Jimmy John's Freaky Fast Sandwich Making and Eating Contest 2009

July 27 2009 - 2:08 PM

Eating competitions are a mainstay of county fairs and college dorm shenanigans, but if your impulse is to dismiss them as hedonistic frippery, you would be sorely mistaken. Or so they told me at the 2nd annual Chicago Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Sandwich Making and Eating contest, held at the Taste of Lincoln Ave Festival.

Master of Ceremonies George Shea spared no tissues in ratcheting up the drama for the event. “This is going to be an emotional journey, but at the end, we will all have learned something about ourselves,” opined Shea. For the competition would pit three Jimmy John’s sandwich makers against a set of competitive Major League Eaters. And make no mistake, after the ignominy of last year’s overwhelming defeat, the eaters would be hungry for revenge (if not for sandwiches).

Did they have a chance this year? Hometown favorites Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti (ranked #2 in the world) and Tim “Gravy” Brown (ranked #10) were both back as veterans of last year’s showdown. They were joined by Floridian Hall Hunt (ranked #7), who seemed confident about the team’s chances this year, saying “The competition is 6 minutes this year, rather than 10 minutes long, so that should work to our advantage.” To further bolster the eating intake capacity, a fourth eater was added to the team, amateur Steve Dohko, who won the prized spot to eat with the pros by winning another local eating competition.

To the electrifying beats of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” the introductions began. “Ladies and gentlemen, these are magicians, men and women who know not the bounds of the laws of physics. They are the missing link, not between man and ape, but between man and God,” quipped Shea. The three Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast sandwich makers emerged on stage: Joe White, Chrissy Judson and Brad Holly. They cheered, stretched their wrists, and prepared to make sandwiches “perfectly spiced and salted, as if gathered from the tears of a thousand angels.”

“They say the four horsemen of the esophagus are riding,” said Shea, “but one man is riding on the side of good–Hall Hunt!” With theatrical flourishes, the four eaters bounded on stage, accompanied by wigs, balloon animals, lifted shirts and raucous cheers from the audience. They made last-minute preparations and filled water cups for dunking the sandwiches. Bertoletti popped in his headphones to better focus on the upcoming challenge.

With the audience participating in the countdown, the clock began ticking and the sandwich makers were off. The eaters would have an equivalent amount of time to eat the sandwiches, so they would not be penalized for not having anything to eat in the initial minute of competition.

Lettuce sprayed. Sandwich wrapping paper flew. Bertoletti demonstrated chipmunking behavior. The other three eaters followed suit, ripping apart sandwiches and dunking them in water like witches in medieval England. Though the sandwich makers got off to a slow start (at one point, the eaters had cleared everything on the table), slowly but surely the sandwich eaters were falling behind.

With 30 seconds left on the clock, Dohko clasped his hand to his mouth and made involuntary heaving motions. “Hold it!” the crowd screamed. With a red-faced grimace, Dohko channeled his willpower into gastrointestinal peristalsis. A “reversal” was averted.

At the conclusion of the contest, the eaters had narrowly eaten everything (17 sandwiches) on the table and victory seemed imminent…until the judges ruled that there was too much leftover debris. With heartbreak etched in his eyes, Shea picked up the two offending slices of tomato and pointed at the handful of lettuce on the table. The sandwiches makers had triumphed again.

To cheers and applause, victory belts were presented to the indefatigable sandwich makers. Shea noted that Judson had been struggling with her sandwich making earlier in the competition, and asked what had hampered her speed. “The salami was sticking,” she said. “We didn’t put PAM on it this year.”

Stay tuned for next year’s match-up.