GAME OF THROATS: Chestnut Gobbles 377 Gyoza to Reclaim Title

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Defending champ Stonie finishes in third with 291 dumplings downed.

START YOUR ENZYMES: Competitors are off and munching in Saturday’s Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship, held at the JACCC Plaza in Little Tokyo. From left: Juan Rodriguez, Darron Breeden, Geoff Esper, Joey Chestnut, Matt Stonie, Miki Sudo, and Michelle Lesco. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO and MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Staff Writers

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut of San Jose, ranked the world’s No. 1 competitive eater, returned to Little Tokyo on Saturday for the 2017 Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship.

After missing last year’s event due to scheduling conflicts — another competition held the same day in San Jose — Chestnut bested two-time defending champ Matt “Megatoad” Stonie of San Jose, gobbling 377 gyoza in 10 minutes to win the $2,000 top prize. However, Chestnut did not top his own world record of 384, set in 2014.

Held in the plaza of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, the championship was sanctioned by Major League Eating, which said of Chestnut, “He was relentless, fast and brutal. It was not pretty. It was beautiful. Like Rothko’s ‘Four Seasons’ murals or Shostakovich’s darker works. Symphony Number 14 in G Minor comes to mind … It is hard to remember as dominant a performance at this event because there has not been a performance as dominant. It was Chestnut’s day.”

Chestnut hoists the winner’s trophy after finishing with an astounding 377 gyoza eaten in 10 minutes. Presenting the award is Jason Uno of Day-Lee Foods. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Asked why he subjects his body to such a strenuous gastric challenge, Chestnut replied, “Why not? Why do

people run marathons? I love pushing my body in this fashion and I love to eat. I love to beat the guy next to me who really thinks he can eat.”

Stonie, the world’s No. 2 competitive eater, whose personal best is 377 dumplings downed in 2014, placed third Saturday with 291, behind second-place finisher Geoff Esper’s 317 (up from 243 last year). Esper, who hails from Oxford, Mass., won $1,500; Stonie took home $800.

Though he was visibly disappointed with his finish, Stonie said he’s come to relish his annual trip to Little Tokyo.

“It’s like home to me now,” he said. “I’ve been here seven years now, for the gyoza eating contest, and the fans have really welcomed me, so I really appreciate that.”

As Matt Stonie races to 291 gyoza consumed, Nisei Week princess Claire Imada can’t believe what she’s witnessing. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Rounding out the top 10 were first-time competitor Darron Breeden of Orange, Va. (250, a rookie record, $550), Miki Sudo of Las Vegas (200, $450), Michelle “Cardboard Shell” Lesco of Tucson, Ariz. (176, $250), Juan “More Bite” Rodriguez of Crestwood, Ill. (173, $150), Richard “The Locust” LeFevre of Henderson, Nev. (167, $125), Steve Hendry of Dixon (127, $87), and Eric “Badlands” Booker (127, $87). Booker kicked off the proceedings with a rap about gyoza.

The highest-ranking female competitive eater, Sudo ate 229 gyoza last year. Until now, she had never finished lower or higher in this event.

Sudo was a late entry into this year’s event, explaining how she wasn’t sure of her spot until last Wednesday, leaving her little time to train.

“At one point, I stopped and counted my own plates, just looking for any sign of comfort that I was making progress,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t eating anything.”

VIDEO: Follow the stomach-stretching action on The Rafu’s Facebook page or here.

The other professional competitors were Jon “Bastos” Bello of Torrance (116), Sarah Reinecke of Seattle (85), Doug Ecks of Los Angeles (77), Pablo “El Guapo” Martinez of Visalia (75), Carlene LeFevre of Henderson, Nev. (66), Aaron Stroope of San Jose (58) and Mary Bowers of Beverly Hills (34). Richard and Carlene LeFevre are husband and wife.

Bowers recently appeared on ABC’s “The Gong Show,” where her food of choice was cupcakes.

The 2017 Nisei Week Court, including Queen Jordyn Adachi, were kept busy serving gyoza and were also on hand to congratulate Chestnut along with Aki the Akita, Jason Uno of Day-Lee Foods, and Kevin Gonzalez of Community Bank. The winner received a check, a trophy and a Day-Lee Foods happi coat. CH Cook & Co. and Community Bank are the official purse sponsors of the contest.

This year also marked the return of emcee Sam Barclay, whose play-by-play was like that of an Olympic event.

The main event was preceded by a series of preliminary competitions, starting with the 2016 Nisei Week Court and representatives of community organizations. The winner was Christian Miyame of JACCC, who ate 40 gyoza in 2 minutes.

The other competitors were Bradley Juris of LTRoots (30), Chad Ikemura of Kizuna (27), Bryce Ikemura of Keiro (26), Keith Saka of Little Tokyo Vibes (22), First Princess Megan Ono (19), Brandon Ito of My Wish List (16), Miss Tomodachi Julia Tani (17), 2016 Nisei Week Foundation President David Teragawa (13), Princess Heather Iwata (12), Evan Kodani of Japanese American National Museum (10), Queen Jaclyn Tomita (9), Princess Shannon Tsumaki (8), Princess April Nishinaka (8). Collectively, the Nisei Week Court and Teragawa ate a total of 86 gyoza.

The Ninin-Baori challenge involved representatives of local kenjinkai, working in pairs. One person was in back and, unable to see anything, used his or her arms to put gyoza (with ponzu sauce) and water into the mouth of the person in front. The winner was Gifu Kenjinkai, which was able to finish 10 gyoza.

Also competing were Yamanashi, Shizuoka, Saitama and Hokkaido.

This was followed by the annual showdown between the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Fire Department, with six members on each team. LAPD won for the first time, 254 to 216. Former Deputy Chief Terry Hara cheered his team on but said he was doing them a favor by not competing himself. The LAFD team was led by Capt. Danny Wu.

The prizes for the preliminary events were cases of Sapporo Beer.

Day-Lee Foods has announced that it will donate a case of product to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank for every plate of gyoza consumed, or about 20 pounds of food for every pound of gyoza.

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