"Sonya, Sonya, Sonya," was heard, not from the fans at the Acme Oyster Eating Contest during New Orleans' Oyster Festival, as they had absconded from the pit in a pouring deluge of rain right at the eight-minute contest's end. No, this was not the usual rabid chanting that follows Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas from coast to coast on the Major League Eating circuit; These were the disappointing cries (much like, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia," on The Brady Bunch) from Adrian "The Rabbit" Morgan's very attractive fan base. The Rabbit had placed second, valiantly slurping thirty dozen oysters (and drinking interesting flavor-changing beverages), while Sonya, The Baroness of the Bivalve, The Mistress of the Mollusk, the... anyway, Sonya ate forty dozen. Her smiling visage, her slender arms holding aloft the bejeweled oyster belt would make the front page (the whole front page) of the Times Picayune's Monday edition. I was once the Oyster King in 2002 but was relegated to page 2 (wearing a jaunty Goorin Brothers Hat as I have for the last ten competitive eating contest -- how many until I get a sponsorship deal?)
Speaking of the Times Picayune, my goal this year was to beat beat reporter James Karst, who had shown promise in the Rouse's Crawfish Championship and decided to turn pro in Oysters. Karst had done finger-tip push-ups to improve his manual dexterity. Karst had chewed frozen Hubig's Pies to increase jaw strength. Karst had watched video tape, picking up on Sonya's economy of motion, where she spears four mollusks at once and gulps them down anaconda-style. At the end of the contest, when the skies opened and poured rain down onto the fans in the spray zone, I thought I had Karst beat by a dozen. Later, the Major League Eating Twitter Feed would list us as tied at fifteen dozen. Instant replay has yet to be implemented in competitive eating and there was certainly no recount as the band the Mulligan Brothers had to take the stage just after the contest (Hey, Styx played after a chili eating contest and they didn't complain). I consider this reportage yellow journalism or maybe battleship grey after the oysters' hue. Regardless of Sonya's greatness, Adrian's focus, and the epic Karst/Conti "Uno Mas Oyster" battle of 2014, the day belonged to the oysters. I assume it rained because the oysters wanted that weather. Oysters thrive in the intersection of fresh and salt water, perhaps rain is nice intermezzo? I should have asked Sal Sunseri, the public face of P&J Oysters, a distribution company that has been in his family for over 100 years. I tried to talk to Sal, but he wanted to show me a photo of the current Ms. USA slurping a giant mollusk. Lest you think otherwise, Sal's gaze was firmly rooted on the oyster. He wants to make the photo into a billboard. Each year Sal team-leads a civilian group that goes oyster harvesting via one of Sal's providers. Last year, I was the guest of Captain Wilbur Collins and his sons as we hit Area 15. You ask a New York foodie where the best coal oven pizza is, prepare for a dissertation. However, NOLA foodies far surpass the NYC pizza snobs. I overheard this actual statement from a Oyster Festival bystander -- "You know we had some oysters from Area 4 and they were big and creamy." Who Dat who knows oysters -- New Orleanians do. I am 86 Netflix episodes in on the 202 X-Files shows and wish that Nola had an Area 51 to harvest Alien Oysters.
The Heritage Tent houses the closest thing to extraterrestrial oysters as each year it runs a largest oyster contest. Some of the finalist weigh 2 1/2 pounds as a single oyster (shell included) and are sometimes a foot long or as large as a flattened volleyball. If and when I retire from competitive eating, I would like to do it at the Acme Oyster Contest, coming full oblong, as my first pro-event was the first contest in 2002. However, I would ask that instead of mounting the largest oyster on a commemorative plaque, I get to eat that champion oyster during the eight-minute contest. One man, one stomach, one oyster. Would the oyster feel it?
According to Mary Roach's informative book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal and the footnote on page 175, Oyster expert Steve Geiger says an oyster's emotional state is low on the scale, but could possibly switch to an anaerobic mode (no oxygen) and survive for a few moments in the belly. I believe in the oyster consciousness -- my stomach communes with them, like a beacon welcoming them back into the bosom of the Gulf. My enteric brain, the one in my prodigious gut, has a psychic connection to the mighty mollusk. Hence my belly rumbled and the bivalves telepathed, "Let it rain."
So when the rain stopped, but Sonya's reign continued, Adrian announced where the afterparty was going to be -- a bar titled, "The Upper Quarter." Normally, I would dictate where the afterparty is held, however, as I am in my Fat Elvis stage of competitive eating (I need a navel-gazing jumpsuit to distract from my crumbling eating ability) and Adrian Morgan is in the Elvis, teen idol, hip shaking phase of his, we went to his bar. And what a bar it is. There were all of Adrian's co-workers from Delmonico, the giant TV was replaying the contest, and Adrian has his own signature drink, "The Dead Rabbit." It is a bloody mary mix, vodka, cucumber ears, and the secret ingredient -- Sheffield, England's favorite relish, Mr. Henderson's, which is really more of a malt vinegar/soy sauce liquid. Adrian was swigging it during the oyster contest (along with fruit punch) to change the flavor profile. I was using Abita Amber... perhaps I should pay attention to the young guns of eating after all. The Upper Quarter was hosting a wedding, the ceremony and reception in ten minutes. I was hosting an oyster-eating warm-down -- twenty five pounds of Superior Seafood crawfish and two orders of Fiorella's red beans and rice. A wedding is fine and dandy, something that people should do three or four times in their lives, but Louisiana seafood is forever.
Crazy Legs Conti eats French pasties in the morning and Italian pastries at night at www.crazylegsconti.com