Ridin' the Gravy Train

Ridin' the Gravy Train
by Newbear Lesniewski

Think about the most arid, desert-like dry mouth you’ve ever experienced in your life. Now try to imagine a levy-busting deluge of dampness. Start with a French Mastiff’s drool. Move on to the Amazon Rain Forest.

Arrive at the “Gravy” train.

Eating does something to Tim “Gravy” Brown that it does to many of us: it makes him sweat. Thing is, he doesn’t need Tabasco, spicy sausages or jalapenos to turn his T-shirt into the world’s biggest, wettest, nastiest cloth raindrop.

“The nickname came from Ryan Nerz. When I eat, I go at it. I start sweating uncontrollably,” he said.

Gravy has always been a big, sweaty kid. But it takes one’s own “special sauce” to create such a worthy nickname.

“Snot (more than) mingles in with the sweat to form a gravy-like substance. Based on Nerz being completely disgusted with me, Tim - born son of Jim and Linda - died that day. Watching me eat is not one of the most attractive things on Earth,” he said.

Coming to terms with your own unique level of grossness is a must in competitive eating. In some way, shape or form, it’s going to get messy up on that stage. And it’s Gravy’s ability to celebrate his eating alter ego that serves up some of his finest work.

Take this video:

Treadmills. Ab balls. Kettlebells. A little gymnastics. All set to the Rocky theme song.

To prepare for Chicago’s Ribfest: RIBMANIA 2011, Gravy and the gang blasted through round after round of interval rib training.

“Last year’s promo video was basically me at Pat Bertoletti talking trash at a news conference. So we upped the ante this year. I thought long and hard about the idea and we ended up with a cool ‘training’ video. A good day - lots of ribs and beer,” he said.

That video may be debris-in-cheek, but when Gravy prepares for food battle, it’s no running joke.

“I have to run. Constantly. Like 25 miles a week. It’s important to keep healthy,” he said.

But Gravy doesn’t like running.

“It’s compulsive: if I don’t run my five miles every day, I can’t go to bed. So I take my leave from work, throw down an energy shot and pound the treadmill. And I get through my five miles in about 38 minutes. For all intents and purposes, I should be Adonis - there shouldn’t be an ounce of fat on my body,” he said.

Consider Gravy’s slight spare tire a timeless nod to Sonny Jurgensen, the pot-bellied Hall of Fame quarterback who believed that his tummy existed solely to level out his gunslinging superiority and give the competition a chance.

Ribfest 2011 takes place the week before Chicago’s Crosstown Classic pits Sox vs. Cubs.

“It’ll be South vs. North at Comiskey, and this is South vs. North at the intersection of food,” he said.

“I’m not a huge sports fan - my dad used to force me to eat Twinkies to trick me into watching football with him when I was a kid. But I love competition, so I do rally around our teams. This city almost lights on fire when the Bulls, the Bears, the Hawks, the Cubs or the Sox are winning.”

The stakes are raised for Gravy this year because he went down swinging against Bertoletti at Ribfest 2010. And there’s nothing quite like the intersection of two diametrically opposed eating entities.

“It gets pretty heated. We’re the two guys from Chicago and we’re from opposite sides of the city. I’m not gonna deny Pat’s greatness, but for me, Ribfest is one of those things where you never know what’s gonna happen. This is my opportunity to put him in his place,” he said.

“Everyone I know will be there cheering for me - and the rest of the crowd will be Pat’s hillbilly South Side band. They’re literally in a band together. And they travel in packs, hopping out of those big passenger vans. He seems to be related to half of the South Side.”

One thing Gravy thinks the city can unite around in the coming years is competitive eating.

“This city is absolutely obsessed with food. Italian beef, Polish sausage, the fact that this festival that’s all about ribs will have tens of thousands of people attending - that just proves it. There’s literally eating challenges around every corner. And then you look at the popularity of shows like Man vs. Food and think about the fact that we have some of the best eaters in the world right here in Chicago with this superhuman ability to eat pounds and pounds of food in a short time? It’s a no-brainer,” he said.

And Gravy plans on kicking off the food infatuation to come with some victorious rib work, chewing the misery of last year to pieces in the process.

“I came out overconfident, thinking I was gonna win - and I don’t think I even placed. I was frustrated, throwing pans at the judges trying to get more ribs. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but to be in Chicago talking crap for so many months leading up to the event and go down like that was embarrassing. That’s not gonna happen again. This year, I’m eating to win,” he said.

The sweaty snot bubbles that mark Gravy’s wolf-like ferociousness are about to be put to the test. His girlfriend, Janice, his English Bulldog, Mr. Snugglesworth, and every other person he knows will be watching once again.

There’s a whole city to turn on to the spectacle of competitive eating and the embarrassment of last year’s event to erase. If the best indicator of future behavior is prior action, the city of Chicago has already been tenderized.

“Slowly but surely - without even tempting her or dangling meat in her face - I converted Janice from her vegetarian ways,” he said.

In the Windy City, the slow-cooked time has finally arrived.