Competitive Eating Champion Joey “Jaws” Chestnut Interview with the TastingBuds + Austin Ice Cream Festival

Number one ranked competitive eater in the world, multiple food eating record holder, and destroyer of 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut graced us with his presence at the Austin Ice Cream festival this year. Why exactly was he in town? To take on a whole team of 5 other eaters at once to see who could eat the most ice cream in 5 minutes!

How did he do? We’ll get to that later, but the look on his competitor’s face above might provide a clue.

I sat down with Joey during the Austin Ice cream Festival at Waterloo Park to chat about the life of a competitive eater and his time in the city. He told me that he loves Austin and has a big soft spot for the Salt Lick (perhaps because they serve tasty all-you-can-eat meat). Also, he told me that likes Austin’s live music scene because you can hear great bands downtown on any given night.

While in Austin Joey Chestnut had a fair share of enthusiastic fans. My 20 minute interview was interrupted 3-4 times by autograph seeking festival goers. Don’t think that the attention was solely because of the official Pepto Bismol jersey he was wearing either! Joey hung out on 6th street the night before wearing street clothes and was recognized at least half a dozen times “mostly by dudes”.

One huge benefit of being a celebrity is hardly ever having to pay for your own drinks! Joey says that he gets “more free drinks handed to him at bars than hot chicks”. Must be nice 🙂

  • A crowd of hundreds watches Joey Chestnut compete in the ice cream eating contest

Despite making tons of money as the dominant competitive eater in America, Joey also holds down a full time construction management job back home in San Jose where his boss and coworkers are very supportive and think it’s awesome that he is an eating champion.

For a competitive person who holds multiple world records (103 mini burgers in 8 minutes, 241 chicken wings in 30 minutes, 4.5 lbs of steak and sides in less than 9 minutes among others), Joey Chestnut is an incredibly down to earth, regular guy who’s following his passion and kicking butt at the same time.

Here’s what we chatted about in our official interview:

What are the best and worst things about competitive eating?
I get to travel and meet tons of great people. But I have to monitor my eating. I fast before competition, but I love to eat so that’s really hard for me.

I read that you and exercise to stay in shape when you aren’t eating competitively. Are there any specific workouts you do? Is it mostly cardio work or do you also strength train?
I hate exercise, but I do it because I know it’s necessary and I have to be prepared to push my body during the contest and control my breathing. But mostly, I run.

Why do you think competitive eating has become so popular recently? It seems to have blown up in the last 10 years or so.
Everybody can relate to competitive eating. Whether you’re an old lady or a young guy, everybody knows what it’s like to overeat, and everybody needs to reach for the Pepto every once in a while. It’s not like baseball. Not everyone can throw a fastball, but everyone can eat.

  • Peter Tsai and Joey Chestnut during an interview for the TastingBuds blog

What is your diet like when not eating competitively? It’s hard to picture you nibbling on salads on the off days.
I eat like most normal people when I’m not in a contest.

I heard that you have a dayjob as a construction engineer… How do you find the time to work and travel for competitive eating? If you could, would you be eating full time?
It’s tough. I have to pick and choose my contests carefully. But, of course I would!

I watched you devour a 5+ lb burrito in roughly 3 minutes on Man v Food. With the huge popularity of that show, are you interested in pursuing your own show?
It’s not something I’d go after, but if it happens, it happens. I’m actually pretty shy so I can’t picture myself doing a show like that.

Speaking of Man v Food, have you ever considered tackling Austin’s Don Juan Taco Challenge @ Juan in a Million (which Man v Food’s Adam Richman failed)?
I went there today and am thinking of going back to break the record. (TastingBuds update – Joey couldn’t attempt the challenge due to limited time and having to save his stomach for the ice cream eating contest).

You’ve said in interviews that it’s hard for you to compete if the food you’re eating tastes bad. What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten in competition?
Vienna sausage. They were gelatinous and nasty.

I noticed on your Joey Jaws Twitter account @joeyjaws that you aren’t afraid of controversy – you’ve even retweeted messages from haters and cracked jokes about other competitors like Kobayashi, who you beat for the hot dog eating record. What does that say about your personality?
I’m easy-going. I’m just having fun with competitive eating. If my competitors don’t like what I’m saying, they should try harder to beat me.

Finally, what do you want for competitive eating in the future? Do you think that one day it will be more popular, eaters will earn more money, and competitors will be better recognized as athletes?
I never imagined being where I am now. I have no expectations so just as long as I’m having fun and am healthy, I’ll just ride it out.

Back to the eating… what were the results of the ice cream eating competition? In a mere 5 minutes, Joey devoured 1.25 gallons of Austin Scoops Madagascar Vanilla Bean ice cream. The whole team of 5 amateurs pictured above was only able to finish 1 gallon combined.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so a video must be worth at least a million. Check out the clips below to hear Joey get introduced awesomely by George Shea of Major League Eating and to witness Joey’s ice cream eating technique (he must have had crazy brain freeze!).

How much Ice Cream do you think you could eat in 5 minutes? What personal eating accomplishment are you most proud of? Let us know in the comments!

Also, don’t forget to check out our other post on competitive eating:
Man v Juan In a Million: An Interview with Eating Champion Christopher Huang (who just happened to be in the crowd during the competition – check out the gallery for a picture)

Happy competitive eating,
Peter

Photos courtesy of Peter Tsai Photography

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