Competitive eating can take one some pretty interesting places -- Singapore to eat CP Shrimp wontons, Guantanamo Bay to entertain sailor soldiers eating hot dogs, or the gym of Paul D Schreiber High School (Home of the Vikings!) to eat a pizza in six minutes against two health teachers.
How did I end up on a random Thursday, furiously eating pizza with a reverse fold, while standing in a wrestling ring as 1,000 high school seniors cheered, laughed, and were slightly disgusted? As a kid, one is told to finish their vegetables, but how many kids end up as the three time corn-on-the-cob eating champion (42 ears in 12 minutes)? I have been a Major League Eater for 11 years -- yes, there really is a league, check out www.majorleagueeating.com to see when we are coming to your hometown to eat a lot of food in a short amount of time. There is a documentary that charts my journey from casual diner to pro eater immodestly titled, Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating, but I will try to give you some highlights from my career throughout this blog. I've eaten oysters on Letterman, hot sauce on Emeril, and cannolis on the Sopranos. I am even a video game avatar, where folks can try to out eat my corn total on their phones. Many of these achievements were goals I never had for myself, until the opportunity presented itself. And all these opportunities I owe to my stomach.
I played three sports at a Division III college, but was always better at the pre-game meal than the actual athletic endeavor. I measured pasta in pounds before we played Haverford in basketball. In football, against Muhlenberg, I ate nine bagels the morning of the game (full disclosure: I was the third string punter). I was on the high jump team, but only Fosbury flopped enough to be on the jump team. However, at The Rotisserie, an all-you-can-eat joint near Franklin and Marshall that features food in a giant turning wheel, I had the kitchen staff cheering and the head chef crying after I finished all mashed potatoes, single stomachely, in a one-wheel rotation. I am a gourmet and a gourmand; I love good food in large quantities. A great meal doesn't send me belt unbuckled to the coach, but excites me for the next meal or the left side of the dessert menu. I stay in shape by going to gym, jogging the Williamsburg Bridge three times a week, and, in the competitive eating off-season, trying not to each French toast 11 days in a row. I do watch what I eat -- every bite, chew, and swallow -- so that I can compete between 25 and 45 times a year, eating everything from Ben's Chili (three-quarters of a gallon in six minutes) to Krystal Hamburgers (49 in eight minutes) to cannoli (22 in six minutes). Well, I eat everything but quinoa, which the MLE has yet sanction (although the world record in grits is 21 pounds).
Everything in moderation, including excess. Yes, that was me at the Showboat Casino on Fat Tuesday drinking a beer and smoking a cigar after eating just under four pounds of King Cake, so perhaps I am not the food role model for everyone, but every Fourth of July, 40,000 faithful gather at the intersection of Stillwell and Surf in Coney Island, 2 million more watch on ESPN, and news cameras around the world focus on the maelstrom of meat -- the Nathan's International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Granted, I am a table-ender, generally getting my wiener number lapped by Tim "Eater X" Janus or Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, but here the pre-game meal is the main event. The Nathan's contest is the Tour de France, the Masters, and the Super Bowl rolled into a hot dog bun. I've been fortunate to be at the final table for a decade. Where can eating too many hot dogs get you?
In 2009 Navy Entertainment partnered with Major League Eating and we've sent more than 15 gurgitators on seven tours of duty to entertain at military bases across the globe. Besides seeing and eating in places like Guam, South Korea, Diego Garcia, Japan, Italy, Greece, and Gitmo, the experience for most eaters is life-changing. The experience for the military is enjoyment as the pro-am format allows for soldiers to cheer or jeer their fellow men and women. I've toured the USS Ohio, a nuclear sub, and eaten hard-boiled eggs on the USS Fitzgerald. I've talked to thousands of soldiers about their favorite foods, what they miss the most being overseas, and where to get the best (or strangest) chow near base. It is humbling and amazing how hard these men and women work so that I can celebrate patriotism with a stomachache on July 4th. Occasionally, I eat too much, but I do it for America and it feels great. So the next time you sit down to a lunch, don't look at it as the same old humdrum food -- think of it as training for the Major League Eating circuit and dream as big as your stomach capacity will allow.
Crazy Legs Conti can be found in cyberspace at www.crazylegsconti.com and as close to reality as he comes, at Coleman's Bar and Grill in NYC.