As Katz’s Turns 125, Professional Eaters Binge

Written by NYPress on . Posted in Dining Our Town, Dining West Side Spirit, Our Town, Our Town Downtown, West Side Spirit.


Meat lovers competed for pastrami eating championship

By Adam Janos

It was 86 degrees and humid, and the competitors stood, stone-faced, at the sun-drenched dais. Five gladiators, their arms locked military-style behind their backs, waited as the announcer counted down from ten, the throngs of onlookers pushing at one another, trying to catch a glimpse of the clash of willpower that was about to occur. And then, when the count reached zero, it started.Dining 1
They dunked their heads into salty brine, and began bobbing for pickles.

The Amateur Pickle Bobbing Contest was an appetizer of an event for Katz’s Delicatessen at the Daylife Festival on Orchard Street Sunday, where the great Lower East Side institution celebrated its 125th anniversary. Since 1888, the deli has been doling out generously portioned kosher-style sandwiches. They now claim to serve up to 20,000 pounds of meat per week.

On Sunday June 2nd, the deli honored the longevity of its storefront with something a little more quick and dirty: a competitive eating contest, with ten professionally-ranked competitive eaters gorging themselves on pastrami sandwiches for ten minutes, in an attempt to take home a share of the $7,500 purse that was up for grabs.

So what is a professional eater? How does one become “professional”? At this contest, four of the top five ranked Major League Eaters were present: #1 Ranked Joey Chestnut who regularly wins Nathan’s Hot Dog competition on Coney Island, July 4th; #2 Tim “Eater X” Janus, who paints his face like a 1990s professional wrestler; #4 Matthew “the Megatoad” Stone; and #5, Bob “The Notorious B.O.B” Shoudt.

“It’s not like you wake up one day and say, ‘hey, I’m going to be a professional eater!’” said Matthew Stonie. Stonie, a spry 130-pound 21-year-old, doesn’t look like the world’s #4 ranked eater. And yet the San Jose native competes, and in late April this year he beat #1 ranked Joey Chestnut in a deep-friend asparagus contest in Stockton, California, shocking the competitive eating world.

“It all started when a local place had a big burrito, and if you could finish it all, you got the burrito for free. So I got the free burrito. Next, I signed up for an eating contest and won $600. I thought, hey, not bad for a half-hour’s work.”
Stonie’s low-key demeanor stood in stark contrast to the event’s announcer, Major League Eating Commissioner George Shea, who pumped the crowd prior to the contestants coming out with speech that was half-sermon and half-circus ringmaster.

“They say that competitive eating is the battleground upon which God and Lucifer wage war over men’s souls my friends… and they are right!” Shea frantically shouted. “For this is a battle of the Titans that comes to earth only once, in only one location, and that is here at Katz’s Delicatessen on the corner of East Houston on Orchard Street, in New York, NY. The eaters have arrived from points all across the globe, here gathered by the sum of all, we march toward history made and so it is and so it always shall be! Let the contest begin!”

Following that soaring rhetoric, the eating was, by contrast, a tedious and grotesque affair. For ten minutes, the ten eaters attempted to shove as many sandwiches down their gullets as possible, frequently dipping the bread into water or red Powerade to better assist its path from mouth to esophagus. Six minutes in, reigning champ Joey Chesnut spewed brown meat-water over the front row of the crowd (“The spray zone!” Shea shouted.) In the end, Chestnut took first place by eating 25 half-sandwiches of pastrami, eking in front of Stonie, who took second with 21.

As a gaggle of New York television outlets surrounded Chestnut, Stonie retreated to the back of the stage. Still, he was upbeat, and insisted that he wasn’t disappointed.

“We’re all friends,” said Stonie. “When we’re in the same city, we go out for drinks afterwards.” This must be something of a new tradition for Stonie: he only turned 21 in late May. For his birthday, he ate a 5.5 pound birthday cake in 8:59. When not competitive eating, he studies nutrition at Mission College in Santa Clara, California.

When asked how he’ll strategize to to vault up to 1st place in the rankings and eventually overtake Chestnut, Stonie shrugs and admits competitive eating doesn’t require a lot of strategy or nuance.

“It’s like lifting. You have to train your muscles, train your mind. But there’s not much technique… at least, not for pastrami sandwiches.”

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