Last night I had an opportunity to witness something I've never seen before: a competitive rib eating contest at Black Rock Pub and Kitchen. Competitive eating isn't exactly my thing...in fact it's far from it. Watching people stuff their faces with God-knows-what in a few minutes just doesn't appeal to the healthy side of me. The reason for the exception? A friend and former client, Brett "The Ravenous Rabbi" Bernstein, was participating for a second year in a row. I know Brett is a big fan of bacon, so making the leap to a competitive rib eating contest didn't seem out of character.
I first met Brett about ten years ago. I trained him in preparation for a couple urban races, like the Wild Scallion. Urban races aside, Brett has also run seven marathons and more triathlons than he can remember. Fitness is simply a priority in his life. He's a lean guy, weighing in at 175 pounds. He's also really competitive.
Last year Brett took second place to Paul “The Douche” Zwiercan. You can't make this stuff up, and I'm pretty sure Paul nicknamed himself. Apparently The Douche took it over The Ravenous Rabbi by a half of a rib. According to Brett's wife Rachel, Brett was meticulous to a fault in cleaning his ribs last year - and The Douche was not. Since cleanliness of ribs was not taken into account, The Douche won the contest in 2012.
When I walked into Black Rock last night, I spotted Brett, Rachel and their daughter, Nadia toward the the back of the room. Several tables were connected together with pitchers of water, napkins and a plastic tarp laid out on the floor underneath. It was obvious Brett was anxious to get the show on the road. It was hard to tell who the players were when I walked in. People from all shapes and sizes filled the room. Just before 7:00pm, emcee Sam Barclay with Major League Eating kicked things off with introductions. Brett took his spot at the table next to some guy that looked like he just walked out of a J Crew catalog and another named Zach who bartended in the city. The collective weight of all three men could not have been much more than 400 pounds. The very last person to be introduced was The Douche, who was apparently doing shots at the bar up until that point.
The rules of the contest were simple. Every contestant had a tray of 30 ribs before them. The goal was to thoroughly eat as many ribs as possible in four minutes. Ribs with a lot of meat left on them did not count. Nine men and one woman began chowing down on the ribs like hungry boars. Brett's once clean face was quickly covered in rib sauce. Before I could blink, Brett polished off two ribs. The Ravenous Rabbi was killing it! Knowing that his greatest competition was The Douche, whose nickname was chanted incessantly from beginning to end, looked like he was moving a little slower. J Crew and the bartender guy didn't stand a chance, but it was fun to watch them. For the record, a couple other people around Brett included Scarface and Sasquatch.
Keeping the contest in order was Juan "More Bite" Rodriguez, the #20 world ranked competitive eater. Incidentally, Rodriguez is Las Vegas-based personal trainer with Chicago Roots. Go figure. He, too, was fairly lean and a stickler for clean ribs. I think he had a soft spot for Brett, or maybe just an appreciation most of us will never understand for that level of quick consumption.
The four minutes went fast, with Brett coming out on top, polishing off 17 ribs. He took home a trophy and won a seat at the table tonight for RIBMANIA at the Chicago Reader Stage (Lincoln and Berteau) at Ribfest. The contest starts at 6:00pm, so get there early! The prize for tonight's winner is $4000. Not bad. While Brett did well last night, his expectations are leveled for tonight. Joe "Jaws" Chestnut -the #1 world ranked competitive eater, along with a handful of other top ranked eaters will be there to crush their trays of ribs. Tonights contest is twice as gross - lasting a full eight minutes. Good Lord!
I don't eat ribs. I don't even eat bacon. But who am I to judge? I know Brett is probably laying low today. My guess is he's probably eating light and drinking plenty of water to push some of the sodium he consumed out of his body before he does it again tonight.
Don't attempt this at home
Every serving of babyback ribs (about 2 ribs) is approximately 330 calories, contains roughly 19 grams of fat, 18 grams of protein and more sodium that you'd care to even know. All in all, Brett ate roughly 2640 calories...in 4 minutes. Something that would take me about 36 hours to do. Well played, Brett.
Good luck tonight, Brett! We're pulling for you.