Cookie Jarvis Interview
He's big, he's bad and he can eat more than just about anybody on the planet. Cookie Jarvis holds a dozen world titles for competitive eating, including world records for wolfing down ice cream, french fries and chicken fingers. He talked to Simon about training for eating contests, his career highlights and how to prevent brain freeze!
Simon: How did you first get started in competitive eating?
Cookie Jarvis: In 2000, I saw a matzo ball eating contest on TV and thought, "I can do that." I decided to give it a try and entered my first eating contest. I only managed to eat six of the half-pound meatballs and got destroyed in the contest by other eaters who were more experienced and better trained. So, I decided to start training because I really wanted to win. I managed to eat 13 matzo balls in my next contest and I just started training more and began winning contests in 2001.
Simon: What kind of training do you do for an eating contest?
Cookie Jarvis: The training is really important. When I first started, I would go to all-you-can-eat buffets and just try eating more each time to stretch my stomach. A few days before a contest, I'll also drink a lot of water - like 3 gallons (12 liters) a day so my stomach expands. Some eaters will also eat a lot of cabbage in the days before a competition because that helps stretch out the stomach as well. The training is important but good technique helps as well.
Simon: What are some of your techniques that help you win an eating contest?
Cookie Jarvis: I've got a few. Mostly, I just try to look at eating in ways that other people have never thought of. Like, when I set the record for eating ice cream, I talked to officials before the race and found out that there was no limit to the size of spoon you could use. So at the contest, all of the other eaters were using a regular spoon, while I was using a mini-shovel I invented that wouldn't bend. That gave me an advantage because I could put more in my mouth and the spoon wouldn't bend when I stuck it in the ice cream. In the canoli-eating contests, I was the first eater to drink coffee during the contests. Everyone else was drinking water, but I figured out that drinking hot coffee would help melt the cannolis, which would soften them up and make them easier to eat. Those are little things that make a difference.
Simon: When you set the world record for ice cream eating, you slammed back more than a gallon of ice cream in 12 minutes. Didn't you get massive brain freeze?
Cookie Jarvis: No... but people always ask me that. You see, people get brain freeze because they eat ice cream with the spoon and ice cream facing up towards the roof of their mouth. I eat ice cream with the spoon facing down towards my tongue. This causes your tongue to go a bit numb but you don't get brain freeze. Ever since I started doing that, I've had people come up to me on the street all the time to say, "Hey, thanks for the tip about the brain freeze."
Simon: Oh cool. Thanks for the tip. So, what do you like most about eating competitions?
Cookie Jarvis: Everything. I love the competition, I love eating food and I love the fans. Competitive eating is a real sport that requires training and I've managed to reach the peak of my sport. I've been able to become the Michael Jordan of the competitive eating world and that's been a real thrill for me. There's money in competitive eating now, but when I first started out, I travelled around the country to enter eating contests just for the competition and the challenge. The money is nice as an added bonus but it's really about the competition.
Simon: Are there any risks to competitive eating?
Cookie Jarvis: Well, kids shouldn't try any of these eating challenges at home or in an unsupervised environment. All the big eating contests have people monitoring them and medical staff around, so they can check on someone if it looks like they're in trouble. It's a safe sport if it's done the right way but definitely don't try these competitions on your own.