Joey Chestnut gets it. He’s in on the laugh, the absurdity, the silliness, and yes, the thrill of what he does for a living.
And that’s eating. Lots and lots.
“My old job, it was construction management, and I never made anybody smile,” Chestnut said by phone from Brooklyn last week. “Now I travel around the country and go to all these festivals and places and see all these happy people.
“It’s incredible. I’m super, super spoiled.”
The same might be said of Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa, which landed Chestnut as its star competitive eater in the inaugural Siegi’s Sausage-Eating Contest.
Linde Oktoberfest begins Wednesday with corporate night and runs through Sunday. The sausage-eating competition will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“We are very excited to see how many of our sausages he can eat,” said Siegi’s store manager Jeff Yates.
Chestnut’s record is 70, in 10 minutes, at the 2013 Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.
Of course a brat, the 31-year-old Californian will tell you, is different than a dog. Harder, greasier, seasoned differently.
“It’s harder to build up a tolerance for bratwurst,” Chestnut said.
So when he gets back to his home in California this weekend, he’ll practice.
“If I am feeling good enough after my trip (to Brooklyn), hopefully I can do a little one on Monday and do a big one Wednesday,” Chestnut said. “I practice at home. I make them myself.”
That makes sense. Home is where his capacity to consume large quantities of food was first noticed and appreciated.
“When I was in college I would eat healthy during the weekends and I would go home and I would eat like a madman. I would get home and I would gorge myself,” Chestnut said.
His brother took note, and before long he’d signed Chestnut up for some eating competitions. But competitive eating had never crossed Chestnut’s mind, so he declined.
Then, one day, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut agreed to dig in and give it a try.
“He knew I could eat,” Chestnut said of his brother. “And after the first one, it snowballed.”
His first competition was in Reno, Nev. The food was lobster. Whole lobsters.
“It was really hard because I had never eaten lobster before,” Chestnut said.
Seven years later, he is doing a couple of dozen competitions a year and has eaten seemingly anything one could imagine.
According to Major League Eating’s website, Chestnut’s conquests include asparagus, grilled cheese sandwiches, burritos, apple pies, gyoza, salt potatoes, tacos and pork ribs, to name just a few.
In fact, the civil engineer is in such demand for his capacity to consume, he has to turn down gigs. Like the moon pie-eating contest in Memphis, Tenn., that’s the same weekend as Linde Oktoberfest.
“I really don’t like moon pies very much,” Chestnut said.
The eight-time Nathan’s Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest winner has never been to Tulsa, and his only trek to Oklahoma was seven years ago when he drove through on a motorcycle he won at a competition.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Chestnut said.
Jeff Yates, the Siegi’s store manager, can’t wait for the competition, either. In addition to preparing the brats — about 600 will be boiled and lightly grilled — he’s one of 11 people competing against Chestnut.
Not that Jaws needs to worry.
“If I can eat 20, I’ll be thrilled,” said Yates, 30.
So what exactly will competitors in the Siegi’s Sausage-Eating Contest be devouring?
“It’s a traditional bratwurst that is finely ground pork with lemon and onion and a little bit of white pepper,” Yates said. “It’s a fairly mild sausage.”
Only they will be thinner and longer than one would buy at the store, Yates said, weighing in at 2 to 3 ounces and stretching 5 to 6 inches. No buns.
Saturday’s event is an officially sanctioned Major League Eating competition with $4,000 in prize money.
But local celebrities will compete in their own sausage-eating contest that day, and Chestnut has advice for them.
“They have to find a rhythm,” he said. “Do the same thing over and over again. No matter what the body is telling them they have to ignore all those feelings. … Your body is going to cramp, your body is going to tell you to slow down because you are eating in front of people.
“You just have to ignore the feelings you have and focus on what you want to do.”
Spoken like a true champion.
Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa
Click here for more information about Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa or on how to volunteer at the event.