How many Peeps could you eat in five minutes? How many hot dogs (and buns) could you swallow in 10 minutes? Sarah Reinecke, who grew up in Olympia, uses all caps to describe how often she dreamed of competing in such a gluttonous challenge: NEVER.
Yet today, in just 33 months on the competitive-eating circuit, Reinecke has soared to No. 26 — and is the No. 5 woman — in Major League Eating’s world rankings. Not bad for a 140-pound, 32-year-old fitness and nutrition coach.
Yeah, Reinecke can show you her bodybuilding strategies and teach you how to eat healthier — and she has downed 69 blue bunny peeps in 5 minutes and 23 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs in 10 minutes.
Nothing beats standing in front of a platter of hot dogs at Coney Island, New York, with tens of thousands of fans and a worldwide TV audience on ESPN, Reinecke — who’s now based in Seattle — said. Although in her favorite food competition, she swallowed 133 Day-Lee Foods gyoza in 10 minutes at a competition in L.A. They’re slippery, so they go down easy, I guess.
Reinecke “embodies the new generation of current-day competitive eaters,” said a man who should know, Richard Shea, president of New York-based Major League Eating. Shea says the newcomers no longer resemble the largely oversized male buffet-buster body types first attracted to MLE events 20 years ago. Now, they look and train like athletes in any other competitive sport.
Or, as Reinecke puts it: “The truth is, people often assume that eaters ingest food like this every day. That simply is not the case. We would be gigantic, enormous. Oh, and probably dead, because the human body is not meant to digest and process a metric … ton of salt, fat, sugar, cholesterol every day. The majority of eaters eat clean or even calorie-restricted diets throughout the weeks and months leading up to challenges. They purposely keep their bodies lean because lean tummies can stretch easier against the skin as compared to fat tummies.”
I made a mental note of that.
So, how would you like to see Reinecke and some of the biggest names in Major League Eating — Joey Chestnut, Miki Sudo, Eric “Badlands” Booker — stuff themselves in competition right here in our own backyard?
You can’t. Yet. “I know in my gut it’s been way too long,” Shea said, adding that she can’t recall an official MLE competition being held in Washington. “We would absolutely love to come to the Tacoma area.”
Really?! The synapses in the matchmaker lobe of my brain immediately started firing.
“If you want to start a competition,” Shea said, “we’ve found it often works best to find a food that’s indigenous to your region.”
Usually, brands promoting their products and other local sponsors put up a purse, and the bigger the monetary prize, the more big-name eaters will fly in from around the world. Then MLE’s well-honed promotional work kicks in to draw crowds and tourists into the thousands.
I called Dean Burke, the new, imaginative, quirk-appreciating CEO of the newly branded Travel Tacoma – Mt. Rainier Tourism and Sports, who puts on 60-odd sports events a year.
I made my pitch. Imagine it, Dean. We could promote our regional brands and our area. How many boiled eggs from Wilcox Farms in Roy can you eat? Brown & Haley Mountain Bars? Fisher Scones from The Washington State Fair? Rhubarb Pies from Sumner? Olympia Oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms? Clam chowder from Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor?
He laughed. Had I heard about the cup-stacking championships? The underwater marine robotics championships?
Burke looked up Shea’s MLE organization online while we talked. Without committing to pursuing an event, Burke said that on first blush, MLE looked like a mature, high-quality organization that knows its stuff.
“We’ll reach out to these guys,” he said. “Let’s call it ‘the process of discovery.’”
I got so excited, I drove to The Mill Restaurant in Milton to start training. Chef Alex Anton serves up the Filthy Mill Monster Burger Challenge — a triple home-ground bacon cheeseburger with a mound of home-cut fries topped with melted cheese, pulled pork, pork belly, and fried egg with a jar of homemade pickles. Eat it in 30 minutes, and the meal is free.
I hit the wall with 13 minutes and 23 seconds to go.
Give me a few months, though, and I’ll be ready for a shot at the Great Mountain Bar Challenge.