Not long ago, I woke early on a Saturday, and while on my way to the kitchen to make breakfast, I saw my 3-year-old son open his bedroom door and attempt to pee across the hallway into the toilet.
It was an ambitious attempt, and while I was completely shocked and dismayed, I was also a little bit proud of him.
My wife must have felt the same as she watched me win the Andrae’s Kitchen eating competition Thursday. Liv always asks me to slow down during dinner, so watching me win at a contest that encourages fast eating is a mixed bag.
I was one of six contestants at a celebration at Andrae’s Kitchen, and each of us was given an AK-47, a culinary concoction Andrae Bopp, the owner and proprietor, developed to “fill the void,” as he explained during the one-year anniversary ceremony for his location at the Walla Walla Farmer’s Co-op.
The dish starts with a basic hotdog that is wrapped in bacon and deep fried. Then Andrae piles on poutine, a gravy-french fry medley with sour cream and chives for garnish.
The description says it all, really: “This dish could kill you, but it’s a lot of fun.”
I can’t speak for the other contestants, but I was certainly feeling a little nervous as they plopped our portions in front of us and explained the rules.
“The first one to eat everything in their container, AND get the food down is the winner,” Andrae said. “No chipmunk cheeks.”
Despite my nervousness, I was feeling a little optimistic, too. I’ve always been “a good eater,” as my parents would say. In my teens some even considered me a prodigious eater. Despite the fame, or at least attention, I earned at local buffet restaurants and church potlucks, I never really had a desire to enter any eating competitions.
In a way, it sort of seemed like holding a breathing competition: What’s the point? Besides, eating at home was always competition enough. I had three brothers, each of whom was “a good eater” in their own right.
Not that any of us was worried about running out of food ever. Dad and Mom were sort of geniuses at making sure the fridge was full. And also the chest freezer. And the pantry. And the root cellar. Usually it meant a lot of work weeding the garden and butchering livestock for us kids, but it also meant we were never short of food.
No, we ate fast because it meant we could get dessert faster, and that was limited. Or we ate fast so we could get back outside to go play.
Mom and Dad had a clever way of making sure we kids were never bored, ever. If they found us moping around the house, they magically found work for us to do. So after dinner, the four of us boys did our best to disappear, whether to the closet to read a book, or out to the river to go fishing or just about any place to play until it was time to do chores.
The only time I ever dabbled in competitive eating was when I was 15 years old. I was on a trip to the livestock auction with Dad, and I had been nagging him to stop and get something to eat.
Usually on road trips this meant stopping to get a burrito or chicken strips at a gas station. This trip, however, we were a little short on ready cash, as dad had just picked up a 700-pound boar for about $10. It was a practical joke Dad couldn’t resist, but it deserves it’s own explanation, which would take up too much room here.
In any case, we saw a sign on a little burger joint along side the road advertising a free meal if you could finish eating a giant hamburger in one sitting. Dad pulled in and told me to wear his jacket and slouch down a little.
The burger wasn’t bad, though a little smaller than I expected. I think dad had a regular cheeseburger.
“Good work, son,” Dad said. “You’d think they’d be a little less grumpy, though. It was their advertisement, not mine.”
The Andrae’s Kitchen contest was a little different, though. I could tell, looking at the other contestants, I wouldn’t have time to loaf around, savoring each bite. I knew all the years of trying to get outside before Mom and Dad found a project for me would have to come into play.
The countdown began and ended. I grabbed the the AK-47 in both hands and took a huge bite, chewing as fast as I could. Like all good athletes (come on, no giggling) I used my peripheral vision to keep tabs on my competitors. I could see one or two of the other contestants were trying to use forks.
They quickly fell behind, while the two men sitting on either side of me had adopted the same technique I had. It was quickly apparent it would be a tough race.
Bite. Chew. Bite. Chew. Sip Water. Swallow. BiteChewBiteChewBreatheSwallowSip … As I unsteadily took to my feet, I looked at my contestants’ plates. After two minutes, and 1.6 pounds of food, I had won by an ounce.
Andrae shook my greasy hand, and then so did the other contestants. We were all in pretty good spirits. When the competition is eating free food, it’s hard to feel disappointed. Especially when the food is deep-fried, gravy-covered, bacon-wrapped hotdog.
One word: Yum.
My wife, Liv, also congratulated me when I had finished the AK-47 competition, but not before wiping my face clean with a handful of napkins.
“Good work, honey,” she said, finally satisfied I didn’t look like I’d just done a face plant in a gravy boat.