The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Jimmy John's Makers v. Eaters

By L. Stolpman in Food on Jul 28, 2008 6:00PM

"Today, Chicago is Chewtopolis, the Mt. Sinai of Mastication!" And with that, we were thrown into the Jimmy John's Freaky Fast Sandwich Making and Eating Competition pitting three Jimmy John's sandwich makers against three world class competitive eaters from Major League Eating. We'd never had the opportunity to witness such a spectacle in person (though we've long been fans of the annual 4th of July hot dog contest) and weren't disappointed. Master of Ceremonies George Shea kept us entertained with nuggets like, "This is about to get as crazy as a monkey riding horseback on a poodle." (We admit...we half expected him to try to sell our town a bunch of musical instruments and then go woo the local librarian.) The large crowd gathered around the stage at Taste of Lincoln Park cheered in agreement and were ready for some sandwich slinging.

The three area sandwich makers were Miguel Vasquez, Raju Majumdar, and Joe Irick. The eaters were Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti (MLE #2), Tim "Gravy" Brown (MLE #13), and Patrick "Wham Bam!" Vandam (MLE #45). The rules of the contest were straightforward: could the makers make more sandwiches than the eaters could eat in 10 minutes? The contest got off to an anticlimactic start as the eaters had to wait on the first round of sandwiches (which sounds like a disadvantage - to us, anyway). Once they did, it was quite a sight to watch the eaters cram their mouths with the sandwiches after giving them a quick dunk in what appeared to be pink Gatorade. Cold cut slices slid all over the table and it seemed at times to rain lettuce. As the sandwiches started piling up a few minutes into the competition and it was clear that the eaters had their work cut out for them, an onlooker offered the best words of encouragement we heard all day: "Eat, you sonuvabitch, eat!"

Shea called it "poetry" and compared the sandwich makers to Mozart: "composing with cold cuts and bread." Seriously, this guy is going to sell you some tonic for that bald spot expanding in the back of your head.

As the challenge gave way to desperation, Tim started tossing sandwiches into the crowd, but it wasn't enough. When time ran out, the makers claimed victory by a margin of 10 sandwiches. Afterwards, the makers were happy yet quiet, enjoying their victory amongst themselves and with a few friends. Joe Irick described the experience in one word: "Awesome."

We also caught up with Bertoletti and Brown, both Chicago natives. We were surprised to learn how much flavor plays a part in competitive eating (we assumed they ate so fast they barely noticed a flavor) and how hated the famed hot dogs are. Said Bertoletti, "I knew four minutes in we were effed. They were throwing different flavors at us. I don't eat Jimmy Johns very often so it was more difficult." His favorite food to eat competitively? "Ice cream."

As for Tim "Gravy" Brown, he was more of a sandwich fan. "I didn't really even have to prepare and I didn't really have any flavor fatigue. Sandwiches have never been done before competitively, so it was a good change of pace." And as for the story that he earned his nickname by eating tons of mashed potatoes and gravy one Thanksgiving? Not true, according to Brown. "About two minutes in to each competition, I start snotting and sweating uncontrollably and this stream of 'gravy' is hanging off my face." We're glad we found out this information after the competition. Both Brown and Bertoletti frown upon the hot dogs: for Bertoletti, it's the flavor, while for Brown, hot dogs are just "too greasy."

As we left the stage, spectators wandered around in awe of what they had just seen, approaching the eaters for autographs and pictures while the victorious sandwich makers sat behind the stage, keeping to themselves, smiling. If Shea still had his microphone on, we're sure he would have made a reference to David slaying Goliath.

Photos by L. Stolpman, reporting by Marcus Gilmer