Ah, spring. This season, it’s a real one — with appropriate amounts of rain, gentle temperatures, and cool evenings. Ramps have come and gone, morels are revealing their bulbous delights to impassioned mushroom hunters, and asparagus await in proud, upright bunches in the local markets.
Do you like asparagus? Like, a lot? If so, you might want to consider eating them competitively. Indeed, the only thing separating you and the dinner table from Major League Eating is a little bit of training and a fearsome nickname. Meet Sonya Thomas, a.k.a “The Black Widow”. With her petite frame and lovely features, you wouldn’t take her for a gastronomist weapon of destruction, set upon the earth to reek havoc upon all things edible. But you would be wrong. Currently ranked number 6 in the world, Sonya’s impressive bib sheet includes the consumption of 8 pounds and 20 ounces of Wienerschnitzel Chili Cheese Fries in 10 minutes, seven and 3/4 pounds of Turducken in 12 minutes, and 65 hard boiled eggs in 6 minutes. My, my. And I thought my brother Brendan ate quickly.
The current king of gurgitation is a certain Joey Chesnut, known as “Jaws” by his peers. In addition to wolfing down 118 jalapeno poppers and 45 pulled pork sandwiches in 10 minutes (on separate occasions), he maintains a reputation for impeccable gustatory performance at the annual World Deep Fried Asparagus Eating Championship, which brings us back to flowering plant species I mentioned earlier.
Held each year in the end of April in Stockton, California, the contest pairs twelve contestants against over a hundred pounds of tempura fried asparagus. While the competitive eaters work diligently to obstruct their arteries, there are many fine asparagus-themed events taking place in the hinterlands that make up in entertainment for what they lack in original titles. The 5K “Spear-it Run” is hosted by the Mayor and the “Spear-its of the Valley” introduces local wines and microbrews to festival goers, along with the much loved “Aspara-Mary” (a bloody mary in which the celery stick is replaced by a… you guessed it.)
In 2008, “Jaws” Chesnut managed to eat 8.8 pounds of fried asparagus in ten minutes, a feat for which he was awarded $1,500. (Parents- here’s a great way to get your kids to eat their vegetables! Offer them some greenbacks!) A newcomer to competitive eating in 2003, Joey went on to win the asparagus competition four times before losing the crown this year to Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti. Currently ranked second in the world, he is poised to eat up another of Chesnut’s titles — that of the number one ranked competitive eater in the world.
Nobody’s saying you have to eat 8 pounds of asparagus, but you should know how to cook them. Here’s a recipe for Stockton Fried Asparagus that only calls for 3 pounds of spears. If you have leftovers, send ‘em to Chestnut.
Check out other seasonal activities in California.
- Courtney Maum