"And then there were two of us." Jason leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table with his hands clasped together under his chin. He looked around the table. His audience sat motionless, waiting for him to continue the story. Instead Jason paused to take a long sip of water. He was enjoying being the center of attention.
"Go on, go on!" someone at the table finally blurted out.
"Hot dogs stacked three feet high. I'm not even kidding. Just dogs and buns all around us. And then BAM!" Jason pounded the table and everyone jumped. "The whistle sounds. And I'm eating those wieners like they're going out of style. I mean, you have to hit your rhythm right away. Left grab, two bites and swallow, right grab and bite and swallow. Don't even bother dunking in the water yet, that's what the rookies will do." Jason paused. "Excuse me miss." He stopped the waitress.
"I'm sorry to even bring this up, but the lardons in my frisée and Reblochon salad are practically inedible. It's like the chef just served me cubed ham. Seriously, I can't even stomach it."
"I'm terribly sorry sir," the waitress looked mortified. "Can I bring you another?"
Jason waved her off dismissively. "No, I don't think another will be any better. You know what though, I think I'll try the twice minted mackerel and mushroom escabeche instead if you don't mind."
"Certainly sir. I'd be happy to bring that out to you as a replacement." She took his plate and left.
"So where was I?" Jason asked the table. "Oh yes, the Tokyo Finals. I'm hitting those hot dogs hard, just pounding them away, and I look over at Jimmy and he's just a friggin' blur. I mean he just looks like a tree chipper plowing through his plate. I swear this giant hazy cloud of flour and processed meat is billowing around him. And I knew I was in trouble."
The waitress stopped at the table to put down a basket of artisan ciabatta breads. Jason looked at them distastefully.
"Miss, if I can bother you again." Jason handed her his water glass. "This Perrier's gone slightly warm."
The waitress stood for a second, a look of panic washing across her young face. "I could bring you some ice sir?" she offered.
"Oh, good one," Jason said with a chuckle. The waitress stared blankly at him for a long moment.
"I mean, I'm assuming you're joking, because adding ice to this Perrier is not going to restore the proper carbonation level. You know what, I hate to think that I'm being too picky here. Just take this glass and I'll be fine. Thank you."
The stunned waitress accepted the glass but before she could turn to walk away, Jason caught her attention once again.
"Oh sorry, one more thing. I ordered the wild boar risotto and I'm a little concerned about the spices. Does the chef use fennel seed and peppercorns in the dish or is more of a tarragon-centric sauce? I would certainly hope he has the good sense to use the fennel considering that shallots and carrots were listed with the dish."
"Let me check with the head chef," the bewildered waitress replied slowly.
"Very good, thanks."
Jason turned his full attention back to the table. "Wow, that was embarrassing. Am I being unreasonable here?"
A chorus of "no's" came back from the others. Jason shook his head and pushed the basket of bread across the table.
"You guys go ahead," he said. "Too dense for me. Also it looks like it has rosemary in it, a terrible pairing with this whipped black truffle butter." He sighed and looked around the restaurant. "I can't believe they are serving this kind of slop. My tastes are just too refined I guess."
"Finish your story," one woman asked him eagerly.
"Oh of course. So there I was just inhaling these nasty hot dogs and I know I'm losing to Jimmy. And that's when I did something truly insane, something no one has ever attempted before. I knew I had to do something innovative. So I kicked it to the next level."
"Oh my god, what did you do?" the woman asked.
"I grabbed four hot dogs, two in each hand. Can you even imagine? And I just turn into a rabid pig eating machine. I mean, at this point I'm the goddamn honey badger of hot dog eaters. Just putting them away like they're nothing. I'm the judge, the jury, and the executioner. And they're ALL guilty. It's four-on-one and I'm winning the war with a full court press. You know what I'm saying?"
There were a few nodding heads and quiet murmurs of assent. "Actually no, no not at all," a man finally spoke up.
Jason leaned back in his chair, "Dude. I was eating hotdogs as fast as I could. That's it. That's the story man."
"Did you win?" the woman asked.
"Oh God no. Jimmy killed me. No one can eat four hot dogs at once. It's insanity. I almost died of asphyxiation." Jason looked off into the distance. "I can still hear them calling my name, 'Omnivore', 'Omnivore', over and over. Then I passed out with a blocked esophagus. It was glorious."
The waitress had been standing by the table, not wanting to interrupt the story. When Jason stopped, she stepped forward. "Ok everyone, I have your plates. Careful some are hot."
"Is it always hot dogs at these competitions?" another man asked.
"Oh no. It can be anything, each competition is different," Jason said with a wave of his hand. "Mayonnaise, Rocky Mountain oysters, haggis, SPAM, raw onions, you name it and I've eaten it. My record for mayo is seven pounds in just under nine minutes. That stuff just slides down. Butter though. That's hard. It coats your mouth with grease, and the fat content really slows you down."
Jason paused and looked down at his plate, an elegant and tight arrangement of wild boar and locally sourced whole roasted carrots on a bed of saffron-infused Carnaroli risotto with a light blueberry brandy sauce.
"God this looks terrible," he sighed.