Monday, February 14, 2011

Meet the “Eatcredibles.”

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By Amy Ma ASWJ

They call themselves the “Eatcredibles.” Made up of roughly 50 members in Hong Kong, they share a common passion: competitive eating.

A few weeks ago, diners at the Langham Hotel’s Main Street Deli witnessed two of them in action as they each wolfed down a 10-layer, 1.5-kilogram sandwich that spans 50 centimeters in height and is stuffed with fillings that include bratwurst, Kobe beef burger, Australian lamb kebabs and herb-crusted roast pork.

The “Serious Sandwich,” priced at 518 Hong Kong dollars (US$67), is not part of an eating competition, but Chris Lam, who finished in 19 minutes, and Sam Chiu, who finished in 24 minutes, regularly take on these challenges for practice.

Eatcredibles was started five years ago by Taylor Mak, a laboratory technician by day who has participated in 50 eating competitions since he established the group. (The group is not affiliated with the Major League Eating association or the International Federation of Competitive Eating, which organize the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York.)

At “the first eating competition, I failed miserably,” recalls Mr. Mak. “And that’s when I realized this is a serious sport that requires planning and training well in advanced.” Finalists of that contest – the Whampoa Asia Eating Championships, which involved vegetarian dumplings – went on to an eat-off with Takeru Kobayashi, the six time champion of Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Mr. Kobayashi took home the winning prize of HK$20,000 and a HK$4,000 watch for eating 100 roasted pork buns in 12 minutes.

A year later, after picking up some tips from fellow “gurgitators” — a term commonly used for competitive eaters — Mr. Mak re-entered the same contest and earned a place in the finals, along with Sonya Thomas, a.k.a. “Black Widow”, the top-ranked Korean-American competitive eater. He did not win the contest, but says it was a honor just to qualify and to eat next to her.

Here, Mr. Mak shares his competitive eating secrets:

Plan in advance. Two months before is the ideal time span to begin training for an event.

Do your research. First, know whether you’re participating in a speed or volume challenge. Then find out exactly what goes into the dish you’ll be eating — Is it a beef hotdog? What brand of bun is it in? — to recreate it at home for practice. Certain foods, like noodles in hot soup or chicken wings, are especially difficult to eat. Lastly, know your competitors and their previous records so you can measure yourself up against a benchmark.

Work out. The best competitive eaters are skinny, says Mr. Mak, who weighs 64 kilograms and is 168 centimeters tall. “It’s easier to stretch out your stomach when you’re not pushing up against layers of fat.” It is important to keep your weight low, even though you are consuming large amounts of food.

Dunk. Chewing takes time. If there are any starches that can be softened with water or liquid, soak it in liquid so it allows for ease of swallowing without chewing.

Start off strong. Unlike a marathon where contestants pace themselves in the beginning, competitive eaters must sprint from the start. As time goes by, the mind will begin to register the fullness of your stomach, and so much of the eating happens in the first half of most competitions.

Don’t compete on an empty stomach. One of the biggest myths behind competitive eating is to starve yourself beforehand. “Empty stomachs don’t stretch,” says Mr. Mak, who recommends drinking large amounts of vegetable soup the night prior, and then eating a proper meal eight hours before the competition.

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