Joey Chestnut has never seen a croqueta, much less tasted one, yet he’s going to try to eat more of Miami’s favorite finger foods in one sitting than any other human being alive.
Welcome to the world of competitive eating.
Chestnut will be one of several competitors from Major League Eating in Miami on Sunday for El Croquetazo, a croqueta-eating contest during Carnaval Miami on Calle Ocho that the organization says will be the first of its kind.
Finally, the croqueta gets called up to the big leagues.
One problem: The man the organization calls “the greatest eater in history” has never tried one. He tried to buy them frozen at four different grocery stores in San Jose but couldn’t find any.
“This is the first time I’m going into a contest not knowing what the flavor will be, so I’m a little nervous,” he said. “But they sound delicious.”
He went online to do some recon on his opponent, the humble croqueta. From what he gathered, croquetas are just like “a hush puppy with some ham mixed in there.”
Soon enough Chestnut will learn about the delectable, poppable appetizers, ubiquitous at cafe ventanitas and Latin birthday parties. Last year, they even got ready for this title shot as a headliner at the annual local tribute to the croqueta, Croquetapalooza.
Sunday, there will be an amateur contest for the Calle Ocho festival crowd, joining local celebrities such as Miami city commissioner Frank Carollo.
But, really, what amateur can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Chestnut? He has eaten 182 chicken wings, 141 hard boiled eggs, 118 jalapeno poppers, 73.5 Nathan’s hot dogs (and buns!), 20 roast beef sandwiches.... The man is an eating machine.
On Tuesday, to get ready for his eight-minute brush with croqueta greatness, he “got in a really good stretch.” What does that mean to a competitive eater? Not yoga or pilates. He ate a 9-pound grilled chicken salad that amounted to about 4,000 calories.
“It was a really heavy salad,” he said.
He’s even been doing special jaw exercises “so I can chew longer, harder and faster.”
But the man does have his Kryptonite. Spicy foods and anything “with a lot of flavor” give him trouble. Bratwurst was a problem. And Korean kimchi? “My body was rejecting it after 30 seconds.”
And the croqueta does have home court advantage. Chestnut is going to have to face the South Beach Factor — the draw of all-night partying that takes its toll on out-of-town opponents the next day. Chestnut said that’s why he’s flying in two days early: Party on Friday, recover Saturday, attack croquetas Sunday.
“I’ve thought this through,” he said.
That’s what they all say, Joey. Maybe the croqueta stands a chance, after all.