Competitors bite into sandwich challenge
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In the end, it was a quarter of a cheese steak that decided the winner of Saturday's Whiz Bowl competition.
The event pitted local and national competitive eaters against each other in a battle to devour the most 9-inch cheese steaks. Held at Saphire Café in Bethesda, it was hosted by Bethesda hoagie and cheese steak shop South Street Steaks and modeled after the notorious Wing Bowl buffalo wing eating competition in Philadelphia.
Whiz Bowl drew competitors from as far as Ohio Saturday in search of $250 and competitive eating glory. The rules were simple — eat as many cheese steaks as possible in 15 minutes. And no throwing up.
With moments to go on the clock, Phillip "The Fury" Fiore inched ahead of last year's victor, Ian "The Invader" Hickman, and finished out with an impressive 8.5 cheese steaks under his belt. Hickman, a seasoned competitive eater, clocked out with 8.25.
"When I got to about three, I felt like I was going to throw up," said Fiore, a freshman at the University of Maryland.
He didn't, however. His words of advice for burgeoning competitive eaters? "Just keep on chewing."
South Street Steaks has been hosting the Whiz Bowl competition since 2006. Previous competitions took place in College Park, where the store had a location. That shop has since closed, though a location in Gaithersburg remains, along with a newly opened store on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda, according to co-owner Jamie Rash.
Rash and co-owner Danny Uhr, both Philadelphia natives, aim to bring authentic Philadelphia cheese steaks to the Washington area through South Street Steaks. The competition is a unique way to promote the shop, Rash said. "We're hoping eventually to build up a name," Rash said.
For spectators, Whiz Bowl perhaps wasn't as appetizing as it sounds. About eight people competed, devouring the meat, bread and cheese — some preferring to dip the food in water before swallowing it — to the screams of a raucous crowd. Some of the competitors looked energized after the feat, while others appeared woozy — swaying a bit and reaching for the garbage cans strategically placed around the table.
"Once you're done it's like you're coming out of a fight," said Kevin "The Lion" Kordalski, 20, a native of Cleveland, who is also a regular on the competitive eating circuit. Kordalski traveled from Ohio to compete after hearing about the competition from a friend in Bethesda.
It's not the farthest he's traveled to eat, however — his list includes Canada and California. "Eating is the only bodily function that's ever paid for my vacation," he said.
Eaters each prepare to compete in their own ways. Kordalski hits the gym in the week before a competition to boost his metabolism. Nick Coval, 31, of Bethesda, reported that he ate a salad the morning of the competition to help aid his digestion.
"Even if you don't win, there's so many people who are too shy to do it or don't know where to start with it," said Hickman, 26, of Herndon, Va. Hickman, who was featured on the MTV reality series "True Life" in an episode that focused on competitive eating and is known to family and friends as "The Bottomless Pit." He has been noted by the competitive eating group All Pro Eating Promotions for devouring 19 chili cheese dogs in 30 minutes, 33 hamburgers in 45 minutes, 220 shrimp in an hour, and a 64oz steak in 19 minutes.
For Hickman, it was more about the experience of the competition than securing the victory. "I've been in sports all my life, and this is just another way to push myself," he said.