Friday, July 27, 2012

To Challenge the Beast

I remember the first watermelon eating contest I was in. I remember it because if I don't, I am doomed to repeat that mistake, too. -BC

I come from a time and place filled with county fairs and summer socials. We went to pancake breakfasts and Kiwanis chicken Barbecues. I could never get my fill of corn on the cob, or buttermilk biscuits. All year I would salivate in anticipation of the next volunteer firemen's carnival; where my dad would be serving up the best pepper, onion and hot Italian sausage sandwich that was ever grilled. I have not yet found its equal.
To say the least, I am a social eater and I will furthermore confess to having participated in a number of so called "food challenges" of varying intensities throughout my years; ranging from the simple "double dog dare" to the Cardinal Puff Toasting memory-hole of my college years to a badly executed attempt at duplicating Cool Hand Luke's hard-boiled egg triumph... (forgetting entirely that Cool Hand Luke was a fictional character in a Hollywood movie).

That being said, I am set upon my heels by the stupefying propagation of high-test professional grade eating challenges in the last decade. I googled up a batch of them and was amazed. I found this eating news/database and calendar for professional competitors called Eat Feats. Here, you got all your 9 pound hamburgers, 72 oz steaks, flaming hot wings, 10 egg omelets with the works, 28 inch/10 pound pizzas and 2 foot sausages. Here you can schedule your belly bursting holiday by starting with a 5 pound breakfast burrito at the Side Bar & Restaurant in West Chester, PA, moving on to Joey's Famous Philly Cheesecakes for the "Death by Cheesecake" (2 foot wide cheesecake) challenge, and easing on down the road to finish up with a late diner at the "I'm a Fat Bast@rd" Eating Competition in Manhattan to down a pound of fried fish at A Salt & Battery. And that's just one day of your fabulous Food Competitors Tour of the Northeast. How will you survive day two?

Now, I have never competed at the Pro level, nor do I foresee that I ever will, but it's nice to know there are some challenges that are designed for the more common human beings among us who enjoy both good food and a little challenge to go on the side.

One such haven of attainable gustatory fame is Blake's Place in Anaheim and Los Alamitos, CA. They are a full fledged pit smoked BBQ cafe and catering operation that doesn't skimp on the good stuff. Besides serving some of the most tender and succulent smoked meats, to literally more than a million guests since opening in 1996, eating there is just plain fun.

Plus, there's "the Beast". It's a two and a half pound mound of pulled pork, pulled BBQ chicken, chopped beef brisket, coleslaw, sliced red onion, pickles and BBQ sauce served on an enormously oversized bun. They stick a couple of skewers in the monster to keep it together (I think they look like antennae) and there you have it. If you choose to take the challenge - finish everything on your plate in 20 minutes - and succeed ,you get a tee shirt (see below). And if you break the record you get the sandwich, a $15.99 value, for free. If you want, you can even go for a DOUBLE.
The Prized Tee-Shirt Logo
I had the honor of witnessing a challenge going down Wednesday evening as I was "babysitting" a new point-of-sale installation at Blake's Place in Anaheim. The gourmathelete, a truck driver for a supply warehouse informs me that he has been training for this all day by working a 10 hour shift. It is his first attempt in this event, but he is confident he will be successful. A Blake's associate explains the rules of engagement: 20 minutes to finish the whole shmegegge and no substitutions on the order - you get what you get and you don't get upset. Next, his name and other vital statistics are entered into the official Beastlog and he is supplied with a digital timer, preset to countdown from 20 minutes. And, finally the sandwich is delivered to him, notably with less pomp and circumstance than I might have expected. But, after all, this is the Grassroots League not the "Show".

The associate finalizes all the official preliminary business, snaps a photo of Man and Beast for the record, does the "Ready-set-GO!" and starts the timer.

At first, the contender takes a moment to size up his competition. Is that a glimmer of "What have I gotten myself into..." in his eyes? Hard to tell. It is fleeting though. I'm sure he doesn't want to show any fear. Not now. This is his moment. He turns the plate slowly to see the mountainous concoction from every angle. He must plan his first move carefully. Should he just go for the slam? Should he try and stuff that thing in his mouth as is? No, it just seems too massive for this approach. He could break it down into components and nibble it into submission. Alas, the time limit would not allow for that path of assault. Seconds tick, digitally, and still not a bite has been taken.

The party of four at the table next to him, aware of his quest, are beginning to cheer him on a little. They want to see him succeed. Or they just want to see him get on with it.

Another moment, and we can see that he has chosen his tactic. Divide and conquer it will be. He's reaching for the knife! He cuts about a third off the sandwich and takes it in his hands. There's the first bite, and he's off!

I will spare you, gentle reader, of the blow by blow description of the (for lack of a better word, I will borrow a made up one from Big Dan Teague) gustation that followed. However I have provided a video of different challenge made on some other day. Words are neither necessary, nor descriptive enough to fully communicate what transpires in one of these events. Be warned, this video is graphic and hard to watch if you are at all squeamish about food, have eating phobias, or suffer from OCD.

In the end, there were cheers all around. The challenge was met in 15 minutes and 45 seconds. It was not a record, but it was one in the "Win" column for humanity. The record at this writing, in the Men's category, is 4 minutes and 5 seconds. Women are welcome to compete as well, and their record is 16 minutes even.

Our intrepid gourmathelete had beaten the Beast. He supplied his tee-shirt size (2XL) to the Blake's associate who returned and presented him with his prize. It was done. An Air of Satisfaction mixed with and infused the hickory smokey atmosphere of Blake's Place in Anaheim with its heady bouquet.

I know that smell. It smells a lot like Italian Sausage with peppers and onions.

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