Winging it: Eating contest turns stomachs

Did you know that eating is not just a life-sustaining pleasure, but also a serious competitive sport? A sport with its own rules, strategies, rewards, and international champions?

Check out the IFOCE website (International Federation of Competitive Eating-ifoce.com) for more on the history, records, and rapidly spreading popularity of this "all-you-can-eat" phenomenon, whose most famous event is the Nathan's Famous Hotdogs 4th of July Eating Contest in Coney Island.

In local sports news, participants in the 2004 UVA Gorge-a-thon last Tuesday, April 27, got a taste of what it's like to down unthinkable quantities of food- in this case Wild Wings boneless chicken wings– in front of a cheering, amazed, and slightly revolted (speaking not only for myself) crowd.

The event was conceived and organized by the UVA Japanese Club (competitive eating, like competitive Iron Chef-style cooking, is big in Japan) as a way to expose a diverse array of students to this phenomenon and ultimately earn funds for the Thomas Jefferson United Way charity. The Gorge-a-thon featured several 12-minute rounds, each with 6-8 student contestants and their respective "spotters."

Every contestant but one was an amateur eater (lots of gagging, not much pacing) compared to the event's featured celebrity– Sonya "the Black Widow" Thomas.

Get a load of just a few of her world records: 5.5 lbs. of tempura deep-fried asparagus (10 minutes), 65 hard-boiled eggs (6 minutes, 40 seconds), 43 soft tacos (11 minutes), 432 oysters (10 minutes), and 134 chicken wings (12 minutes). Not bad for a 105-pound young woman from Alexandria. No wonder she has been challenging her competitors (she was the IFOCE "Rookie of the year" in 2003) and fascinating the media lately (Time, CNN).

How does she do it? Well, I can't say exactly how the little waif managed to fit 56.4 ounces of chicken (five or six plates-full) into her flat little stomach when even the beefiest Cavalier football players stopped at less than half that amount

"iron belly" or mind-over-body?

But I could tell she was a pro by the way she focused intently on the task at hand, by the way she made sure her (5) cups of water were ready before the contest's start, by the way she tore the fingers up into pieces before using all 10 of her own fingers to force them into her mouth, and by the way she maintained a consistent pace throughout the entire 12-minute round. And by the way she kept it all down afterwards, while maintaining a photo-friendly smile. Definitely more sport than gluttony involved in Sonya's eating.

Seconds, anyone?

Seafood Soups and more– at Market

Now that the Main Street Market has evolved into a popular lunch spot, it seems only right that seafood should swim on into the mid-day mix. Thanks to the enterprising efforts of chef Dave Ganoe, and obliging owner Chris Arseneault, seafood soups are now available for lunch at Seafood @ West Main.

A self-described Jack-of-all-trades when it comes to food (he was a pastry chef at the Silver Thatch Inn and bison-chili brewing chef at the now defunct Georgetown Farms café), Ganoe has been working for Arseneault since August. About two months ago, Ganoe got the go-ahead to start selling his seafood gumbo as well as steamed mussels for lunch on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (the days he works).

Ganoe hopes to add more soups in the months ahead (seafood gazpacho, thai coconut). Frozen soup bases are also available most days to take home– pick up a quart of thai coconut soup base and a half pound of heads-on shrimp, and you're in business!

If you want to learn some tricks of the trade, Ganoe also teaches a series of techniques workshops at The Seasonal Cook called, appropriately, "Something Fishy" at $55 per class.

Salmon– aka "en croute," "pan-roasted with wild mushrooms and beurre rouge" and "osso buco with seasonal vegetables"– is up next on May 13.


Sonya Thomas demonstrates her 10-fingers technique.
Little woman gets big win in wings war.
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINA BALL