generally holds a distinct advantage in speed over me (choking on my first bite notwithstanding). At one point I was down two whole sandwiches. Congratulations are in order for victory. He scored a gift card.

Johnnie absolutely dominated the second round. He took it home with 6.25 sandwiches, but you can't convince me he was giving it his all. The donors weren't able to threaten his record in the least, but they had a lot of fun, including one man who succumbed to a "liquid laugh." Excel received the other gift card.

It was all for a good cause. This was my first experience with a competitive eating event related to charity and I will make sure it's not my last. In a strange way, this reminds me of that bumper sticker urging you not to make a ride in the hearse the only time you cruise in a Cadillac.

The aggregated results:

1) Johnnie Excel    6.25 cheesesteaks
2) The Spicialist     5.5
3) Naader Reda      4.5
4) Matt Cohen        3.75
5) Frank Paulin      3.5
6) Mary Bowers     2

The rounds were held about 80 minutes apart. Some of us joked that I could have joined the second round, but better judgment prevailed.

Johnnie Excel and I will post videos of the contest to YouTube soon.