Monday, August 10, 2009
King of Pizza
As I surveyed the cast of motley characters seated at the long row of tables I felt a tinge of pity. I could see the intense stares and hopeful looks on their faces. Some were just there for fun, for a free meal, or for the ironic humor that can be found in something as campy as an eating contest. Most of these tattooed,neck-bearded hipsters bore grave looks of intense concentration. Their eyes were on the $350 first prize. They actually believed they had a chance to win. Such a pity.
When they heard about the Stony's Pizza Eating contest at Emo's downtown, I can imagine the reaction. "I can do this! I can win the $350! Eating pizza is a slam dunk. I've been doing it all my life. I just ate a whole Totino's party pizza. Dude, I'm gonna win this!"
They didn't realize that the contest was already over. They had no way of knowing that a weapon of pizza destruction was entering. How could they possible know that they were up against a seasoned eater with mandibles of steel, lightning quick gastric reflexes, and a belly deeper than Loch Ness?
My friend Chris is this unstoppable eater. As the three-time defending champion of the Home Slice pizza contest, Chris has experience on the big stage. He has developed and honed his tactics, drawing from influences like professional eaters Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobyashi. Eating pizza is his business, and business has been very good.
With another pizza-eating crown and $350 cash on the line, no paunchy pretender was going to waltz into Emo's and win this. Not in Austin, Texas. Not in Chompy's house. They were in for shock and awe, gustation-style. They would soon know just how far away they were from the big time.
The final countdown wound down, and the 13 minute contest began. With the background music inexplicably muted, a nervous silence filled the space. As the eaters tore into their first slices, I could actually hear crusts ripping and sauce squashing. Adding to the strangeness of this dark windowless space (normally a dive bar / music venue of questionable repute) was the red lighting over the stage.
In the early stages of the contest, I could not discern an early leader. This field of 20 contained some solid eaters after all. Shannon, Stephanie, Patrick, and I watched as Chris attacked his first large pizza using his familiar technique. Each crust is quickly decapitated from the body of the slice and dunked in water to soften it. Chris then rips the remainder of the slice into roughly bite-sized pizza. There is an economy of motion with parallel work flows and a reduction of the impact of the main bottleneck in the process, the chewing and swallowing.
The tomato tinted water was churning and splashing as Chris began dunking crusts. It was like watching an enraged crocodile savaging a gazelle in the shallow edge of an African watering hole.
At the seven minute mark, there was still no clear leader. Suddenly, with 2 slices remaining in the first pizza, Chris hit the afterburner button. Things were about to get real for the other competitors. They were reaching the normal bounds of human pizza consumption, their stomaches sending alarming signals of fullness to their brains. This wasn't easy or fun any more. The chewing slowed down, and many of the competitors paused between bites, perhaps reconsidering the wisdom of proceeding.
The pace in the peloton slackened. Yet, Chris kept inexorably accelerating. The seventh and eighth slices fell effortlessly. The conclusion became inevitable when the judges delivered another half pizza to Chris. Several competitors openly stared in disbelief that he had already finished his first large pie.
The crowd took notice. Yells rang out. "Khaki hat guy is killing it! He's like a jedi!" "He's like a freaking python!" In the last 4 minutes, 3 more large slices fell. Even with a comfortable 2+ slice lead on the field, Chris finished with a mouth-cramming "chipmunk" gambit to maximize his results. Message sent. Chris was crowned undisputed Stony's Pizza / Emo's pizza eating champion.
As for the new champion? As he accepted congratulations from the other competitors, and even Ghostface Killa (of Wu Tang fame), Chris polished off another slice of pizza for good measure.