In last month's Hot Chili Pepper Eating Contest, at the Arizona Taco Festival, I ate two of them. Whole.

All was well until about four hours after, as the peppers began to break down in my stomach.

There's a reason the men who farm the ghost chili like to say, "When you eat it, it's like dying." It was a night of agony and an equally arduous morning that led me to rush out and invest in some extra-soft toilet paper.

Jamie Peachey
Jamie Peachey

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Think you can eat as much as an elephant eats? Visit any of these Valley restaurants to try your hand at the challenges Zach has attempted.

Barney's Boathouse's Anchor Pizza
• The challenge: One giant calzone, shaped to look like the anchor of a boat and hefty enough to weigh one down.
• Prizes: The pizza's free and you get a spot on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 222 E. University Dr., 480-967-7744
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Buffalo Wild Wings' Blazin' Wings
• The challenge: 12 wings coated in BWW's Blazin' sauce and six minutes to finish them.
• Prizes: A T-shirt and a spot on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 705 S. Rural Rd., 480-858-9464, buffalowildwings.com
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Hawg 'n Dawg Express' 3-Foot Junkyard Dog
• The challenge: Three foot-long, half-pound hot dogs nestled delicately inside a three-foot loaf of French bread and topped with a full quart of chili along with pulled pork, bacon, cheese, onions, and French fries. It totals eight pounds and must be finished in one hour.
• Prizes: $50 and your picture on the "Wall of Wieners," plus you get the meal free.
• Where to go: 12020 S. Warner/Elliot Loop, 480-961-3647, hawgndawgexpress.com
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Heart Attack Grill's Quadruple Bypass Burger
• The challenge: A two-pound, 8,000-calorie cheeseburger.
• Prizes: One of Heart Attack's sexy nurses will roll you out to your car via wheelchair.
• Where to go: 6185 W. Chandler Blvd., heartattackgrill.com
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Durant's 48-Ounce Porterhouse
• The challenge: A three-pound, three-inch-thick steak that must be eaten in a single sitting.
• Prizes: Induction into the Porterhouse Club, for which your name will be emblazoned onto one of the plaques adorning the steakhouse's walls.
• Where to go: 2611 N. Central Ave., 602-264-5967, durantsaz.com
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Chik-a-Rib's Lava Jumbo Buffalo Wings
• The challenge: 10 wings that have been deep-fried and coated in a gooey sauce made from four different types of peppers — one of which is the dreaded ghost chili. All 10 must be finished in 10 minutes, and you're not allowed to drink anything until time runs out.
• Prizes: A free meal and a spot on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 1830 W. Glendale Ave., 602-759-8521
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Chompie's Ultimate Sliders
• The challenge: A five-pound plate of 12 Jewish sliders (brisket, jack cheese, and a potato pancake inside a mini challah roll) and onion strings that must be finished in 30 minutes.
• Prizes: A T-shirt, your picture goes on the wall of fame, and the meal is free.
• Where to go: 9301 E. Shea Blvd., 480-860-0475, www.chompies.com
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Venezia's Party Pizza
• The challenge: A 24-inch pizza with the toppings of your choice that you and a partner must finish in one hour.
• Prizes: A T-shirt and your photos on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 33 E. Southern Ave., 480-858-1660, www.venezias.com
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Lobby's Three-Pound Burger
• The challenge: Nine third-pound hamburger patties, nine slices of American cheese, and toppings between a sesame seed bun that must be finished within 10 minutes.
• Prizes: A T-shirt, your picture on the wall of fame, and the meal's free.
• Where to go: 3141 S. McClintock Rd., 480-897-1113, www.lobbysbbd.com.
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But not every food challenge feels like hot, smelly death. In fact, some are downright delicious.

The best-tasting challenge in metropolitan Phoenix is one that Adam Richman also enjoyed when he visited here in March: the Ultimate Sliders Challenge at Chompie's.

"It's a challenge for us to keep things exciting on our menu. We're always trying to think of new things," says Wendy Borenstein-Tucker, part owner of Chompie's (her brother, Neil "Chomper" Borenstein, is the restaurant's namesake). "We thought about all the food challenges out there that other restaurants are doing, and we thought we would get a great customer response from doing our own."

Their revelation came after they developed the Jewish Slider: a combination of brisket, jack cheese, a potato pancake, and gravy on a mini challah roll.

"It turned out to be quite a big sandwich. We were tasting it and loving it, and we wanted to do it big. With this slider, we thought, could this be the thing we've been looking for and become our challenge?"

The gargantuan platter consisting of 12 sliders and onion straws soon found a place on the menu as a challenge that had to be completed in half an hour. Before they knew it, the Borensteins were getting calls from the Travel Channel. The Man v. Food episode premièred in August.

Months later, well over 100 people have attempted the challenge, but only five have been able to complete it. Adam Richman was not one of them.

"We think Adam should come back and try it again," Borenstein says. "I think he was enjoying the sliders so much that he was actually taking his time savoring the taste and he didn't realize that time was ticking! I know he could do it, and I would give anything to watch him do it."

Of course, there are naysayers. Certain people are grossed out watching a friend eat enough food to choke a donkey; others simply can't stomach the thought of eating mounds of fatty, greasy meat and cheese.

Far worse, however, are those who cry gluttony. To them, indulging in an eating challenge is the ultimate in civil and moral irresponsibility. They equate intemperance to selfishness, asking how eaters can justify eating so much when others have so little. Eating more than you need to survive is gluttony — over-consumption to the point of waste — and is thus withholding food from the needy.

It's a popular viewpoint, even among those who work in food. In an interview with Zap2It earlier this year, Food Network host Alton Brown called Man v. Food's eating challenges "disgusting."

"That show is about gluttony, and gluttony is wrong," Brown said. "It's wasteful. Think about people that are starving to death and think about that show. I think it's an embarrassment."

Richman, an avid Twitter user, responded, "Alton Brown: MvF is about indulgence-NOT gluttony-&has brought loads of business to Mom-n-Pop places."

Chompie's Wendy Borenstein can attest to this. "There was a definite jump in business after the Man v. Food episode aired, especially at the Tempe location, where Adam actually took the challenge, and especially for that item," she says. "People write in to us a lot, they take pictures, they bring in their families — fathers and sons are coming in and attempting the challenge together. It's exceeded our expectations as far as the numbers of people who have actually wanted to do the challenge, but I'm just happy that we have this menu item that families can share."

For me, it's about connecting with places and people through the thrill of competition. My fellow food warriors and I eat for the same reason a person climbs Mt. Everest or swims the English Channel or tries to break the world record for most bounces on a pogo stick. There are perceived bounds of human capability everywhere, and it's in our nature to attempt to break them.

A food challenge is a dare, provocative and hard to resist. We attack a pounds-deep piles of food with voracity because the restaurant that makes it thinks we won't. We try our best to deal with the pain of spicy hot wings because they believe we can't.

Everybody eats. Try as you might, it's an unavoidable habit; the great equalizer. Not every person has the physical ability to run a marathon, but nearly everybody has spent a night — after a Thanksgiving dinner, say — wondering in disbelief how all that food managed to fit in there. People who watch others take on a food challenge — strangers and friends — are brought together, if only for a brief, exhilarating time.

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8 comments
linaimai
linaimai

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Mike R. Meyer
Mike R. Meyer

Awesome story, man. I was going to say that I want to start a band now for the sole purpose of naming it the Meat Sweats, but a quick Google search showed that someone already beat me to it. Damn.

jackharrington
jackharrington

A very well written story on an interesting topic. Good work, Zack...Keep on knoshin'...

Jay
Jay

Well done, Zach! Your writing is great and your eating skillz are even better. Keep it up! You and Erica (just offal and bottom of the barrel) deserve raises.

Guest
Guest

So let's get this straight..children are starving in this country and the New Times is paying someone to stuff 5 lbs of food in his gullet?They put this on the cover the week before Thanksgiving?!Here's an article this morning in the Republic about how Phoenix area homeless children will not have enough food to eat this year because the food bank is $80,000 short...and this guy is getting paid to competitively eat?!http://www.azcentral.com/commu...

What is wrong with you guys? I always thought the New Times was about social justice.Guess I was wrong. It costs $25 to feed a family of 6, but instead they're paying someone to eat in excess.

SHAMEFUL!!!

Central Scruitinizer
Central Scruitinizer

So let's get this straight, there are horrid injustices being done all over the world, and you're wasting your limited activist wrath on a freebie paper with a puff piece on overeating?

What's wrong with you person?

SHAMEFUL!!!

Marcy
Marcy

There aren't any starving kids in Phoenix. Except maybe some whose parents sold their food stamps for more meth.

Now please sell your computer and give the money to some starving family.

 
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