When Independence Day rolls around, Brooklynites thoughts turn to the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest held in Coney Island. Attended by upwards of 40,000 people and watched by over 2 million on T.V. this annual fete draws quite the crowd. Enthusiastic fans line up early in the morning to watch adopted hometown hero Joey "Jaws" Chestnut obliterate the competition! They come to watch him raise the coveted Mustard Belt in victory time and time again and he doesn't disappoint. Recently I had a chance to interview Joey Chestnut to get some insight into the world of competitive eating. At the end of our interview, he was gracious and kind enough to speak to my giddy star struck 8 year old daughter and suggested that on the day of the contest she shouldn't be afraid to yell at him and cheer him on!
Ranked number one in the world by the International Federation of Competitive Eaters, Joey Chestnut may call California home, but he holds a special place in all of Brooklyn's heart. In the early 2000's the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest was dominated by Japanese eating legend Takeru Kobayashi which didn't sit well with the patriotic crowd. Brooklyn was hungry for an American win on Independence Day and we needed a hero who could withstand the blistering heat and emerge victorious in battle for his fellow countrymen (and women!) Joey Chestnut was that hero.
In 2007 he broke Kobayashi's six year winning streak and now he's on a streak of his own. Going into the contest, his goal was to beat Kobayashi. He said it was a monkey on his back and he had to win. Joey recalls how extra special that win was to him! When asked how many hot dogs he'll eat this year, Joey exclaimed, "More than 68 but definitely enough to win!" I feel confident in predicting that this year will be his seventh win in a row. When asked how he felt about Kobayashi bowing out of the annual contest, Joey stated that he missed the competition. No one even comes close to his numbers. Last year he chowed down on 68 buns and dogs and the second place winner managed to chew through 52 1/4 franks.
You'd think someone who can down a record breaking 68 delicious hot dogs and buns in a mere 10 minutes would know that they hold this special talent but it took Joey Chestnut's younger brother to enter him into his first competitive eating competition in 2005. During our interview, Joey informed me that when he was in college he'd try to save money by eating healthy and in small portions but when he'd return home, he'd gorge on his mother's irresistible Italian delicacies such as her homemade lasagna and chicken parmesan. Watching Joey feast like he hadn't eaten a proper meal in weeks prompted his brother to enter him in a lobster eating contest. Joey fared pretty well and came in third. The hardest part for him was being in front of the crowd. Many find it difficult to eat a normal meal in front of others, so you can imagine how it must've felt to power eat in front of a cheering crowd watching your every move!
So how does one prepare for a gut busting Fourth of July extravaganza? Joey explained it as cycling. He will fast for 3 days and not eat any solids. He will only intake liquids and then he will have a practice contest, each time pushing himself harder, just like a body builder, trying to ramp up to the big day!
You may not think that Joey has food on the mind when in Brooklyn due to the massive feast he partakes in at Nathan's but Joey tells me that he really enjoys the basil, tomato and mozzarella adorned Margherita pie at Williamsburg neighborhood institution Roberta's where they grow their own produce. He'd love to enjoy a robust steak dinner at Peter Luger's but that's yet to line up with his media heavy schedule.
I was curious to know if the Nathan's contest turns him off to hot dogs during the rest of the year and was rather surprised to find out that Joey enjoys them all the time and he suggested some interesting topping combinations that veer away from the typical that I'm definitely going to try the next time we grill up some dogs. Joey likes to top his dogs with fried onions and spinach sautéed with lemon and butter, or he'll wrap bacon around the hot dog and top with pepper jack cheese, and he recently made a Thai dog which had some kick!
I'm sure you're all wondering how Joey feels after eating 68 hot dogs in the sweltering summer heat. He makes it look so easy! After the contest, Joey feels lethargic and wiped out. He craves Cobb salad with extra blue cheese to cut the acid and will eat small amounts of dairy too. He may take some Pepto Bismol but for the most part tries to let his body process the abundance of food naturally and his appetite returns the next night. So, what does the number one competitive eater in the world eat when he's not competing? Joey loves his girlfriend's "awesome salmon" and a great steak dinner.
It was a pleasure chatting with Joey Chestnut and I can't wait to cheer him on as he battles for his 7th consecutive Nathan's Hot Dog Eating championship!