Ben's Battle Looms

With the roster for the Ben's Annual Charity Matzo Ball Eating Contest in place, handicappers are struggling to get a handle on the win, place, show order. Returning champion Eric Badlands Booker seems nearly beyond reach, but second and third place have experts confounded.

The 2004 championship event will be held on Tuesday, January 27, at 10 am at Ben's Kosher Deli, located at 209 West 38 Street in Manhattan.

Booker, the number-three ranked American eater with titles in corned beef hash and peas, practiced at the 2004 qualifiers, knocking down as many as 20 matzo balls in two minutes and 50 seconds.

Equally impressive, however, were performances by IFOCE circuit vets Don Moses Lerman, Alan Goldstein, Scott Soifer, Crazy Legs Conti and Beautiful Brian Seiken. Lerman, who burst onto the eating scene in 2000 by winning the Ben's championship bout, consumed 13.5 Matzo Balls in two minutes and 50 seconds while Beautiful Brian consumed a full 14. Seiken has consistently upped his game in recent months.

Most gurgitators and fans have found it difficult to speculate with any accuracy whether Lerman or Seiken will come out on top given the anxiety and tension inherent in the championship event, which is traditionally a media frenzy.

Further complicating matters are the qualifying performmances of Alan Goldstein, Crazy Legs Conti and Scott Soifer. Goldstein, an up-and-comer in the eating world, ate 10.75 matzo balls while Conti consumed 11. Soifer, who made his bones at Ben's last year, ate 12.

Booker may well be the belle of this matzo ball, but he will not take the crown without a battle.