VERMILION RESERVATION— Another world record fell here last Saturday in an eight-minute-long frenzy of gluttony as Geoffrey Esper defended his title as the greatest consumer of Indian tacos on the …
VERMILION RESERVATION— Another world record fell here last Saturday in an eight-minute-long frenzy of gluttony as Geoffrey Esper defended his title as the greatest consumer of Indian tacos on the planet. “It’s not pretty,” said Major League Eating (MLE) Emcee Sam Barclay, “but it is beautiful.”
Beauty, in this case, was definitely in the eye of the beholder. Yet the excitement was shared by all who attended the Third Annual World Indian Taco Eating Championship, at Fortune Bay. The crowd watched as Esper somehow stuffed 39 five-ounce Indian tacos down his throat in just eight minutes. Alongside him were seven other contestants, none of whom came close to matching Esper’s remarkable feat. Among the contestants were three local residents, including Sean Lein, of Nett Lake, Chad Johnson, of Aurora, and Jake Becker, of International Falls.
But all eyes were on the three top draws: top-ranked female MLE eater Miki Sudo, fifth-ranked MLE eater, Gideon Oji, and Esper, who is currently ranked second in the world. Top-ranked eater Joey Chestnut did not make an appearance at Fortune Bay, apparently choosing to sit out this contest after being bested by Esper the two previous years. Esper took home his second world title last year after eating 30-1/2 tacos, or far less than he was able to consume this year. It’s a testament to the power of dedicated training for athletes of all kinds.
First-time taco-eating participant Renee Rovtar, from New Jersey, a three-time Nathan’s hot dog-eating championship finalist, was also in the mix. She’s a school superintendent who got into major league eating after watching the Nathan’s hot dog-eating event on television. “We were watching the Fourth of July contest four years ago,” she said, “and this lady ate four hot dogs. I thought, I could do that.”
Rovtar, a school superintendent, did some research and started signing up for contests.
“The people are really fun,” she said. But Indian tacos proved a tough challenge for Rovtar, who failed to finish in the money.
While the eating only lasts eight minutes, the wind-up was truly an event to experience in person. Barclay, the emcee, doesn’t mince words when it comes to spelling out the significance of the event. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “We have reached the end of world history. This is the Fortune Bay World Indian Taco-eating champions. This is the Mt. Sinai of mastication. Let the contest begin.”
Barclay, it turns out, is as much a part of the show as the eaters themselves, as he cracks jokes and pokes fun with the audience to get them into the spirit of the event. “I like to say it is my calling,” he said. With his pronounced British accent, Barclay says he emcees about 25 of the events in a year, though he admits he has never given the sport a try himself.
Barclay hails from Miami, Fla., but said he jumped at the chance to visit far northern Minnesota in November. “This is a stunning part of the country,” he said, and while it’s often hard to tell when he is speaking tongue-in-cheek, on that point, he sounded sincere.
Before the actual eating got underway, Barclay noted that Oji, who hails from Nigeria, held the kale-eating title, that Sudo holds titles in ice cream and kimchee eating, and, of course, related tales of Esper’s last two Indian taco titles.
Paula Madden, who was in the audience, was chosen as the official timekeeper. Madden, along with a rather rowdy group of friends, filled the front row with their matching taco-eating contest t-shirts. The group has not missed an Indian Taco Contest yet, having first attended the event because one of their husbands was a local participant at the inaugural contest two years ago.
Then, Fortune Bay staff put plate after plate of Indian tacos in front of the eight participants as Barclay revved up the crowd.
“This is an eight-minute all-you-can-eat buffet,” Barclay said.
And then the competition began. The serious eaters began shoveling the food into their mouths. Swallowing the hard-to-chew frybread is the greatest challenge. Many eaters used sports drinks to help move the food into their stomachs, though some opted for just water.
Four minutes into the competition, Esper was already at a world record pace. He had eaten 25 tacos in that time and was easily outpacing the other contestants. But Oji and Sudo were clearly still in the race.
The crowd counted down the final 10 seconds, and then, almost as quickly as it began, the event was over.
Esper retained his world title, and set a new world record as he downed more than 12 pounds of Indian tacos. He went home $2,500 richer and the owner of his third-straight commemorative belt along with the absolute assurance that he is the Indian taco-eating king of the world.
He has also won the Hooters wing-eating contest twice and holds records for brats, pork sandwiches, 10” and 9” pizzas, tamales, pretzels, and a few others.
Oji took second with 31-1/2 tacos (besting last year’s record) and $1,200. Third place went to Miki Sudo, who ate 27, and won $650. Sudo currently holds the world record for Wild Rice Hotdish, a first-time MLE contest held at Fortune Bay last summer.
Cash prizes were also awarded to finisher John Gebhard with 13, Jake Becker with 10, and Jason Krause with 8-1/2 . Total prizes awarded totaled $5,000.
St. Louis County Commissioner Paul McDonald took to the stage for the award ceremony.