Forget chefs, competitive eaters are the new rock stars of the food scene. Besides, you can’t fit a mohawk underneath a toque. So, while at the whirlwind Jimmy John’s Sandwich Making and Eating competition, I was thrilled to be able to snag Major League Eaters Hall “Hoover” Hunt (right) and Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti (left) for a few questions about the world of competitive eating and other important food issues of the day.
Q: How did you get your start as a competitive eater? Was this a lifelong childhood dream, like being a vet or a firefighter?
Hunt: I got my start in college, when my roommate at U of F signed me up for a food eating contest as a joke.
Bertoletti: I think the credit goes to my twin sister, who signed me up for a pizza eating contest about five years ago. I’ve always had a big appetite, but I finally was able to match that talent to something useful.
Q: Is this something you have to be naturally good at, or can you train yourself to do it? What’s your training routine like?
Hall: I’ve always had the natural capacity to eat a lot, so the only thing I needed to work on was speed. It’s mostly a matter of chewing less, swallowing larger bites, and mentally focusing yourself. Most food competitions are 8-12 minutes long, so to train, I do sprints of 2-3 minutes. I’ll go out and buy the same food being used, and eat as much of it as I can for short sprints.
Q: Competitive eating seems to be heavily male-dominated; are there women competitors in this sport?
Bertoletti: Yes, there are actually two women in the sport, and they both weigh about 100 lbs.
Q: So, now that the competition is over, are you going to fast for the rest of the day? Is there room left to eat anything else?
Bertoletti: Well, there’s still room for beer! It usually takes me about a day and a half to recover back to normal.
Q: What’s the best and worst foods you’ve had to eat in competition?
Bertoletti: I love ice cream. And thin crust pizza is great, that might be my favorite. Oysters are pretty bad. Also jalapenos.
Q: But wait, isn’t your nickname “Deep Dish”?
Bertoletti: Yeah, actually I like thin crust pizza better. Don’t get me wrong, deep dish is good too, but it’s a special occasion pizza.
Q: You probably don’t even get to taste much while eating in competition, but what do you like eating outside of competition?
Hunt: I am definitely a foodie, and I like trying the best of what’s out there. One of my favorite places to eat is New Orleans, especially po boys and the beignets at Cafe Du Monde.
Q: Do you participate in other sports? Have you ever considered participating in other offbeat competitions, like extreme ironing?
Hunt: I played soccer in college and I’ve run marathons, including one along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Actually, that was the reason I was eating so much to begin with. I’d also like to try a lightweight Strongman competition one day.
Bertoletti: I don’t really do other sports. I’d say that I’m best at cooking, eating and drinking.
Q: Any plans to retire in the near future? How much longer will you keep this up?
Hall: Well, we’re guinea pigs for the sport right now, since it’s taken off in recent years. I make sure to see my doctor regularly, and as long as I’m still healthy and having fun, I’ll keep doing it.
Bertoletti: I’ll probably keep going till I’m 30, so that gives me at least five more years. I have to say, this has been the greatest part of my life so far, and I’ll do it as long as it’s still fun.
Q: Last question, pizza wedges or pizza squares?
Hall: Squares, because I can swallow them whole. Wedges are better for casual eating though.
Bertoletti: I’m indifferent. I think wedges are easier to eat, but squares are better for portion control.
Thanks for your time, guys!