On Saturday at Yonge-Dundas Square, the latest chapter was written in the eternal battle between mankind and poutine.
Despite an overcast day that periodically spat cold rain, the delicious Québécois combination of fries, gravy, and cheese curds was devoured in startling quantities at the third annual World Poutine Eating Championship. With a variety of activities (and free poutine from Smoke’s Poutinerie for those willing to brave a line-up that stretched to the edges of Yonge-Dundas Square), the event was an expansion of previous championships, held last year outside the Rogers Centre before an Argos game, and the year before that at Exhibition Place.
A day-long outdoor event at this time of the year is always a bit of a gamble, and the uncooperative weather may have deterred some. Those who did turn up had the opportunity to play some Guitar Hero, or otherwise enjoy the tunes emanating from a Virgin mobile truck. The potato-sack toss was a big draw. Children (and way too many enthusiastic adults) threw a lightly weighted sack backward onto a target for prizes that included free T-shirts and coupons for free poutine.
But the main attractions were the two actual eating competitions, one an amateur event and the other a professional contest with some of the biggest names in Major League Eating. In an effort to find out just how difficult it is to earn a pay cheque by scarfing down as much food as possible in a short amount of time, we decided to participate in the undercard. We gathered backstage with the the other participants while hilariously dramatic host Sam Barclay warmed up the crowd. Everyone shared their preparation regimens. While others discussed drinking copious amounts of water and staging trial runs to stretch the stomach, we offered our—in retrospect deeply flawed—strategy: not eating for almost 24 hours.
Just before showtime, Barclay called a huddle. He announced that an EMT was present and then offered two pieces of advice: “If you need to stop, fucking stop,” and, “If you need to throw up, please leave the stage.” Once in front of the crowd, we prepared by filling cups with water and donning plastic gloves to avoid getting covered in gravy. At the word “Go!” we dug in, attempting to get down as much of the greasy mess as we could in the allotted six minutes. Our feeder—a plucky young lad who had been selected to provide fresh boxes of poutine and encouragement—dispensed some sage advice of his own: “Eat faster!”
At the buzzer, this writer had managed to consume a modest two boxes of poutine, roughly a pound. James Maxwell, situated right next to us, was one of many that fared better, eating more than two and a half pounds. That impressive amount was still only enough to earn him second place, however, as Jesse Kankula—one of only a few competitors that had participated in an event like this before—ingested a new amateur record of just over three and a half pounds. Although the contest was supposed to provide the winner with free poutine for only a year, Chief Poutine Officer Ryan Smolkin decided to award the young man free poutine for life.
The professionals took things to another level, not only in terms of how much they were able to eat, but also in terms of sheer stage flair. Everyone appeared to have some sort of eccentricity, with some wearing headphones, bling, or coloured contact lenses designed to intimidate. The eating techniques on display were extremely advanced. Some were able to grab what appeared to be an entire box of poutine in a closed fist and squeeze the mush into their mouths like toothpaste. It was as impressive as it was disgusting.
The results at the end of the allotted 10 minutes were surprising and dramatic. First of all, Canada’s leading professional eater, Meredith Boxberger—a surprisingly slender woman who refers to herself as the “Deep Fried Diva“—was able to snag sixth place. Defending two-time champion Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti finished a disappointing fourth with six and a half pounds, well below his record of 13 pounds. The winner was eating legend Joey Chestnut, who won $2,000 for inhaling nine and a half pounds of poutine. We were informed by Barclay that Chestnut had picked up Bertoletti at his his home in Chicago and driven him to Toronto, because Bertoletti had recently suffered a broken leg. It was a heartwarming story to cap off an otherwise heart-clogging day.