I’m not sure what it is with people who stuff themselves silly with food all in the name of unhealthy competition, but after what I saw this weekend, believe you me, it is fascinating. Saturday was the 3rd Annual Gyoza Eating Championship in Little Tokyo. Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, world renowned eating competitor whose most recent shark maneuver was beating Kobayashi by downing 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, has the world record (because there are records for just about anything) for gyoza eating, tallying 231 gyozas in 10 minutes at last year’s Gyoza Eating Championship. On Saturday, he hopped in his car and took a drive down to Little Tokyo from his hometown of San Jose to defend his title. Sure, there was a $1,000 grand prize, but that’s just small potatotes (or gyozas) — this here contest is all about pride.
A pictorial recap, after the jump.
Competing against Joey were other eaters ranked by the International Federation of Competitive Eating and a field of local eaters. Local eaters included a local heckler (“Heck”) who threw down $50 to win a raffle/auction to compete in the contest; the combined efforts of the 2008 Nisei Week Queen and Court (“2008 Royalty”); and, in a last minute addition, a young woman in sunglasses (“YWIS”). The 2009 Queen and Court (“2009 Royalty”), meanwhile, were responsible for passing plates of gyozas (25 gyozas per plate) to the eaters. Props to these girls, as they were directly in the line of fire in the excellent chance that their eater overate and instinctively turned around to hurl.
The 2009 Nisei Week Queen, Dana Fujiko Heatherton, had the somewhat stressful job of making sure that Joey’s empty plate was immediately removed and replaced with a full one. Wallace and Gromit were right; success does depend on the skills of others.
The eaters set up their mises en place. The 2009 Royalty stood ready to refill their charges.
The announcer set the timer and … go! 10 minutes!
Based on the gyoza I snagged and ate after the competition, it appeared stuffed with meat (I couldn’t tell for sure) and a bit doughy – pretty heavy. They also were cold. Bummer.
Techniques amongst the competitors varied. Several eaters, including members of the 2008 Royalty, opted for the one-by-one method. Others chose the preschool grab-and-see-how-many-I-can-stuff-in-my-mouth-look-ma-no-hands! route. Joey’s way appeared to be more like the latter than the former, but he covered his mouth as he chewed/stuffed so I couldn’t be too sure. Perhaps he was trying to keep it all in. Perhaps he was covering his technique from the audience, a la Eddie Van Halen. Or, perhaps that’s just how he eats all his food. He also jumped and bobbed his head around a lot, something that the other more seasoned eaters also did from time to time. Does this help in not throwing up? In digestion? In keeping his jaws loose? So many questions.
By the end of Minute 1, Joey had eaten 52 gyozas. That’s almost one per second. The local amateur eaters didn’t look too bad either.
At Minute 3, or when one song on the background soundtrack ended and another began, Joey had consumed 90 gyozas, or almost 4 plates. Most others were still working their way through the first paper plate. Somewhere between Minutes 6 and 8, though, everyone hit the competitive eater’s version of writer’s block, where nothing was coming in or out.
But the block was brief. Within seconds, everyone was back to stuffing. Using his time honored Oxygen Mask Technique, Joey continued to put those gyozas away. By Minute 8, Joey had eaten/swallowed over 150 gyozas. With about two minutes left, he needed to eat the equivalent of just over two plates, or 56 gyozas, to break his old record. Even though his opening salvo was 54 in quick succession, I wasn’t too sure if he could break his record – his gyoza-per-minute rate (“GPM”) had declined considerably over the course of the first 8 minutes.
The final seconds were a race in hand-mouth coordination, stomach expansion, and smashing. With the exception of Joey, everyone abandoned their original technique and either 1) gave up a few feet before the finish line or 2) jammed as many dumplings into their mouths as possible. Just as the closing whistle sounded, one contestant (who shall remain nameless) chose door #2 when he should have chosen door #1: his stomach, deciding that enough gyozas were had for the year, sent some back from whence they came. “Elvis has left the building,” the host announced. Indeed.
When the final whistle blew, can you guess who won?
Of course! The picture above is Joey after gobbling the contest-winning 181 gyozas. One hundred eighty-one. That’s 18.1 GPM, or about a third of a gyoza every second. It’s impressive, but still fairly shy of his record-setting 231 gyozas from last year. The second place finisher, Damon Wells, wasn’t even close, having smushed only (only!) 128 gyozas into his mouth. And even though this isn’t the Olympics where each sex crowns its own winner (see The Black Widow), hats off to YWIS, who ate 37 gyozas, more than any other woman in the field (the 2008 Royalty collectively ate 86 gyozas, but that was a team effort). She even beat out Heck, who ate a grand total of 30 gyozas.
After the contest, Joey did not, as I expected, immediately head to the restroom. Instead, he was nice enough to pose for photographs and sign his John Hancock to adoring fans.
Will Joey return next year to defend and/or defeat his record? Will the 2009 Royalty eat more than the 2008 Royalty’s 87 gyozas? Will Nagano-born Kobayashi fly out to challenge Joey and compete in a contest aimed at celebrating Japanese and Japanese-American culture? Will the gyozas be less doughy? Until next year …