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Eat To Compete: World Grilled Cheese-Eating Championship Circuit Underway

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Richard Rowe - CEO Golden, the home of the world famous Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese sandwich, and the International Federation Of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) have teamed up for the World Grilled Cheese-Eating Championship circuit.

The best competitive eaters will tour the country downing as many grilled-cheese sandwiches as they can. $20,000 is up for grabs for the eaters with the highest totals at the circuit?s end. will be showing off their divine eBay purchase at each event.

?With the nation-wide demand that we?ve received regarding our celebrated sandwich?, explained Richard Rowe, CEO of, ?we figured that the circuit would be a great way to bring the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich to the people who enjoy Americana pop culture.?

The IFOCE conducts more than 70 events annually and the competitive eating community numbers more than 3,000 veteran and rookie athletes.


San Diego Winner: Sonya Thomas

Congratulations to Sonya Thomas for winning the first competition on the Tour stop. The event was held at Tony Gwynn stadium before a San Diego Surf Dawgs baseball game. It was a huge success with extensive local media coverage, and even legendary MLB base stealer extraordinaire Rickey Henderson was on hand to support the eaters. Everyone had a great time and we can?t wait for the next contest!

San Diego is a beautiful city, even if the airport is a nightmare. Like many airports from a certain era, it does not translate well to our new security-conscious world.

Arrived at the Tony Gwynn Stadium on a lovely afternoon. And the Golden Palace colors are flying. Sonya Thomas is here in her Grilled Cheese Eating World Championships jersey, and there?s a crowd of media waiting to interview her. And they all can?t wait to see the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich. No matter where Golden Palace takes the VMGCS, everyone has to see it.

The contest is difficult to set up. The same wonderful coastal breezes the make it so lovely here are playing havoc on our backdrops, which are blowing around like sails. We finally get a couple groundsmen and batboys to hold our GP backdrop up, and we?re ready to go.
Sonya eats grilled cheese like nothing I?ve ever seen before ? 1, 2, maybe 3 bites and they are gone. I have to say, Sonya is going to be hard to beat at the Golden Palace Grilled Cheese Eating Final; I think she could have eaten twice as many if she?d put her mind to it.
Ricky Henderson came out and took some photos with Sonya at the end of the contest; very nice of him and very classy.


Sturgis Winner: Walter Hamilton

Congratulations to Walter, who took first place at the Sturgis stop on the World Grilled Cheese Eating Championship Tour! The contest got off to a near-tragic start when a Wisconsin couple, Karla and Steve Nowak, entered together. Steve carried Karla to the table piggyback-style and promptly tripped, sending grilled cheese sandwiches, water, napkins and other contestants flying. Luckily there were no serious injuries and the contest continued. The crowd stood and cheered for the entire exciting performance by these world-class athletes. Walter won this leg with a stomach-knotting 11.75 grilled cheese sandwiches in 10 minutes.

The world-famous Sturgis Bike Week is just a great match-up with the world-famous; I can?t believe we haven?t been coming here for years.
We set-up in a bar on the Buffalo Chip Campground, and recruit our local eaters, which is an adventure in itself. Most of the time, a Golden Palace jersey is enough to sway people to want to get into the show, but everyone here is already decked out in their biker leathers to show off, so it takes a while to get our contest filled.

The contest almost ends before it starts as a husband and wife duo crash into the tables after their introduction and he gashed his eye open, bleeding profusely. But he?s apparently a Boy Scout as well as a biker, whips out a band-aid and covers the cut, and we?re off. These are all amateur eaters, so it?s nothing like the mostly professional field in San Diego. Less than a dozen sandwiches are eaten, and most of the field is with a couple sandwiches of the winner.

The Golden Palace VMGCS keychains are a big hit with the crowd here. It?s also great to watch grizzled bikers pouring over GP?s famous sandwich, snapping photos with cameras that somehow seem out of place on guys in biker leathers.


Welcome to the land of Lincoln. Driving to the fair I passed several cornfields in the middle of Springfield, amazing.
The people here are very friendly and help. The fair staff know all about Golden Palace, and work hard to make everything perfect for the contest.

Humble Bob Shoudt is the favorite to win this contest, and he takes off eating like a real pro. About 8 minutes in to the 10 minute contest he?s a little green, but he keeps right on eating. I took a couple of steps away from the tables; I don?t want a ?reversal of fortune? on my shirt or the VMGCS. But he kept it down and went on to win handily. Good job, Humble Bob.


It?s pretty clear that the fairgrounds have been here a long time; all around us the city of Detroit is built right up to the fair. The air here is much more like Coney Island; very urban and crowded.

The Golden Palace Grilled Cheese Eating World Championship qualifier is in the Coliseum right before the Alice Cooper show. I have to say, Alice Cooper and grilled cheese don?t seem to have a lot in common to me, but it turns out the fans are here for a show, and Golden Palace knows how to give them one. We?ve got a roaring crowd as Patrick Betoletti, who was second in Springfield, roars past the favorite to win. The crowd here is very excited, and Golden Palace CDs and keychains are big winners.


It seems like I was just here to give Crysta Naylor a horse. She?s the girl who found the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus Pretzel, which purchased from her mother, and we decided to give Crysta a bonus of a horse for her birthday.

The fairgrounds here at Lincoln are huge; there is parking for what must be half of the state, and the people are ready for a show. Our local eaters are enthusiastic and hoping that our one scheduled profession, Tim ?Eater X? Janus won?t make it, but he does, with his warpaint on and everything.

The contest gets rolling, and one of the locals jumps off to a quick lead. But Eater X quickly adjusts his technique and starts eating 2 sandwiches at a time! He passes the previous world record, and goes on to eat over 31 grilled cheese, beating the old record by over 6 sandwiches.

The fair here is very picturesque; if you have a picture in your head of what a rural state fair is like, it?s probably just like the Nebraska State Fair.


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Competitive eater Donovan Busta will be competing on Saturday in Denver, Colorado at the Grilled Cheese-Eating Championship, held at the Taste of Colorado Festival in Denver's Civic Center Park. At stake are $1,750 in prizes and a berth in the finals in Lincoln, Neb. - and a $20,000 grand prize. Top eaters like Busta are ranked by the International Federation of Competitive Eating. The IFOCE, in addition to promoting and providing organization for the sport, works to keep it safe and maintain integrity, according to president Rich Shea.

Donovan will be competing against such Competitive Eating big names as Sonya Thomas, AKA "The Black Widow," who is world-ranked at #2. The 100-pound woman once ate 44 lobsters in 12 minutes. Busta says: "There's a lot of speculation on why (Thomas) is good?Believe it or not, one of (the reasons) is because she's so thin." Thomas can eat in quantities unimaginable to most people, and is even out of reach for Busta, who once ate three Chipotle burritos in under eight minutes. "The burritos were the only time when I've ever eaten more than 4 pounds of food at one time," Busta says. "That was an accomplishment for me." But Thomas wouldn't have stopped there, he says. "She can put maybe nine to 10, maybe 15 pounds in her stomach at one time." If Donovan wants to win, he has some hard work ahead of him. The Black Widow has downed 8.31 pounds of Vienna sausages in 10 minutes, 552 oysters in 10 minutes and 44 Maine lobsters in 12 minutes. "All the guys that I eat with think that I could be the guy to knock her off," Busta says.

All we can say to Donovan Busta is good luck, and happy eating! See you at the dinner table!


The first thought that crosses many people's minds when they think of the South Carolina State Fair is food and rides. At about 6:11 pm on October 14, however, the World Grilled Cheese Eating Championship was held. Ten males and one female, including two locals, competed for the title of World Champion Grilled Cheese Eater. Animated introductions included the following about "Sugar Bear" Shaffer: "On Thanksgiving 2002, this man made 11 trips to the buffet for mashed potatoes." They had ten minutes to try to beat the current grilled cheese record of 31 sandwiches.

Before the contest began, Craig and Diana Duyser, ex-owners of the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich, showcased their "miracle" toast which they sold for $28,000 to Golden, who sponsored the competition.

Counting down the ten seconds till the clock was started, the crowd cheered the contestants.

Juice, water, cheese and bread dripped from numerous mouths as they raced against the clock. Contestants used all kinds of methods including folding their sandwiches in half and taking little sips of water. New Yorker Eric "Bad Lance" Booker, who the emcee called the "Robert Frost of the Culinary World" dipped his sandwiches in Hi-C.

In third place was Shaffer, from Myrtle Beach, with a prize of $250; second place was the lactose intolerant Hall Hunt with a prize of $500; Booker emerged as the winner with a grand total of 24 1/2 grilled cheese sandwiches with South Carolina's title and $1000 cash.

Congratulations to all the winners!


Eating it all up

- Jeff Girod

The trick is to just "gulp" and "go."

That's the tip Jed "the Jalapeno King" Donahue gave me moments before we went on stage.

The setting: Beautiful Lake Perris, site of the Southern Californian Fair and the World Grilled Cheese Eating Championship.

The goal: Thirteen competitors would dip, guzzle, tear, wad, cram, chew and stuff their faces with as much grilled cheese as possible in 10 minutes.

First prize: One thousand dollars and the chance to move on to the national contest and compete for Twenty Large against others suffering from the same kind of tapeworm.

Why did I enter? Other than the $1,000, it was a chance to call myself a "competitive eater," plus every contestant got a stylish polyester jersey adorned with a giant grilled-cheese sandwich on the front and back.

I should've known I was in trouble when I met "the king." (He once gulped 152 jalapenos in one sitting and is ranked 16th in the world of competitive eating.)

A king beats a dude every time, and it was obvious I was overmatched from the start.

Jed's coach knelt in front of our table with a stopwatch urging Jed to "pick up the pace." (He was averaging two sandwiches a minute.)

The Jalapeno King devoured everything edible in sight, like a cross between Hamburglar, Cookie Monster and Pac-Man.

While Jed noshed his way toward the $1,000, I did my best to heed his advice to "gulp" and "go."

Next to paper plates, stacked five-deep with sandwiches, were jumbo Styrofoam cups filled with water. Eaters were ripping their sandwiches apart and dunking them, like a horrible aquarium accident.

The technique seemed to be working, so I tried it.

The sandwiches were lukewarm, the bread tasted like a cafeteria oven and the melted cheese had a gooey layer of skin, like milk forgotten on the counter.

Eating a grilled-cheese sandwich saturated with water feels like you're pouring the concrete foundation for a pool inside your stomach.

I downed five grilled-cheese sandwiches in the first four minutes.

Then my face got hot, I started to sweat and my lips began a motion that looked like kazooing, but was really my body's way of ordering "everybody out of the pool!"

If I maintained my current pace two things were certain: A.) I was going to eat about 12 soggy sandwiches, which might be good enough for third place. B) Everyone in the front row was going to need a change of shoes.

So I slowed down and tied for fifth with eight sandwiches.

Jed came in first with 20 ? sandwiches in 10 minutes. Then we figured out he was just a goat that had broken lose from the petting zoo.

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Comments on this event
On August 14th, 2005 at 4:03 PM roy collins said:

keep sponsoring competetive eating contests,never heard of this place until contests start,its the sport of the new millenium.
On August 19th, 2005 at 5:09 PM Scott Garza said:

i would like to register for the contest at the michigan state fair on aug 21
On August 23rd, 2005 at 6:58 PM William Isley said:

I would like to register for this event at the Nebraska state fair on Aug. 27 Please let me know how you can email me at
On September 04th, 2005 at 6:46 PM Hercules Rockafeller said:

You can register for events at
On September 05th, 2005 at 8:09 PM C J said:

On September 19th, 2005 at 5:22 PM Pat Bertoletti said:

I was wondering if you were going to post pictures from any of the recent contest? Thanks
On November 17th, 2005 at 12:54 PM Elbert Farmer said:

Sure would like to see that crazy guy at Arizona State Fair with "TOAST" tattooed on his stomach? Do you have any pics of this weirdo, what a nut||!
On February 16th, 2006 at 10:49 PM goldengirl said:

dang that is alot of cheese..........
On March 22nd, 2006 at 7:43 PM ohmygod said:

Leatherface and Executioner participated in one of these events! That's funny as hell!


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