Ready, set, eat!

Eating contests have an unusual allure

Eating contests have an unusual allure

August 15, 2007|By JULIE E. GREENE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Using a spoon, some youths followed normal etiquette - if you can call wolfing down a pint of vanilla ice cream as fast as possible normal.

Some of them clearly didn't have their hearts into winning the ice cream-eating contest; perhaps they were there for the free ice cream.

But others dove in tongue first, scooped out dripping mounds of vanilla with their bare hands or ripped parts of the Styrofoam pint container off and ate the creamy dessert as if it were corn on the cob.

Sure, playing baseball and going swimming are favorite summer activities, but food-eating contests also are a rite of summer.

Ryan Largent, 14, of Hedgesville, W.Va., won the ice cream- and doughnut-eating contests in the junior division at the Berkeley County Youth Fair last week. He felt sick after eating the ice cream, but he didn't throw up until the next night, after the doughnut contest.


Ryan finished the pint in approximately 2 minutes and 7 seconds - without brain freeze and keeping his shirt clean.

That sounds impressive ... until you compare it to eating 1.75 gallons of vanilla ice cream in 8 minutes. That's the International Federation of Competitive Eating record for ice cream in the short-form format (8-minute time limit).

The record and pace of 1.75 pints per minute belong to Patrick Bertoletti, 22, of Chicago.

Bertoletti, like Ryan, prefers using a spoon when eating ice cream competitively.

But, whereas Bertoletti is a professional competitive eater, Ryan has no such aspirations.

He was coaxed into the ice cream-eating contest by his friends' father, Rick Davis Sr. Davis' children, Maggie, 11, and Ricky, 14 - both of Martinsburg - finished second and third in the ice cream-eating contest.

Of course, Bertoletti didn't dream of going pro when, as a teenager, he beat several middle-aged men in a pie-eating contest at his dad's company picnic.

"I'm kind of into weird, eccentric things," Bertoletti said.

Bertoletti, who also cooks for a catering company and works in a fish store and gourmet shop, eats competitively for several reasons.

As of Tuesday, Bertoletti was ranked No. 3 on the federation's worldwide circuit. He was behind No. 1 Joey Chestnut and No. 2 Takeru Kobayashi, whom Chestnut unseated as the champ of the Nathan's Famous 4th of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Bertoletti got into competitive eating, with a pizza-eating contest, at the suggestion of his sister about three years ago.

He enjoys the camaraderie with the other eaters, visiting towns he never would have seen otherwise, the discipline and mental toughness of the sport, and the situations he faces. At the Michigan State Fair two years ago for a grilled cheese-eating competition, Bertoletti said there were a lot of headbangers in the audience because Alice Cooper was due on stage after the contest.

According to the federation, Bertoletti holds records in 17 eating contests: 16-inch pizza, chocolate, corned beef and cabbage, corned beef sandwiches, date-nut bread, cream-filled doughnuts, ice cream (short form), pickled jalapeos, key lime pie, kolaches, posole, shoo-fly pie, strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberry shortcake, blueberry pie, whole turkeys, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

He will attempt to defend his title at the Three Brothers Pizza World Pizza Eating Championship on Saturday in Greenbelt, Md., where the winner will earn $2,000. Bertoletti's record for 16-inch pizza is 19 slices in 10 minutes.

Most of the foods in the federation-sanctioned contests are determined by sponsors, said Ryan Nerz, the federation's media manager. A few - like the ones for cow brains, mayonnaise and butter - were held for a one-time Fox TV special, "Glutton Bowl," that aired in 2002.

Mind over stomach

Ryan Largent said he hates eating ice cream on hot days because it upsets his stomach, and competition day was sweltering.

For Bertoletti, disliking the food is not a factor.

"I eat in contests all the time where I don't really like the food," Bertoletti said in a recent phone interview. "That's the easy part. The hard part is eating when you're full."

His success really is about mind over matter, Bertoletti said. He has found a way to "turn off" the sense that he's full.

Two days before a contest, he'll eat a big meal, and he consumes a liquid protein shake the day before.

And when he's finished the contest? Are there any "reversals"?

"I digested it. It's really not as bad as it seems. I've done a ton of these contests. Usually after an hour ... to two, I'm pretty good to go."

One of Bertoletti's favorite foods to eat competitively is pie. Contests featuring those desserts are popular in the Tri-State area, as well.

The Jefferson County Fair will offer a pie-eating contest Wednesday, Aug. 22.

"A lot of people in the community come out to participate" in the food-eating contests, said Locke Wysong, publicity chairman for the fair. Often, past winners try to retain their titles.

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