The competitive eater and hot dog champion of the galaxy, Takeru Kobayashi (Kobi), is in town for the State Fair. This morning I met him and his people for a little chat.
First things first: nicest guy. Just really so polite and nice. He looks intense and insane in some of his pictures, but that's just his game face. Over coffee, he's docile as a kitten.
He's working on his English, so we used an interpreter some, Maggie. (Really nice girl.) We talked about baseball, football, grizzly bears, tequila and the importance of texture.
Here's goes it between Kobi, Maggie and Frank Zaccanelli, one of the new owners of Hoffman Hot Dogs.
You recently switched over from Nathan's to Hofmann Hot Dogs. How's that transition? Are different hot dogs harder to eat? Maggie translates: I actually never had a relationship with Nathan's. It was just me going to competitions and performing. Now I have a relationship with Hofmann's, I feel like I'm part of a family now. The product itself, there's no comparison, there's nothing to talk about.
What's the most difficult food you've had to eat in a competition? Kobi: I hate brains.
What animal was that? Kobi: Cow brains. Maggie: Raw cow brains.
Is that OK to eat? Are people supposed to eat raw cow brains? Kobi: Never eating it again.
What about the bear you competed against? Was that your toughest competitor ever? Kobi: Yes. (The bear smoked Kobi, then stood on the table and growled at him.)
Do you ever eat hot dogs for leisure? Maggie translates: Yes, actually I do. Since I've teamed with Hofmann, I like to eat them.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a competitive eater? Kobi: I went to a curry restaurant and ate 11 pounds of curry rice in 20 minutes. Maggie: It was challenge menu. There was a certain amount, but instead of eating just that amount, he ate 11 pounds.
Do you have any advice for budding competitive eaters? Maggie translates: Make sure to prepare a lot of water situated close to you so you can grab it right away. A key point is to make sure that texture-wise it can be swallowed easily. You have to make sure you can maneuver it down easily.
I know a guy (wink wink, Moose) who slams a shot of tequila after eating contests. Kobi: Tequila? Wow... (It should be noted that "tequila" was, hands-down, Kobi's most well pronounced English word.)
How do you train? Kobi: I run. I exercise. Bench press, squats,... Frank: He use to be a competitive weight-lifter. Maggies: He weighed about 70 pounds more back then. How much did you lift back when you were competing? Kobi: 400 pounds.
How often do you train? Kobi: About two hours a day.
Are you a football fan? Kobi nods and smiles big.
Have you met Roger Staubach yet (he's one of the investors in Hofmanns)? Kobi: Not yet.
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Well, do you know what a Hail Mary pass is? (How many hot dogs questions can one ask? He's got to be tired of them.) (Frank explains the pass. Then Maggie translates Frank's story to Kobi, and it's really cool to hear it in Japanese. It seems like she really emphasized the important parts. I'm thinking she's a sports fan.)
What about baseball? I saw you had a picture of a baseball you signed next to a ball signed by Ichiro and you wrote that you were honored? Kobi: I went to Foley's. It's sports bar in New York. The owner of the restaurant is a collector. I signed one for him and he put my ball next to Ichiro. Maggie: But he actually wanted it next to Matsui. He loves Matsui and Yu Darvish. Kobi: For batter, I love Matsui. For pitching, I love Darvish.
Today at the State Fair you're going to judge a contest, then you'll do a little demo. Any goals today? Kobi: No goals. Frank: He went to the New York State Fair and he really trained for that one and ate 110 hot dogs in 10 minutes. So, that was a real serious thing. Today we want it to be more low-key. He's going to judge, then, it sounds crazy, he'll probably eat 50 or 60 hotdogs just screwing around.
Then what about dinner tonight? Frank: Nick and Sam's.