11 Points

11 Questions With Patrick Deep Dish Bertoletti, the World's 2nd-Ranked Competitive Eater
written by Sam Greenspan

Yesterday, I sat down with 24-year-old Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti, the #2-ranked competitive eater in the world (yes, ahead of Kobayashi) to talk how much money eaters make, how they train, how YOU could become one... and if they get groupies.

I'm happy to report Pat was engaging, funny, intelligent, and willing to talk about anything and everything.

To give you some background, Patrick is ranked second overall in the world, behind Joey Chestnut but ahead of hot dog eating legend Takeru Kobayashi. But, on July 4th, at the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest -- which is the annual Super Bowl of competitive eating -- Patrick came in third, behind Chestnut and Kobayashi. Still, Patrick's body of work keeps him fixed at the number two spot. (You can see the rankings here.)

On his website, you can see a list of his 25 world records; the two he's most proud of 263 pickled Jalapeno peppers in 15 minutes and 1.75 gallons of vanilla ice cream in eight minutes.

And armed with that knowledge of just what an eating savant he is, enjoy the interview...

  1. How did you get started in competitive eating? Five years ago. I had just started cooking school [at Kendall College in Chicago] and I realized I would get burned out if I was just cooking. I needed a hobby.

    My twin sister knew I'd always overindulged in food, all my life, so she convinced me to enter a pizza eating competition. I came in fourth place, just behind a few pros. So I decided to get more involved.

  2. How do you train for a competition? If I'm unfamiliar with the food, I practice with it. I always drink tons of water, to keep my stomach stretched out.

    Two days before the competition itself I eat a ginormous meal and drink even more water. The day before, I eat nothing. I don't eat breakfast the morning of the competition.

    Other guys do it differently, basically, you just figure out what works for your body.

    Also, I used to lift weights to train, but I stopped. Because even though muscles make your body capable of taking in more calories, muscles make you enraged with hungry... and that made it impossible for me to fast like I needed to. So I train with cardio now.

  3. What do you feel like after a competition? Painfully ill? It depends. Sometimes, believe it or not, I'm not even that full. But after one like Nathan's, once the adrenaline wears off, it almost feels like you're drunk... it's such a shock to your system.

    One time I weighed myself before and after... I gained 24 pounds in a 20-minute competition. But more than half that's water. [Patrick is listed at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds.]

    The pros -- we don't throw up. We're used to the weight and the burden, plus it's pretty frowned upon to throw up. And usually, you're not allowed to before a winner is announced. Amateurs purge, they aren't used to the food.

    After a competition, it's usually 16 to 24 hours until I'm hungry again. If it's carbs and sugar, I'm hungry sooner... protein stays with you longer.

  4. Kobayashi, Chestnut and Patrick battle at Nathan's.
    Can you make a living as a professional eater? I make like $40,000 a year from it now. I could make more of a living, but I'd die of boredom. This is a good balance for me -- I work as a chef during the week and look forward to competing on weekends. I do 25 to 30 competitions a year, sometimes as many as 40. If there's a world record at stake, I want to compete -- I don't even care about the prize money. I love setting world records. [He owns 25 eating world records.]

    Chestnut and Kobayashi could [make a living from it]. Kobayashi does -- he doesn't have another job, he probably makes six figures. Chestnut works at an engineering firm in San Jose. They're famous, it's always Joey versus Kobayashi, so people pay them to show up to competitions. Even though I'm ranked second, I still have to pay my own way.

    I'm kinda overlooked for now. I've beaten both of them numerous times, but you don't really get noticed until you win Nathan's. This year I did 55 hot dogs... they did 64 [Kobayashi] and 68 [Chestnut]. I'm closing the gap, but, at some point, that's freakish.

  5. During a Nathan's contest a few years back, the commentator (and head of the International Federation of Competitive Eating, Richard Shea) called Kobayashi "one of the greatest athletes in the world." Are you guys really athletes? Well, I'm biased, so I say yes. There are certainly arguments for it -- if you consider the guys who do NASCAR, darts, bowling athletes, then we are. I think eating's very difficult at this level. We're professionals. We train. Mostly, it's harder to convince people it's a sport.

    [At this point, I did NOT direct him to my list 11 Sports Whose Participants May Or May Not Be Athletes, where I kinda suggested competitive eaters aren't athletes. After talking to him, I'm not so sure anymore.]

  6. How do you respond to the people who criticize competitive eating? Who say it's unhealthy, it sets an awful example, it wastes food? For every argument, there are people on both sides. I think it's like the foie gras scandal -- people point at that and say it's horrific to overfeed geese, but factory farms are just as bad. Competitive eating definitely has issues, but there are issues with all food. Plus, we do a lot of donations, food drives, Second Harvest, to help starving people.

  7. Do you ever go to restaurants and do their challenges like in "The Great Outdoors" or "eat our 12 pound hamburger and get a t-shirt"? Oh yeah, absolutely. But I do those for fun, I do those for me.

    There's a place in Alsip, Illinois [Allgauer's Restaurant], where I ate a 96-ounce steak for my birthday. I had a taste for a drink [he couldn't remember which, just that it was "fruity"], so I was drinking those, I ate the giant steak, a salad and a quesadilla.

    I have a lot of fun with those because the owner doesn't think it's possible. So when me or another pro walks in there and finishes the challenge like four minutes in when you have an hour, the looks on their faces are incredible.

    I've made a little money on those... at a place in Indianapolis [Barlo's Pizza], I ate an 11-pound pizza in 24 minutes and got $1,000. But I really do them more for fun, more for me.

  8. Patrick with Kobayashi, before a wing-eating competition.
    How can someone become a professional eater? If you want to get involved, start with those restaurant challenges, that's a good gauge. Don't do the contests right away, they're way more difficult.

    Not everyone can become a professional, ranked in the top 30. It's much tougher than you'd think. Not everyone has the capacity to do this.

  9. Are there competitive eating groupies? Yes. There are a fair amount. I don't look for them. I call them "Foodtang." Joey Chestnut has a good track record with the groupies. He's the number one guy, they're drawn to competitive eating.

    I don't really have much more to say on this, I have a girlfriend. I actually met her through competitive eating.

  10. Wait... you seduced your girlfriend with competitive eating? Haha. Yep. She was a fan of competitive eating, she was living in New York, and came to the Nathan's competition that year. Then she came to a qualifier I was in and it just happened from there. We're together. I must've seduced her with my eating ability, I don't have much else -- it certainly wasn't my charm!

  11. Tell me about this Jimmy John's competition you're in next weekend (July 25th). It's four eaters versus sandwich makers. They try to make more than we can eat in a certain time limit. We done this before and we can't keep up. They kill us. I hope the makers suck and we have a good day, but it'll take a miracle. They're 4-0 against us, and it's never been close.

    But next weekend, maybe it'll be that miracle. [The competition is on Saturday, July 25th, at 2:30 pm, at the Taste of Lincoln festival in Chicago.]

You can learn more about Patrick at his website, DeepDishEats.com or from his official bio at the International Federation of Competitive Eating.

This post was originally published on Friday, July 17, 2009 at 12:01:00 AM under the category Interviews.

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