Nathan’s famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest may have brought the extreme sport of competitive eating into the public consciousness, but for local pro gurgitator Will Millender, figuring out ways to cram the maximum amount of foodstuffs into his gullet in five minutes or less is a year-round pursuit.
We sat down with the five-time Stinky Bklyn Stinkfest winner (1 lb of cheese in two minutes), Collegiate Eating pro (51 mac and cheese balls in six minutes), and National Hamentashen champ (25 Purim cookies in five minutes) to talk about chipmunking, reheated cheese fries, and life as a professional glutton.
Will Millender: Hey, I was just finishing dinner.
L Magazine: Seriously? Well in that case, I’ve got to ask…
It's not as spectacular as you might think. Just a normal turkey sandwich on a roll.
Then I’m definitely not divulging everything I ate tonight. Maybe I have a future in competitive eating.
There are less than a handful of people in the world who actually make a living off competitive eating. For me, it’s a really fun hobby where I meet a lot of great people and where there happens to be money involved sometimes.
Fair enough. So how did this all start for you?
Back in 2005, Rocco's in Bay Ridge was running a pizza-eating competition and I entered. I won that year by eating eight slices. Then Kettle Black, also in Bay Ridge, was doing a wing-eating contest, which I also won by eating 40 large wings in 12 minutes. I won both of those two years in a row.
I went on to do a weight loss show called Fat March on ABC, where I lost a bunch of weight and saw my Rocco’s pizza numbers go up to over 12 slices. Then, after winning my first contest at Stinky Bklyn, I decided I’d give the pro circuit a try. I’m part of the organization formerly known as the Association of Independent Competitive Eaters—now called All Pro Eating.
How does All Pro Eating compare to the International Federation of Competitive Eating—the organization that runs the Nathan’s hot dog contest?
For one thing, we use Picnic Style rules. When you see the Nathan's contest, as well as the others run by IFCE, you see them dunking food in water and breaking it down before eating. Our rules are that we can only eat the food as it was intended. We can’t dip, dunk, or mash-up it up. We also have a chipmunking rule, where you must swallow all the food in your mouth in order for it to be counted, or you face deductions.
The main difference, though, is that All Pro really cares about its eaters. Our chairman, Todd "The Hungry Genius" Greenwald, along with Dave "Coondog" O'Karma, took a dying organization over and pumped new life into it. Since the takeover, we've been getting more contests, bigger contests, and they really roll out the red carpet for us. IFCE is a media company that’s pretty much just out to make money. Only the top 5-7 of their eaters actually make money too.
So how do you prepare for competitions, both physically and mentally?
I don't really do much. Just the occasional water training—which involves chugging a gallon of water in the shortest time possible to get a nice stretch out. I'll also eat light the night before, and then nothing the next morning until contest time. Afterwards though, there's no better post-contest treat than some ice cream, which is mandatory after downing salty foods.
And what methods do you use during game time? Do you have a personal style?
I just put my headphones on, turn up the music, bop to it and chew a lot. Most competitive eaters try to chew as little as possible, but I've always had a problem with flavor fatigue (getting nauseous from the same consistent flavor of the food) so I'm actually chewing and using the next bit of food to push it down and chipmunking (lots of food in the cheeks that makes them puff up and look like a chipmunk). I also use the little drink mix packets to change up the flavor because water and wet food is just nasty.
Which competitions have you personally enjoyed the most, and which were the most difficult?
I'll start with the most difficult. I once did a cheese-fry eating contest that was rough. It was in warm weather, in the sun, and the fries were reheated after being refrigerated and then sat out for a bit. It was definitely one of the hardest, if not THE hardest, that I've ever done.
That’s not cool. Will you name names?
I can’t divulge whose fries. It’s going to the grave!
As far as most enjoyable, I actually tend to prefer the smaller, local contests. The cash isn't great, but you don't have any other pros there and the crowd is fixated on how you're destroying the competition and oohing and ahhing you, and the merchant owners are pretty pumped about the whole thing. Of course, my answer could change wherever there’s a big prize pool available!
The million dollar question… Are there any foods you can no longer stand to eat, look at, or even think of because of these competitions?
Not really. Many people wonder how you could eat something you've done a contest for so soon after, but I'll have a slice of pizza the day or two after a competition, no problem. I'm just a fat guy that likes to eat.
For more info, follow Millender on twitter @bigwillthechamp