From Cinco de Mayo-inspired taco-eating contests in Federal Hill to sausage-eating competitions at the Maryland State Fair, locals have been throwing their hats into the ring (or should we say, forks onto the plate?) at various eating contests throughout the area this summer.
As the trend begins to gain traction in Charm City, we caught up with local Major League Eating champion Juliet Lee, 51. Unlike most other professional eaters who spend weeks inhaling hefty portions in preparation for big-name events, the 100-pound Germantown resident doesn’t like to train. “After you train, you don’t feel good for hours,” says Lee, a hair-salon owner and mother of two college-age daughters. “Training is not very fun, and, at this point in my career, I like to do this for fun.”
Lee’s love of food prompted her to sign up for her first ever competition in 2006—an amateur pizza-eating chow down in which she put away 11 slices in 10 minutes. In the years since, some of her greatest triumphs have included devouring seven chicken wings, one pound of nachos, three hot dogs, two personal pizzas, and three Italian ices in seven minutes at a 2008 tournament in South Carolina. Another career highlight: She once downed 36 hot dogs in 10 minutes at the annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest.
The key to success, says Lee, is all about capacity. “Either you can eat or you can’t,” she says. “With different foods there are different ways to eat, but if you don’t have the capacity, no matter how hard you try, any kind of technique is not going to work.”
Clearly, Lee has it down to an art form. “Watching Juliet compete is like watching a Balanchine ballet,” says Richard Shea, president of Major League Eating, the organization that oversees all contests. “The choreography is tight and she displays brilliant speed.”
Lee says that one of the greatest perks, in addition to traveling the world, is being one of the few women participating in a predominantly male sport. “In the last five years, more people have been getting involved—more women, especially,” Lee says. “Food is such an important part of our lives. Everybody eats—this is just a more entertaining way of doing it and that’s why it draws so much attention.”