Foodie Friday: The Competitive Eater

During a photo shoot for the documentary about Conti's eating endeavors.

Crazy Legs Conti holds world titles in string beans, pancakes and bacon, beef brisket, and Twinkies. At age 40, he can eat 348 oysters in eight minutes.

Crazy Legs, as he identifies himself on his tax forms, is a top-ranked professional eater with the International Federation of Competitive Eating and the subject of the documentary “Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating.”

Extreme eating has exploded over the past few years, especially with Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, N.Y. – the Super Bowl of competitive eating. Until this year, Conti participated in the contest nine times in row.

Age: 40
Weight: 230 lbs.
Graduated from: Johns Hopkins University
In the industry for: 10 years
Previous jobs: Window cleaner; nude model for studio art classes; independent screenplay writer
Real name: I’ve gone by Crazy Legs for more than 20 years; it’s the name I pay my taxes under.

Your day job: Every competitive eater has a day job to pay the bills. I’m the beverage manager at two Manhattan strip clubs, Scores and the Penthouse Executive Club, where I order all the booze and beer. So I get free drinks at that job, and free food from competitive eating.

When did your enthusiasm for eating start? I’ve always eaten as many Maine lobsters and Maryland crabs as I could get my hands on – I think I ate my first oyster at age 1. My dad and uncle would slide them to me across the table.

How did you transition from enjoying food to eating competitively? In the mid-90s, competitive eating was much more of a subculture, and I was an avid spectator. That was my entry point. I traveled to New Orleans and ate 34 dozen oysters at the Acme Oyster House, which put me on the path.

Pre-contest rituals: The morning of a contest, I’ll drink a glass of fruit juice and nothing else. Leading up to it, I’ll eat mostly soft, malleable foods, but it really depends on what the contest is for. If it’s a meat-eating competition, I won’t eat meat for a week beforehand.

And what about mental preparation? It’s all a mental game. You need a strategy going in; figure out how quickly you can eat one of the food item, and then extrapolate it.

Watch the trailer for Conti’s documentary, “Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating.”

Why do you think the sport draws such huge crowds? It causes a visual reaction – even if you’re mortified, you can’t look away. In the simplest sense, competitive eating is a big communal meal like Thanksgiving. People bond over food.

When you’re not downing 29 dozen oysters, what does your normal diet consist of? Lots of oatmeal, flaxseed, and quinoa. I’d like to eat Eggplant Parmesan and French toast every day, but I try to stay in shape.

Any health problems? Nope. I jog, and have even run a few marathons.

Did you participate in Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest this year? This was the first year in nine years that I haven’t qualified; I would have been the first eater in the 96-year history of the frankfest to qualify 10 years in row. I wrote an article for about that.

During competitions, it's "mind over stomach," says Conti.

How does the qualification process work? There are three rounds, in 12 or 14 locations across the United States and overseas. Other smaller competitions have runoffs.

Is there camaraderie among eaters at the table? It’s like a brotherhood of the stomach. At the table, we’re fierce competitors, but afterward, we’ll all go out and run up a big bar tab.

Your last meal on Earth would be: Maine lobster, Gulf oysters, and my dad’s strawberry rhubarb pie.

Most rewarding part of the job: I traveled with Major League Eating to various naval bases, including Guantanamo Bay, to entertain the soldiers.

Worst part of the job: The food hitting your stomach that night or the next morning. You forget what it’s like to ingest 100 Buffalo wings in 12 minutes until you’re lying in bed.

Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years? I hope to host a food-related show on TV and travel on someone else’s dime. Wherever I am, though, I’ll be sure to have a big breakfast in front of me.

Favorite celebrity chef: I’ve been reading a lot of Anthony Bourdain lately. But my favorite is Patrick Bertoletti, who is a chef and a competitive eater.

Conti enjoying Coney Island after wolfing down hot dogs at the Nathan's contest.

Weirdest foods you’ve tried: I’ll try anything once. I ate horse in Italy; hufu, which is tofu that tastes like human flesh; and fugu, a fish in Japan that contains deadly poison. I also once ate whale, which looks like beef, but has a spongy, fishy texture – I don’t recommend it.

Is there anything you haven’t tried? I read about these bats that people eat in Korea, but I think they have lots of neurological diseases.

Proudest moment: I ate my way out of an eight-foot box of popcorn at the Tribeca World Premiere for my documentary. After that, I was dubbed the “Houdini of Cuisine-y” and the “David Blane of the Alimentary Canal.” Another stunt I’m not as proud of involved me climbing out of a window in Chelsea [in Manhattan, N.Y.] while wearing a Speedo and proceeding to eat 12 donuts in three minutes. I got a lot of strange stares.

Biggest food quirk: I’m anti-condiment. I like food in its purest form.

Crazy Legs offers 3 tips on eating your way to the top.
1. Visit and find events in your area to attend.
2. Identify a food you love, eat too much of it, and see if you still like it the next day. Then find a bar that has pickled eggs in brine, and see if you can eat 10 of them without throwing up.
3. Read The Inner Game of Tennis – it will give you a mental edge.

Click here for more Foodie Fridays! All photos courtesy of Crazy Legs Conti.

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