It’s September 26, the eve of Chicago Gourmet, one of my favorite events of the year.
And so my mind turns to, what else? Our world’s eating elite.
Did I ever tell you about the time I took competitive eating couple Rich LeFevre and his wife, Carlene, to the buffet at Sam’s Town in Las Vegas to do an interview for the Las Vegas Weekly while stuffing our faces? LeFevre’s known for his “praying mantis” style of eating, curling his hands and bouncing around as he stuffs his face. It’s his signature.
He didn’t do that at Sam’s Town, but he did put away some impressive plates-ful, as did Carlene. The meal was ridiculous, fun and incredibly strange, all at once (sadly, the story was lost when the LV Weekly lost most of its archives….and a gazillion of my favorite clips…about a week after I quit my job to freelance. Sigh). Would that all interviews occurred at a Sam’s Town buffet.
In hindsight, the interview was also useful. I still think back to the training tips I got from the LeFevres. They eat pounds and pounds of watermelon to fill up, and stretch those guts like water balloons in preparation for the main event, whether that’s slurping down water-logged hot dog buns while competing against Takeru Kobayashi or just participating in the friendly neighborhood shrimp salad eating contest.
My point? This weekend is Chicago Gourmet, presented by Bon Appetit.
I see it as a kind of Taste of Chicago for the more discerning–and chaos/crowd averse–palate. Some of the best chefs in town will be there: Jimmy Bannos Jr. & Sr. (Purple Pig, Heaven on Seven), Rick Bayless (Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, Xoco), Gregg Biggers (Cafe des Architectes), Jeni Britton Bauer (Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams), Homaro Cantu (Moto, iNG), Abraham Conlon (Fat Rice), Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat/Little Goat), Michael Kornick (MK/Ada St./DMK/Fish Bar), Thomas Lents (Sixteen) and the list goes on and on and on and on, to include mixologists, sommeliers, cooking demos, panel discussions and more.
It is a gastronaut’s lunar landing. Thanksgiving in September, minus the dry turkey, cold mashed potatoes and that nasty NPR cranberry horseradish relish.
To prepare, you’re going to want to download the app (which impresses me year after year). Then, you’re going to want to plan ahead. Like, start stretching those innards, pronto, if you want to make the most of this annual gustatory pilgrimage.
Here’s some advice from the pros, the competitive eaters.
Let the jaw-unhinging begin.
1. Increase your stomach capacity by drinking huge amounts of water. But do it gradually. Competitive eater Yasir Salem told Mental Floss, “You have to go up and up and up,” said the champion cannoli eater. “It’s conditioning. Most people can work their way up to a gallon in a month. A gallon weighs eight pounds. In the majority of contests, we’re not consuming that amount of capacity. Joey Chestnut will consume maybe 5 or 6 pounds. If you do a gallon of water, you’re competitive with most of the eaters.”
2. “Build a bat-cave inside yourself.” Steakbelly, who wears a kilt and is regarded for his haggis-eating ability (three pounds, six minutes) told Gizmodo that you need to create your own internal food lair. “Choose low calorie, high fiber foods as the bulk of your training regimen, like 5 or 6 heads of romaine lettuce, or a few pounds of cabbage. Once you have eaten your fill, start drinking water so that the cabbage swells and stretches your stomach further. Go lay down and catch up on Honey Boo-Boo till you feel better.”
3. It’s all in your head. In everyday life, eating fulfills a caveman-like purpose. Hunger pang? Chew, grunt, chew. For competitive eaters, eating, it seems, fulfills a different caveman-like response: fool body into consuming all of mastodon to impress Jane, make crowd of monkey scream. To master this art, competitive eater Matt ‘Megatoad’ Stonie, who once ate 268 gyoza in 10 minutes, told Thrillist it’s mind over matter. “It really comes down to two things. Mentally, you have to disregard any notion that you’ve built up about eating. People put stuff in their mouth, chew, and then swallow. If you want to eat competitively, you’ve just gotta focus on swallowing.”
With that, good luck, grasshoppers. See you at Millennium Park, appetite in tact.