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July 06, 2007

The Houdini of Cuisini

Television gets weirder than normal during the summer when the regular shows are on hiatus. Most of the original programming revolves around cheap-to-produce reality shows. For example, one of them features 20-something women competing with 40-something women for the affection of a winsome 30 year-old guy. This is not exactly Death of a Salesman, though I'll probably watch it. My standards are tragically low.

This is especially true when it comes to sports. I will watch any sports competition, from curling to sumo wrestling, if they put it on the tube. (The one exception is car racing, the lure of which I don't grasp. Somebody explain it to me.) Which brings me to the "sports" feature I watched form beginning to end over the 4th:  The world hot dog eating championship, sponsored by Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs and held at their flagship restaurant in Coney Island Brooklyn.

I have great affection for Coney Island - the rides, beach food, side shows and amusement park games - having spent a fair amount of my childhood sneaking off to Coney Island on the D Train from my Flatbush neighborhood with my ruffian friends.

Coney Island was what amusement parks used to be before Walt Disney realized there was a fortune to be had in cleaning up the experience, providing a safe, antiseptic environment for the growing middle-class and their families. Coney Island was a lot of things, but not in the realm of antiseptic. Coney Island was real and raunchy, sexy and ripe with possibility. The difference between Disney World and Coney Island is precisely the difference between Pat Boone and Jerry Lee Lewis. Me - I preferred things with a whole lotta shakin' going on.

Tens of thousands of Brooklynites flock to Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island to watch this event every year, which has been held since 1916. The first year the winner ate 16 hot dogs in 12 minutes. This year's winner ate 66. Yes, 66. That's a lot of hot dogs.

The TV announcers presented the event only slightly tongue-in-cheek. Mostly they used traditional sports jargon, exploring the training regimens and background stories of the various competitors. I was riveted.

Picture the stage in front of the hot dog stand, replete with a couple midgets in American flag-patterned tuxedos and top hats, old men in bowlers, pretty girls in short shorts and halters and various vaguely official-looking judges. After an endless series of introductory speeches and hokey presentations, they came to the introduction of the competitors, my favorite part. Each one sprung onto the stage to the screams of the wildly cheering Brooklyn crowd. Here's some of them:

Kamil "the Hague" Hamersky, a Czech native who holds the world record in plum dumplings and honey-cake. (Everyone of these guys holds the "world record" in one food or another. There's more belts than professional boxing.)

Crazy Legs Conti, a professional magician from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, who holds the world record in green beans. Among his gustatory feats was eating his way out of an 8' box of popcorn. He's also known as the Houdini of Cuisini. (I love that.)

Kenji Oguni from Japan, who holds the record in all sorts of noodle dishes. His nickname is "Darkwater." Oooooh . . .

Allen "the Shredder" Goldstein from New Jersey, who holds the bologna record, of course.

Tim Janus, who competes in modified Kiss make-up.

Rich "the Locust" Lefevre, from Nevada, who, at 60+, is the eminence gris of the competition. He holds the records for Spam and chili. God love 'em.

"Humble" Bob Shoudt, the only vegetarian on the circuit, but "he strays to compete in these major events." I don't know, Humble Bob - there's still the karma.

Patrick Bertoletti, the sweets specialist, holding records in ice cream and key lime pie.

Sonya Thomas, from Japan, known as the "black widow," who holds records in oysters and, oddly, sweet potatoes. I think she must have weighed 80 lbs. wet. As a rare female competitive eater, she's also known as the "Gloria Steinem of the Gullet." Feminism continues to change our world for the better.

Eric "Badlands" Booker, an African-American guy, who weighed easily 375 lbs. You'd think these master eaters would all be huge, but most of them are quite thin, go figure. Eric's specialty is donuts, big surprise.

Chip "Beef" Simpson holds the tamale world record.

Takeru Kobayashi, the Japanese Tiger Woods of competitive eating, he had won this hot dog contest 5 years running. Among many world records he holds is the consumption of calf's brains. Yum. He often competes with orange hair.

Joey Chestnut, America's Great White Hope to steal the title back from Kobayashi.

Spoiler Alert:   Joey won, beating Kobayashi 66-63 dogs! God Bless America !!!

July 6, 2007 at 02:28 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink


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I remember watching a tv show on how these guys trained. There were a couple of guys going from competition to competition, all over the country, to try to get qualifed for the big Nathan's contest. They would go to those steak houses that had the huge slabs of beef that you got for free if you ate it in an hour, or something like that. I think one guy was crying before he finished his last bite just before his time ran out. You wouldn't think it, but trying to prepare for something like that looks tough.

Posted by: Lizzy | Jul 6, 2007 3:14:41 PM

Hey, Lizzy - if you were to compete in a competitive eating event, what would be your food?

Posted by: Jernigan Pontiac | Jul 6, 2007 3:17:20 PM

Although I'm not Lizzy I would say... cherry tomatoes - do you think there is such thing as a cherry tomato eating contest? If so, sign me up!!!

Posted by: | Jul 6, 2007 6:26:43 PM

Well, I checked, Cherry Tomato Lover, and found the website for I.F.O.C.E. (International Federation of Competitive Eating, natch.) IFOCE. com.

As part of the IFOCE's "Tour de Gorge," is a Cherry Tomato contest. So, begin your training, and keep us posted.

I would comepete, BTW, in the fudgicle division.

Posted by: Jernigan Pontiac | Jul 6, 2007 7:20:28 PM

I think there's a lobster contest too; that sounds like real gluttony.

Posted by: pb | Jul 6, 2007 8:52:48 PM

I can eat fifty eggs.

Posted by: Molly | Jul 6, 2007 10:22:41 PM

Cool Hand Molly

Posted by: Jernigan Pontiac | Jul 7, 2007 11:08:25 AM

Hmm, if I had to pick a food to compete in, I would probably have to say either pickles or pizza. I know I watched a guy doing hot peppers one time, I've never seen a grown man cry that much.

Posted by: Lizzy | Jul 9, 2007 12:20:02 PM

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