Tea dishes out eating pros

Crazy Legs Conti, the eccentric New York City window washer, nude model, sperm donor and professional eater, shared a euphemism Thursday for vomiting during a competitive eating contest.

“We call it ‘urges contrary to swallowing,’” Conti said. “When it occurs it’s a Roman incident — very volcanic.”

Conti, along with competitive eaters Hungry “Godfather” Charles and the Eric “Badlands” Booker, addressed a group of nearly 100 students at the last Branford Master’s Tea of the academic year.

Also speaking at the tea were Chris Kenneally and Danielle Franco, the directors of “Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating,” which chronicles Conti’s Rocky-like rise to the pinnacle of competitive eating — a spot at the Nathan’s World Hotdog Eating Championships at Coney Island. At the tea, they screened clips of their documentary, which will premier at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in two weeks.

Though Conti is thin, he is the current oyster-eating champion, having downed 34 dozen oysters. He said an individual needs “intestinal fortitude” to make it in the world of competitive eating. He got into the “sport” after watching Charles, Booker and other professionals from the sidelines at eating competitions.

“It sort of seemed like an impossible dream,” Conti said.

Charles, 340 pounds, and Booker, 400 pounds, boast impressive eating feats themselves. Booker holds the current matzoh ball record — 21.5 matzoh balls in 5 minutes and 25 seconds — while Charles once ate 15 feet of sushi at a competition in Japan.

The International Federation of Competitive Eating, which sponsors Conti, Booker and Charles, sanctions competitive eating events around the world. Booker said competitive eating is a bigger phenomenon in Germany and Japan than it is in the United States.

Charles said one difficulty of the sport is that one has to be adaptable. In a shrimp-eating contest, for example, he did not anticipate that the shrimp would have tails — but he said he was eventually able to establish a rhythm.

“Once I got a groove going, it looked like I was dealing cards,” Charles said.

Charles said eating professionally requires discipline but is mostly a head game.

“It’s 90 percent mental,” he said.

Booker said the sport requires four elements: physical capacity, strategy, a focused mind and stamina.

When asked how he prepares for competitions — usually two per month in a variety of food mediums — Booker dispelled the myth of fasting. He said he stretches his stomach by eating vegetables, which he eats so as not to gain calories. The day before the competition, he drinks a gallon of water.

But every once and a while, he and Charles wreak havoc on restaurant proprietors.

“We put all-you-can-eat buffets out of business from time to time,” Booker said.

Amidst the recent controversy of performance-enhancing drug use among professional athletes, when asked if using a certain hunger-inducing narcotic increases performance, Conti said that any drug that retards one’s metabolism would negatively affect one’s ability to compete.

After the tea, some students teamed up — half with Charles and half with Booker — to compete in a hot dog speed eating contest.

Timothy Polmateer ’06, a member of the winning team led by the Godfather Charles, said he felt honored to compete among the greats in the sport of eating.

“It was crazy competing with and against the best in the world,” Polmateer said.

Polmateer is a staff photographer for the Yale Daily News.

Professional eaters Crazy Legs Conti, Chris Kenneally and Danielle Franco share the nuances of their sport at a Branford Master’s Tea. Afterward, Branfordians got a taste of the action, joining the pros for a hotdog eating contest.
Timothy Polmateer
Professional eaters Crazy Legs Conti, Chris Kenneally and Danielle Franco share the nuances of their sport at a Branford Master’s Tea. Afterward, Branfordians got a taste of the action, joining the pros for a hotdog eating contest.

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