Sep 16, 2012
Victory of the Eat & Agony of Defeat! Creating Gluttony! Tale of 3 Eating Competitions @ Chinatown Summer Nights 2012. Los Angeles, CA.
Glory and gluttony normally have very little in common; rarely are the two joined together in solidarity to showcase the extraordinary potential of human determination and stomach capacity.
In competitive eating, satisfaction should be derived from the attempt alone. Victory is but decoration for the mantle. It's in the trying, enduring and pursuit of gluttonous greatness that immortalizes the competitive eater. "I was there. I ate that. I engorged myself like Mulard duck on a foie gras farm."
On that day they ate like champs. Well, most of them anyway. (Sorry, lady in pink.)
This story chronicles three eating competitions I, Eddie Lin, hosted and created for the Los Angeles Chinatown event Summer Nights. For 2012, the organizers of Chinatown Summer Nights decided to theme each event with important elements from nature as interpreted through Chinese cooking. Those elements were Earth, Water and Fire.
Creating eating competitions with no experience is a challenge but also some of the most fun I've had working around food. There were many emails, a few meetings and, the best part, several visits to Chinatown restaurant kitchens to test and sample the delicious challenge dishes cooked by chefs. Sometimes — especially with the "Fire" Eating Competition where hot chili peppers were key — testing the food went quickly from tasty to painful! It was all in the name of competitive eating. So with that, get ready. Get set. EAT!!
Spirits were high at the onset of the WORLD'S FIRST DIM SUM EATING COMPETITION at the Los Angeles Chinatown Summer Nights Earth event on July 28, 2012. The eager and somewhat anxious competitors were signed up days before via Facebook or twitter. Some volunteered on the very day at the culinary stage where the englutting would take place.
The WORLD'S FIRST DIM SUM EATING COMPETITION was modeled after the legendary Bruce Lee film Game of Death, Lee's last movie before his untimely demise. In fact, the film was incomplete at the time of his passing and required stand-ins to double as Lee in order to finish filming.
In Game of Death, the protagonist played by Bruce Lee must penetrate a five-level pagoda to retrieve a desired item. As in many video games, each level presents a challenge that increases in difficulty. The defenders of each level are deadlier and more skilled than the ones before.
In the WORLD'S FIRST DIM SUM EATING COMPETITION, the dim sum, presented in traditional tin containers, were served to the competitors in a progressive order with each successive tin holding a more exotic dish. The time limit was 15 minutes. Whoever finished first was declared the winner.
Starting out with the most benign dim sum items like Har Gow or Shrimp Dumplings, all of the competitors breezed through them without breaking a sweat. This was followed up by Siu My or Pork & Shrimp Dumpling, which was also a cake walk for all involved.
Although the next tin of Bao, aka Pork Bun, was still tame, it did take up more stomach space and expanded once inside. This is why it was higher up on the challenge chain.
Things got slightly more interesting with dishes like Radish Cakes, tiny Pork Ribs and Shrimp Rice Rolls. It was at this juncture when the first casualty almost occurred. One of the competitors "hit the wall" and couldn't ingest even a fermented soy bean. I gave him a pep talk which basically went, "If you're gonna cry 'Uncle', you gotta say it into this mic and to the entire audience! Wanna give up now, baby?!" That seemed to have motivated the kid to continue. Good man.
The competition turned into an episode of Fear Factor for many of the participants when the Chicken Feet were revealed. About five pieces of deep red chicken feet sat in each tin. The feet were cooked until the connective tissue turned into sweet and savory, snappy gelatin. A few of the contestants hesitated before closing their eyes then sticking a chicken foot into their mouths. I reminded them to avoid choking on the diminutive bones otherwise I'd subject them to my amateur Heimlich Maneuver.
At last, for those who reached the final level of the WORLD'S FIRST DIM SUM EATING COMPETITION, the treat that awaited them was a bowl of Triple Tripe consisting of various chambers of cow stomach braised to dim sum perfection.
Ultimately, one competitor rose above the rest of his gluttonous compatriots. Ilan Messika was able to stomach cow stomach and a mess of other dim sum dishes in 9 minutes and 47 seconds, well under the 15 minute time limit.
Behold the Golden Dragon! From this day forth, all will acknowledge, that Ilan Messika, holder of the first Golden Dragon for the Dim Sum Eating Competition at Chinatown Summer Nights 2012, is the undisputed Dim Sum Destroyer. Appropriately, Golden Dragon Restaurant in LA's Chinatown was the food supplier for the dim sum smack down.
On August 11, 2012, the overindulgence and eating competitions continued, this time with Mystery Soup since the theme of this Chinatown Summer Nights was water. The mystery items of the soup were laid out for all to view. The list of ingredients read like an anatomy lesson. It seemed everything but the kitchen sink was in this soup. It might have been simpler to list the items NOT included in the soup rather than mentioning all the unmentionables in it.
Bobbing within the Mystery Soup were many pork innards including bung (that'd be the business end of the intestine), liver, kidney and pancreas. There were also pig ears, beef tendon, chicken feet, pig feet, fish balls, fried tofu and cubes of pork blood.
This challenge was made to push the limits of stomach capacity. On the high end, the human adult stomach can hold about one gallon maximum of food and liquid. The Mystery Soup came in at over one gallon's worth of meat miscellany and broth.
The Chinatown Summer Nights volunteers, mostly consisting of local high school kids, frantically assembled bowls of the Mystery Soup so that each serving was portioned exactly like the next.
Meanwhile, one of the more intense, returning competitors, Dave "Mystery Meat" Michalczuk, showed the crowd and me that he meant business by tearing off his shirt and exposing his right nipple. "You're goin' DOWN, Ilan!!! DOOOWWWNNN!!!" many in the crowd heard him exclaim as he taunted the Dim Sum Eating Champ.
The contest was fierce from the start with Dim Sum Eating Champ Ilan Messika taking an early lead, however "Mystery Meat" Michalczuk closed the gap within a couple of minutes.
With the audience clearly backing him, Michalczuk powered through his enormous soup bowl of nasty bits and overcame his early trailing behind Messika to eek out a win in the Mystery Soup Eating Competition. The crowd favorite got up victoriously and gave his fans what they wanted by pumping his fists in the air and howling in triumph. Michalczuk's 8 minute and 38 seconds finish was well within the 15 minute time limit.
Finishing last was a smirking Valentino Herrera, food blogger for Trippy Food. "All I wanted was a free meal out of these suckers! Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?!" he belched.
At least one young male competitor ejected his Mystery Soup in a porta potty shortly after the contest concluded. Mission accomplished.
Frog on Fire!
Fire was the theme of the final night of Chinatown Summer Nights 2012. And you didn't need to be a rocket surgeon to figure out that spicy food was going to be the key component for the food eating competition. With potent peppers like "Facing Heaven" and habanero worked into the dishes, the hurting end of the Scoville Scale was well represented.
The dishes designed for the "Fire" Eating Competition stuck with the use of exotic ingredients like the two prior contests. Frog with Chile was a stir fry using lots of hot bird's eye peppers and a freshly dispatched frog.
Tofu from Hell!
When was the last time you saw red tofu?! Yes, this spicy tofu is as red as the devil himself! This is Sichuan Style Tofu and it burns!
The Beef Stew in Spicy Tomato Sauce Hot Pot was not only spicy but its broth gurgled like molten lava, so you got double the damage from spicy heat and heat heat!
Super Hot Wings!
Fried and delicious, the Chicken Wings with Special Sauce were great tasting but only if your taste buds weren't blown out already by all the peppers!
Balls on Fire!
Hell hath no fury like capsaicin touching testicles. The Spicy Stir-fried Lamb Testicles were an eating challenge not only for its spiciness but for its ballsiness too.
Dante's Dumpling Inferno.
These pork packets were spicy inside and out. Stuffed with pork and peppers, the heat within the dumpling was just as brutal as the spicy sauce it's coated in.
Chef Lupe Liang of Hop Woo deserved a separate award for cooking vast amounts of these special, spicy foods for not only the competitors but the audience as well.
Even Miss Chinatown Shirley Zhang couldn't handle the heat and she wasn't in the competition. There's nothing a shot of boba can't chill.
All of the competitors said prayers to their respective supreme beings as they were about to enter all-you-can-eat HELL! Among the competitors were three brothers and two returning champs, Ilan "The Terrible" Messika, Winner of the World's First Dim Sum Eating Competition and Dave "Mystery Meat" Michalczuk, Winner of the Mystery Soup Eating Competition.
The "Fire" Eating Competition was the tightest and most exciting contest of the three. Several different challengers had the lead at various times in the competition.
However, there was a major glitch with the volunteers failing to keep pace with the eaters. At many points during the contest, the competitors finished a dish and did not have the next one in front of them due to the lag time in cooking and plating. This resulted in an inaccurate time result for the competitors.
In the end, it was returning champ, Ilan "The Terrible" Messika who claimed the Dragon Bowl prize. "It's gonna look fantastic next to my Golden Dragon statue," he explained. A match made in Chinatown!
They were all winners there that night! Until the next morning.
Watch video evidence of the 1st Ever Dim Sum Eating Competition carnage below: