Around the world in 30 days with Sam Barclay
Sam Barclay is in Bangkok, Thailand, nearly 10,000 miles away from his Miami Beach residence. With the CP Biggest Eater Competition 2011-12 nearing its grand finale, Sam will don the boater from afar this weekend and next when Major League Eating's best take the stage to eat CP shrimp wontons. Sam took some time before takeoff to reflect on his MLE experiences to date:
Before becoming a part of MLE, you encountered pro eating on the edit side at FHM. How did that come about? Would you say you were also a fan or was this your first introduction?
My first interaction with MLE was on April 3, 2003. I was working at FHM magazine at the time and I was looking for a way to cover the burgeoning sport of competitive eating, take a day out of the office and eat a lot. A story idea was born: Crazy Legs Conti challenged the entire FHM editorial staff to a nine-inning, ballpark-food eatoff at Shea Stadium, while the Mets lost to the Cubs 3-6. Trachsel was on the mound; what can you do? Crazy Legs finished 7-1-1 for the day, losing only in knishes in the ninth. I knew of competitive eating growing up in Australia before relocating to the US in 2002 and knew it was something the magazine had to cover, but that day was the day I became a fan for life.
How have you been enjoying your role as an MLE MC?
It is the best job I have ever had. The travel opportunities are incredible—Arkansas, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong—and the clients and staff at the events and the eaters are a joy to work with. After an event, the greatest compliment is when someone from the crowd approaches me, still stunned, and says, "I have never seen anything like that in my life." I take very real satisfaction from that. And you get a cool hat.
Here in the U.S., what have some hosting highlights been?
The Taste of DC World Chili Eating Championship Presented By Ben's Chili Bowl comes to mind first. Maybe it's because it has the longest title of any event ever. The Ben's Chili Bowl family were amazing, and we got to do the show on Pennsylvania Ave with the Capitol Building behind us and the J Edgar Hoover FBI Building stage right. Styx played on the same stage some hours later, too. My most recent event was PB&B at the Isle Casino Hotel in Biloxi, MS—my first Isle event—and the team there could not have been more welcoming. In terms of athletic displays, watching Patrick Bertoletti down 264 Day-Lee Food gyoza in 10 minutes at Nisei Week in LA was the most impressive.
The CP Foods Tour has brought you to Singapore, Aus, Hong Kong. Can you give us a tidbit from each trip, either on the contests or the overall experience.
Singapore was a revelation. I was brought up to think of Singapore as a straightlaced, frankly dull outpost of expats making millions in finance. Not so, as myself, Crazy Legs Conti and Matt Stonie discovered. We ate amazing, strange, wonderful foods in amazing, strange, wonderful neighborhoods. Our PR and event partners for the CP events, Vibes Communications, are based in Singapore and their hometown hospitality was a joy. Australia, what I remember is Eater X defeating Joey—I think for the first time in four years. It was the first time Eater X ate CP shrimp wontons in competition, too. Hong Kong was a place I always wanted to go and it blew my mind. It is just so over-the-top and overwhelming. Contest-wise, Juliet Lee set a new women's CP shrimp wonton record with 178, a formidable number. I also ate a fish's eye at the recommendation of my dinner host.
Your next stop is Thailand. What plans do you have away from the table and how do you handicap the competition?
Bangkok, final qualifiers on February 4th with Crazy Legs, Erik the Red and Matt Stone, and the finals on February 11th with Juliet and Sonya, and Eater X, Pat and Joey. In the men's final, Joey has already guaranteed victory by 50 CP shrimp wontons, which is bold considering he was defeated by Eater X in November. Pat has never eaten in this discipline before, so it will be interesting to see how he can perform coming off a win in PB&B, especially with his gyoza background. He is dumpling family compliant. In the women's, Sonya will look to erase her Singapore total and defeat Juliet, setting a new women's record in the process. Or world record. Away from the table and after competition duties have been seen to, it's all about the Bangkok street food and enjoying the company of the eaters and our hosts.